Israel’s ambassador to the United States on Thursday denounced as “libelous” an article that appeared in The Washington Post which claimed that Israel prevents “the vast majority of Christians living in the West Bank” from entering Jerusalem to attend Easter holy week ceremonies.

“It’s a libelous article,” Ambassador Michael Oren said of the piece, headlined “A dark Easter for Palestinian Christians” and written by Richard Stearns, the US president of World Vision, a global Christian humanitarian agency.

In the piece, which focuses on the annual “Holy Fire” ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City, Stearns writes that “local Christians estimate that only 2,000-3,000 permits are provided” by the Israeli authorities for West Bank Christians to come to Jerusalem for key Easter week celebrations. This “despite the overwhelming desire among 50,000 Palestinian Christians” to come to the city in Easter week.

Michael Oren (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Michael Oren (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Not so, said Oren. “The army and security services have created a situation where virtually any Christian in the West Bank can visit the Holy Places in Jerusalem on Good Friday and Easter.” He estimated that some 20,000 entry permits had been issued this year.

Officials said only West Bank Christians suspected of posing a security risk were denied permits. They said Israel also annually issues hundreds of permits for the diminishing Christian community in Hamas-controlled Gaza to come to Jerusalem at Easter.

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Stearns’s article included a prayer for “another miracle” — in addition to that of the “Holy Fire” ceremony — “one that would give full religious freedom to the Christians in the West Bank and Gaza.”

Said Oren: “Israel is committed to enabling free access to the Holy Places and to maintaining our excellent relations with the Christian world.”

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