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Monday, March 27, 2017
Bethlehem: peace workers detained; pilgrims welcomed
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¬†The Israeli authorities at Tel Aviv airport stopped a group en route to a Christmas peace conference in Bethlehem on Tuesday. After lengthy interrogations, two British nationals were allowed to enter the country but three were denied entry on 'security grounds' and held in detention. The three, a South African, Italian and Australia said they intended to challenge this decision in the Israeli courts. The group were on their way to the 'Celebrating Non-Violence' conference to be held in Bethlehem next week. All five have worked previously as international observers in the Palestinian territories. The detained are all members of 'Access for Peace in the Middle East', a pressure group that intends to "challenge the criminalisation of peace workers and the deliberate isolation of Palestinians from international observation and assistance." Robin Horsell, a UK-based South African who formerly campaigned against apartheid said: "Israel gives spurious grounds for deportation or refusal of entry. But the real reason is our support for human rights and justice. We hope this legal challenge sets a precedent that in future will allow international citizens full access to Palestinian lands." This campaign is supported by many prominent peace campaigners, including Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Nonviolence International, George Monbiot, Clare Short MP, Angie Zelter, Jeremy Hardy and European Jews for a Just Peace. Meanwhile, the Israeli Embassy in London has put out a press release stressng that Israel is working to facilitate tourism to Bethlehem over the Christmas holidays. The release says that: 1. The "Rachel Passage" leading from Jerusalem to Bethlehem will be open on a 24 hours basis in the run-up to Christmas. 2. Pilgrims will not need permits from the IDF to visit Bethlehem. 3. The Israeli Ministry of Tourism has opened a special office, at the Rachel Passage in order to accelerate access of pilgrims to Bethlehem. 4. Further actions taken by Israel in order to encourage the flow of visitors into the city and to facilitate the holiday festivities include: - Increasing the numbers and improving the training of personnel manning the Rachel Passage in order to ease and accelerate the movement of tourists and pilgrims. - Reducing security checks for organised bus groups, Christian leaders and clergy to passport inspection only. - Permitting Arab Israelis and Palestinian Christians to drive into Bethlehem. - The District Co-ordination Office are providing extra permits for Palestinian Christian residents of Bethlehem and the West Bank in order for them to visit relatives in Israel and the Gaza Strip. ∑ Meetings are being held with the Christian leadership in Bethlehem in order to ensure ease of access for dignitaries and pilgrims participating in religious ceremonies. The release concluded with a report of an incident in which Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade gunmen and armed Palestinian Authority security forces stormed the offices of Bethlehem's City Hall seizing control of the rooftop, as a salary dispute erupted into violence. It said the siege ended after Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas intervened personally, promising to consider their demands. ICN has put in a request for a comment from the Israeli Embassy regarding the plight of the detained peace workers and hopes to publish this soon. Note: An Embassy spokesperson said in an e-mail that the Embasssy would be unable to give a comment unless provided with exact details, passport numbers etc. Source: Christian Peacemaker Teams/Israeli Embassy
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