After traveling to Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv in the last week for a climate justice meeting, World Council of Churches (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.
“The WCC 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,” he said.
Members of the WCC’s Working Group on Climate Change from as many as 13 countries reported they were held for hours of interrogation, including tough intimidation and detention in prison-like conditions for up to three days — a very difficult experience, Tveit said. “We react in different ways emotionally to experiences like this. For all of them, I think it was totally unexpected and very disturbing, for most of them shocking, as they have never experienced anything like this before.”
Although there have been small incidents in the past, there has been nothing approaching this level of intimidation, Tveit added.
The members of the Working Group on Climate Change had traveled to Israel in a spirit of ecumenical solidarity to address shared global challenges in environmental protection and climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Travelers were detained, interrogated and intimidated. Expressing his concern about the effect of such treatment on people, Tveit said he had no reason to believe there would be any problem for people traveling to this meeting, particularly since there have been other such meetings over many years, not only related to climate change but also to ecumenical relations, peacemaking and theological reflection. For many years, the WCC has drawn on resources and counterparts from both Palestine and Israel to promote peaceful relations and coexistence.
All traveling WCC participants from the WCC working group are safely out of Israel. The WCC called on the government of Israel for an apology as well as to desist its aggressive behaviour toward WCC member churches and staff in the future. “We believe that it is also in the interest of the government of Israel to address these very unpleasant incidents for future visitors to this country, and to prevent their recurrence,” said Tveit and added “We are ready to meet and discuss these issues.”