Israel Lifts Travel Restrictions for Easter

Israel will lift its travel restrictions on Christians in the West Bank who wish to celebrate Easter, officials said on Wednesday.

The announcement comes just three days after Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) began the routine procedure of closing all West Bank checkpoints for the duration of the Jewish Passover holiday, which this year runs from March 29 to April 6.

Israeli officials cite security as the primary reason for the restrictions, and began the practice in 2002 after a suicide bomber killed 30 people and wounded 140 more in a hotel during a Passover seder.

Upon hearing the announcement, Dr. Michael Oren, Israel's Ambassador to the United States, called National Council of Churches (NCC) General Secretary the Rev. Michael Kinnamon to tell him the news.

"On Wednesday I received a call from (Oren) indicating he had been in touch with Israeli officials and that they have now assured him that travel restrictions on Palestinian Christians from the West Bank have been lifted for Easter -- and that we should notify him directly if there are reports from check points that these orders are not being followed," Kinnamon said in a statement.

The announcement comes just a day after Kinnamon, along with Rabbi Steve Gutow, President and CEO of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director and Counsel of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, issued an open letter to Israeli officials asking them to find a way to "fulfill its security concerns while also seeking accommodations to permit Christians to worship at their holy sites during the holidays."

While noting that he understood Israel's position, Kinnamon said that he hoped the country's government would come to realize that it is "unacceptable to us that Christians be denied the right to worship in Jerusalem, especially Christians whose roots in the region go back to the time of Christ."

Kinnamon and the NCC have been particularly vocal about encouraging dedicated worship for 2010's Easter celebration as Western and Orthodox traditions will be celebrating the holiday this year on the same day, April 4.

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