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Statement on events at Ben Gurion International Airport, 29 April-2 May 2016

After traveling to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv for a climate justice meeting, WCC staff and partners were detained or deported in a manner that WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit terms both unprecedented and intolerable.

09 May 2016

Hebrew translation (pdf, 150 KB), Arabic translation (pdf, 200 KB)

Last week, participants from 13 different countries arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport for a planned meeting in Beit Jala of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Working Group on Climate Change encountered a level of aggression and intimidation from the Israeli authorities unprecedented in the WCC’s experience.

Several participants – both WCC staff and representatives of member churches and ecumenical partners – were detained in prison-like conditions for up to three days, before being deported to their countries of origin. Others were ultimately admitted to Israel after exceptionally long and confrontational interrogation. All reported aggressive, accusatory and abusive questioning, threats and intimidation above and beyond what the WCC is prepared to consider tolerable.

The WCC strongly protests the excessive, unreasonable and wholly unwarranted treatment by the Israeli authorities of these representatives of WCC member churches and staff traveling to engage in discussions on climate change and environmental stewardship, at the invitation of and hosted by WCC’s member churches in the region.

Our primary concern in this geographic context continues to be for the people of the region facing violence, insecurity and denial of their human rights on a daily basis, for the fulfilment of the long-delayed two-state solution, and for a future of peaceful coexistence between the communities of the region. But the WCC finds it deeply regrettable – and symptomatic of the current situation – that the Israeli authorities behaved in this manner toward church people from around the world who came to Israel in a spirit of ecumenical solidarity to address shared challenges in responding to global climate change.

The member churches of the WCC have committed themselves to a “Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” moving and acting together to address situations of conflict, injustice and oppression in our world. We seek to take this path in dialogue and cooperation with governmental, intergovernmental and inter-religious partners and with all people of good will. The WCC has a longstanding commitment to and engagement in inter-religious dialogue and relationships with Jewish and Muslim partners, as well as with representatives of other world religions.

We are always open to meet with representatives from the political leadership of the government of Israel, and we request a meeting with senior Israeli government representatives to address these specific incidents and to prevent their recurrence.

The WCC calls on the government of Israel for the apology that these participants deserve, and to desist from its aggressive behaviour toward WCC member churches and staff.

Geneva 9 May, 2016

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches