Israel’s Interior Ministry has revoked the permit for the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, The Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, to live in Jerusalem, the Anglican Communion News reports. The government has refused requests to reinstate it, in spite of protests by Anglican authorities in the West specifically the United States.
The bishop is a native of the Holy Land and has spent most of his life and ministry there, but cannot obtain either citizenship or legal residence in Israel, since he was born in Nablus, in the West Bank, which has been under Israeli occupation since 1967, but has not been annexed to Israel. East Jerusalem, on the other hand, where the Anglican Cathedral and Diocesan offices are situated, was also occupied at the same time, but Israel annexed it and considers it part of its national territory (although no other country in the world recognizes this annexation). Therefore, Bishop Dawani is considered by Israel to be a foreigner who can only visit – let alone live in – East Jerusalem with a special permit, which the Israeli authorities can either grant or deny at their sole discretion.
In fact, even the original Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem, and their descendants, are considered by Israel to be foreigners who are no more than possessors of a residence permit, which Israel can revoke. Since the Bishop has remained at his post, in Jerusalem, without the permit, he could be arrested at any moment, be put on trial for being in Israel illegally, be sentenced to a prison term – or simply be forcibly removed from Jerusalem.
This situation is causing deep concern to all the Churches in the Holy Land. Because of the representative function of the Churches in the Holy Land, on behalf of the world-wide Christian communities, and because of various personnel needs, a large portion of the bishops, clergy and religious serving in Jerusalem and elsewhere, come from other countries. Israel does not allow them to acquire citizenship or even legal residence, and they can only remain in Israeli territory in virtue of visas that need to be renewed every year or two years – at the government’s sole discretion. The issue of entry visas and residence for Catholic clergy and religious has been a priority item on the agenda of the negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, from their beginning in 1992 – with no agreement yet.
A spokesman said: "The predicament of the Anglican Bishop is being watched closely by all the Churches here, The bishop has now applied for an Israeli administrative court to intervene, but the prospects for his lawsuit are far from certain. As a matter of general principle, the government is free to issue or to withhold the kind of permit he needs, without giving detailed reasons.
"As a 'matter of principle', as the 'Occupying Power' under the Fourth Geneva Convention, Israel has no such 'right' to deprive anyone, let alone the Anglican Bishop, of his right to live in East Jerusalem which was illegally annexed in 1967. This is not a matter of 'religious freedom and natural justice' but of international law."
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