ISRAELI authorities have defended their treatment of delegates and staff from the World Council of Churches (WCC), held for up to three days at Ben Gurion Airport, in Tel Aviv, last week. The delegates had failed to answer questions about their planned activities in Israel truthfully, the authorities said.
The WCC has protested to the Israeli government over the treatment of its 15 representatives, who were in the country for a climate conference. The General Secretary of the WCC, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, criticised “the excessive, unreasonable, and wholly unwarranted treatment by the Israeli authorities” of delegates who had travelled at the invitation of the WCC’s member churches in the region.
Dr Tveit said that some of the delegates had been held for “hours of interrogation, including tough intimidation and detention in prison-like conditions for up to three days”. They had been told that they were a security risk, and that the WCC had been blacklisted, he said. Although there had been incidents in the past, there had been “nothing approaching this level of intimidation”.
But a spokesman for the Embassy of Israel in London, Yiftah Curiel, responding to the WCC protest, said on Wednesday that some delegates “were specifically instructed beforehand to lie to immigration authorities”. Those delegates who were without visas were refused entry.
The WCC has frequently criticised Israel’s approach to the Palestinian people. But its director of communications, Marianne Ejdersten, said this week that its policy for delegates was that they tell the truth at border crossings. She has asked for more details from those involved.
In February, the Israeli government complained to the WCC about its Lenten water-justice campaign, and challenged the WCC’s assertions that the state pumped Palestinian water into Israel.
Dr Tveit said in response that the WCC was not threatening Israel in any way. “We want to see international law upheld in Israel, in accordance with what our member Churches tell us. But we supported the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and that has been our position ever since. We are not threatening the state. It is not fair to say that any criticism of it is anti-Semitic.”