The World Council of Churches (WCC) continues to reiterate complaints about the interrogation and treatment of its staff and professional colleagues at Ben Gurion International Airport on 29 April - 2 May.
The WCC hopes both the incidents and ensuing conversations can offer more clarity for future visits by WCC staff and ecumenical colleagues to Israel and Palestine.
At the airport, some travelers were interrogated repeatedly for up to eight hours and accused of lying. They said Israeli officials accused them of arriving for an entirely different reason than for their stated purpose: a meeting on climate change hosted by member churches in the region. They were threatened with a 10-year ban on entry to Israel and with being listed on Interpol watch lists; and they were detained in prison-like conditions for up to three nights before being deported. The treatment of these travelers is unwarranted and unacceptable, the WCC has stated.
Many of the participants in the working group meeting had little or no prior experience visiting Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. In light of the recent intimidating and, for some, traumatic, experience, the WCC is carefully reviewing its procedures and advice to participants in such ecumenical visits and meetings in Israel-Palestine to eliminate ambiguities and avoid misunderstandings.
Many WCC meetings and activities have been and will continue to be hosted by member churches and partners in both Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The WCC has several member churches and partners in both areas, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Any activity by the WCC in the region is either related to or directly with these member churches and partners initiatives and visits from the worldwide fellowship to pray and promote peace and justice for all people in the region.
The WCC met with the Israeli Mission in Geneva last week and appreciated the opportunity for dialogue with Israeli authorities to address these issues, resolve concerns on both sides, and avoid any such incidents in the future.
Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
World Council of Churches