World Council of Churches wants Israel to apologize for 'intimidation' of conference delegates

(Photo: © Peter Kenny / Ecumenical News)Rev. Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches preaches at the (Lutheran) Church of the Holy Redeemer in Jerusalem on Feb. 10, 2016.

The World Council of Churches has called on Israel to apologize after it said its delegates to a conference on climate change were treated with "excessive," "unreasonable," "aggression and intimidation."

The WCC said in a May 9 statement it, "strongly protests the excessive, unreasonable and wholly unwarranted treatment by the Israeli authorities."

It was meted out to "representatives of WCC member churches and staff traveling to engage in discussions on climate change and environmental stewardship."

They were there at the invitation of churches that are members of the WCC in the region and the council was hosting them.

The WCC said that last week, participants from 13 different countries arriving at Ben Gurion International Airport for a planned meeting in Beit Jala, near Bethlehem were subjected to the ordeal.

The gathering was to be for of the WCC's Working Group on Climate Change and it 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 its ecumenical partners - were detained in prison-like conditions for up to three days, before being deported to their countries of origin," said Tveit.

"Others were ultimately admitted to Israel after exceptionally long and confrontational interrogation."

He said, "All reported aggressive, accusatory and abusive questioning, threats and intimidation above and beyond what the WCC is prepared to consider tolerable," he said.

The WCC statement said its main concern 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.

It is also concerned 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."

In February Israel's government had expressed its displeasure to the WCC about its Lenten water justice campaign, refuting its assertions on Palestine, and the U.S.-based conservative Gatestone Institute had sprung to Israel's defense.

"World Council of Churches demonizes Israel – again," Gatestone railed in a headline on Feb. 23. Two day later Gatestone fulminated again in another article headlined: "World Council of Churches starts seven weeks of brainwashing."

"The aim of the water campaign clearly appears to spring from an unjust and unsubstantiated discrimination against the State of Israel, as propagated in the Kairos Palestine statement," opined the Gatestone piece.

After Gatestone's attacks on the Geneva-based WCC, the council invited institute representatives in an open letter to meet in Geneva or New York City to discuss the details of Seven Weeks for Water and other work of the WCC.

"As God stands by the oppressed and marginalized, the WCC seeks with its member churches to stand by such people, wherever they are, or whatever their faith tradition might be," the WCC letter stated.

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