WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Obama administration said “freedom of worship is a core human right” in response to reports that Israel hindered the access of Palestinian Christians to holy sites on Easter Sunday.
The State Department, in response to a reporter’s question about reports that Israel had kept Palestinian Christians from reaching Jerusalem on Sunday, the Eastern Orthodox Church’s Easter, said it was aware of the reports.
“We respect the deep religious and historical ties that Christians, Jews, and Muslims have to Jerusalem and the holy sites there,” said the statement released Monday. “We also appreciate the parties’ responsibility to protect security and maintain peace with their neighbors. Religious freedom, including freedom of worship, is a core human right.”
Such issues are a “key part” of bilateral relations with Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said the statement.
“We urge both Palestinians and Israelis to exercise restraint and refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric,” it said.
According to Al-Arabiya, a Saudi-owned news network, the Palestine Liberation Organization had complained after Easter Sunday that Israeli security had kept Christians from attending annual rites and that there were huge delays at checkpoints.
One obstruction involved keeping a Palestinian Authority official, Adnan Ghaleb al-Husayni, the governor of the Jerusalem region, from meeting with European diplomats, a meeting the PLO said Christian leaders had arranged.
Israel routinely discourages meetings in Jerusalem between Palestinian officials and diplomats, and does not recognize the Palestinian claim to the city embodied by al-Husayni’s title.