Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Israel denies Christian Arab clergy entrance to West Bank

Israel Denies Re-entry Visas to Holy Land Arab Christian Clergy

The Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF)
Toll free at +1-866-871-HCEF (4233)

The Israeli Government has rescinded its policy of granting re-entry visas to Arab Christian ministers, priests, nuns and other religious workers who wish to travel in and out of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, according to information provided to the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) by Christian clergy in Jerusalem.

Until now, re-entry visas were normally granted in Israel by the Israeli Government to Arab Christian religious workers in the Holy Land, and clergy traveled relatively freely to and from points overseas, including the United States.

However, HCEF has been informed that Arab Christian church workers will henceforth have to apply for re-entry visas at Israeli consulates abroad each time they travel outside the areas of Israeli control.

Since visa applications submitted to Israeli missions abroad are normally not acted upon for months after they are filed, his new Israeli policy means that religious personnel will no longer be able to move freely between their parishes in the occupied territories and any points out side of those areas.

Christian church workers normally travel frequently between their parishes and their churches’ offices in Jerusalem. Some also must travel often to countries outside the region, including the United States.

Many of the clergy and other church workers in the occupied Palestinian territories are from nearby Jordan; the new Israeli policy will prevent them from visiting their families there.

Indeed, that has already happened. Rev. Fares Khleifat, a pastor and the only Greek Melkite priest in Ramallah, traveled to Jordan for several days in mid-September; when he tried to return to his parish on September 14, he was stopped at the Israeli border, and his valid, multiple-entry visa was canceled.

Forced to remain in Jordan, he has been effectively deported from the Holy Land by the Israeli government, and his parish now has no priest.

The new Israeli policy makes it unlikely that any Arab Christian priests, ministers or other religious workers from the Holy Land will be able to attend HCEF’s Ninth International Conference, scheduled for October 26-27 in Washington.

Christian personnel based in the Holy Land have participated in all eight previous conferences of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation.