Christian Leaders Harassed by Israeli Security Personnel

October 23, 2002

Today, October 23, 2002, three Palestinian Heads of Churches were harassed by Israeli security Personnel in Tel Aviv Airport.

Bishop Riah Abu El-Asal, Head of the Anglican Church, Bishop Munib Younan, Head of the Lutheran Church, and Bishop Boutros Mouallem and Abbouna Elias Chakour of the Greek Catholic Church  were on their way to London, U.K., to attend follow-up meetings on the Alexandria Declaration, which constitutes one of the rare and successful initiatives for interfaith dialogue between Christians, Moslem, and Jews.  Yet, it seems that the official Israeli establishment is not interested in interfaith dialogue, because it is an establishment consumed in its own fantasies about self-righteousness, and the paranoia that everybody is out to get them.

The three Heads of Churches found the harassment at the airport totally unacceptable, and inconsistent with their religious status and their record as champions of human rights and peace.  So they decided to return to Jerusalem, and not to pursue their trip to London.

Unfortunately, the official Israeli establishment thwarted the opportunity for interfaith dialogue.  The current Israeli Government, consumed in its own self-fulfilling prophecies about the world, is not interested in peace nor justice, because that would expose its true image as a government of occupation.

We call upon all church leaders worldwide, human rights organizations, diplomatic missions, and governments, to work on building peace in the Middle East, and that starts by allowing people to talk to each other, to agree and disagree, and to search for commonalities that will bind us together, despite the enemies of peace who do not want us to succeed.


Laity Committee in the Holy Land ( LCHL ) is a group of young Palestinian Christian Laity from all denominations seeking to activate the Christian role in the general aspects of the Palestinian life.
Jerusalem - P O Box 19055, Ph. 050 545 179, Fax 6271574 .
Laity Committee in the Holy Land ( LCHL ) is a group of young Palestinian Christian Laity from all denominations seeking to activate the Christian role in the general aspects of the Palestinian life.
Jerusalem - P O Box 19055, Ph. 050 545 179, Fax 6271574 .

Christian leaders from Jerusalem blocked from attending interfaith meeting in London

by James Solheim

(ENS) A high-level delegation of Christian church leaders from Jerusalem was harassed at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv and prevented from flying to an important three-day international, interfaith meeting in London, beginning tomorrow.

The meeting, called by Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, was a follow-up to a breakthrough interfaith meeting in January 2002 that produced the Alexandria Declaration, signed by Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders who are working to resolve the Middle East crisis. "The meeting is intended to promote the Declaration and come to grips with the root causes of the conflict," said Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East. "We believe that Jerusalem is central to peace efforts."

The First Alexandria Declaration of the Religious Leaders of the Holy Land was originally issued in Alexandria, Egypt, on January 21, 2002. In addition to a cease-fire "respected and observed on all sides," it also calls for "the implementation of the Mitchell and Tenet recommendations, including the lifting of restrictions and return to negotiations" on the part of Israelis and Palestinians.

Signatories included: Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey; Sephardi Chief Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron; Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior; President of the World Conference on Religion and Peace Rabbi David Rosen: Minister of State for the Palestinian Authority Sheikh Tal El Sider on behalf of the Palestinian delegation; a representative of the Greek Patriarch Archbishop Aristichos; Melkite Archbishop Boutrous Mouallem; and Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East.

In an interview, Bishop Riah described how he and his colleague, Bishop Munib Younan of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, were stopped at a road block on the way to the airport. Despite repeated promises of special VIP treatment from the Israeli government agency that deals with Christian communities in Israel, they were asked to get out of the car and submit to a search. Bishop Riah refused and urged the soldiers to check with their officers about the special arrangements, suggesting that the humiliating treatment was because they were Christians. After a while they were allowed to proceed to the airport.

When they arrived at the VIP lounge at the airport, Bishops Riah and Munib soon discovered that the two colleagues waiting for them--Archbishop Boutros Mouallem of the Greek Catholic Church and Father Elias Chacour, a Melkite from The Galilee--had suffered similar treatment. "We were humiliated as never before," said Bishop Riah in a phone call to the Rev. Andrew White in England, Carey's staff person during the meeting in Alexandria.

Security at the airport insisted that the church leaders identify and open their luggage before the flight, in clear violation of normal VIP treatment. The church leaders refused to comply or to allow staff to comply, escalating the incident. Archbishop Mouallem was asked to provide a certificate proving that he was a bishop, and further asked to step into a private room at the VIP lounge for interrogation.  The stalemate ended when the church leaders asked for return of their passports and tickets. When told that a supervisor would meet with them, Bishop Munib said, "It's too late." When they returned to Jerusalem they learned that officials of the Ministry for Religious Affairs had mounted a quick investigation.

Israeli authorities representing the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have rushed to meet with the delegation.  Rabbi Melchior has called from London to personally apologize.  All involved have promised a turning point in these matters, and that the group will receive appropriate treatment when they attempt to leave again on today’s afternoon flight.

"We need not only an apology but an end to these attempts to humiliate us," said Bishop Riah. "This is very serious."

Father Chacour said that the Greek Catholic archbishop, who carries a Vatican passport, had never experienced such humiliation. "Every non-Jew is seen as a potential enemy," Father Chacour said during an interview after the return to Jerusalem. "We want to be friends with the Israelis and build bridges between our communities but it is becoming very difficult. We either build this state together or it won't be built," he said. "Unless they can overcome their paranoia, their feeling that they are victims, there will never be peace."

Bishop Munib said that pressure against the Christian community and its leaders has been increasing. "It's constantly like this," he said in describing his difficulties during recent border crossings. "If we are treated this way how do they treat normal Palestinian Christians?"

--James Solheim is director of Episcopal News Service and reports from a trip of journalists in the Middle East sponsored by Church World Service of the National Council of Churches.