Syrian Catholic Bishop Complains Over Israeli Treatment
Received January 17, 2001

Contact: Fr. Raed Abusahlia
Chancellor of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem
P.O. Box 14152  Jerusalem  91141
Tel.  (972 2) 628.2323 or 627.2280
Fax  (972 2) 627.1652

BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK, January 16, 2001--The Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Catholic Church has lodged a complaint to Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Barak after being held at the for an hour at the checkpoint between this city and Jerusalem.

Bishop Grégoire Pierre Abdel-Ahad charged the Israeli soldiers with discrimination which he said he had experienced before.

His official diplomatic car was flying the Vatican flag and the Patriarchal Vicar carried Vatican credentials.   In his complaint letter he cited the Fundamental Agreement between the Vatican and the State of Israel, which, among other provisions, ensures right to travel.

The border soldiers told Bishop Abdel-Ahad that Bethlehem was "totally forbidden."

The text of the complaint letter follows:

H. E. Mr. Ehud Barak
Prime Minister
Defense Minister

Subject: Complaint for an irresponsible treatment against the behavior of the Police and soldiers at the Bethlehem Checkpoint.

Your Excellency,

Today, Tuesday 16th January 2001 for a whole hour (from 9.00 to 10.00 a.m.), I was stopped and retained by a Police Officer and Soldier at the Bethlehem Checkpoint by the traffic lights, who refused to let me pass to go to Bethlehem though I presented to them all the documents in my possession, i.e.

-    The VIP Card
-    The Vatican Passport
-    The diplomatic Plate of my car N 36 036 22 (White)
-    The Vatican Flag with the Patriarchate Cross.

The only reason they gave is that entry to Bethlehem is totally forbidden till 12.00 noontime.

As much as I insisted and argued with them that I am a Bishop and Christian leader and I have religious charges and obligations in our Church in Bethlehem, but to NO AVAIL.

In the meantime and while I waited several other cars and even busses passed and entered Bethlehem.

At 10.00 a.m. the police car left the checkpoint when I was able to proceed to Bethlehem.

This incident grieved and vexed me and this due to a DISCRIMINATION which I have experienced several times, despite the signed the Fundamental Agreement between the State of Israel and the Vatican which gives freedom of movement and activity for religious duties.

I am presenting to your Excellency, this complaint asking an explanation to what happened and for a formal excuse.

            + Grégoire Pierre Abdel-Ahad, Bishop
            Général Patriarchal Vicar of the Syrian Catholic Church