Israel detains and deports respected African theologian
World Council of Churches associate general secretary, Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri, has been interrogated and refused entry to Israel. She was on her way to attend consultations with church leaders in Jerusalem, on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
The programme brings people from around the world to the West Bank and East Jerusalem to serve for three months as human rights monitors, known as Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs). They bring eyewitness accounts to the world's attention, engage with local Palestinians and Israelis pursuing a just peace, and work to change the international community's involvement with the conflict, urging them to act against injustice in the region.
More than 70 churches, ecumenical bodies and specialised ministries in 22 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America actively participate in the programme. The British and Irish section is administered by Quakers in Britain.
The World Council of Churches has made this statement:
“In an unprecedented move against the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the ecumenical movement, the WCC associate general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri was yesterday apprehended, interrogated and deported from Ben Gurion International Airport.
The WCC deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC's initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis- Olav Fykse Tveit, World Council of Churches
“Isabel Phiri, a respected African woman theologian from Malawi, is a senior official of the World Council of Churches whose 348 member churches represent over 550 million Christians in 110 countries around the world. She was travelling to attend consultations with church leaders in Jerusalem on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), one of the many programmes and activities supported by the WCC globally.
“The reason given for Isabel Phiri's deportation was “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations." She resides in Geneva, Switzerland, where she has served as associate general secretary with responsibility for Public Witness and Diakonia at the offices of the WCC since August 2012. She was the only African member of a WCC staff delegation currently visiting Jerusalem. All four other members were allowed entry.
“The WCC has instructed its legal representatives to lodge an appeal against this patently unjust and discriminatory action against Isabel Phiri immediately.
“'The accusations made against the WCC and the EAPPI programme in the interrogation of Dr Phiri and published in the media today are completely false,' said WCC general secretary, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. 'I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources.'
“The WCC deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC's initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis."
Signed by the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary, World Council of Churches, Jerusalem, 6 December 2016