Friday, March 04, 2011

Property dispute allegations lead Israel to deny Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem's residency visa

A dispute that has remained out of the public eye until recently has now led to a lawsuit being filed against the government of Israel by the current Anglican bishop of Jerusalem.

According to the Anglican Communion News Service (ACNS), "The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem and Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev'd Suheil Dawani has been denied the renewal of his 'Temporary Residency Status' in Jerusalem. This action was taken when the A-5 permits held by himself, his wife and youngest daughter were revoked by the government of Israel, effective 24 September 2010."

The Guardian reports that Bishop Sawani denies the accusations raised to him in a letter from the Israeli interior ministry that he was "acting with the Palestinian authority in transferring lands owned by the Jewish people to the Palestinians and also [helping] to register lands of the Jewish people in the name of the church." 

The ACNS also reports that "there were further allegations that documents were forged by the Bishop. The letter stated that Bishop Dawani and his family should leave the country immediately."

Bishop Dawani has now initiated legal action against the Israeli government objecting to their denial of the residency visa for the city for him, for his wife and their daughter.

This action also follows an ongoing dispute between Bishop Dawani and his predecessor, The Rt. Rev'd Riah Abu el-Assal, over the diocese's ownership of a church school in the former bishop's hometown of Nazareth, the Guardian reports,

The ACNS offers some background on the standing issue:
Bishop Dawani was elected in 2007 as Bishop of the Diocese and was recognized by the State of Israel as the head of the Episcopal Diocese in accordance with the decision by the State of Israel in 1970 which acknowledged the Diocese as one of the thirteen recognized churches in Israel. All Anglican Bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem who have not held Israeli citizenship have been granted residency permits (A5) to allow them to live in Jerusalem where the Bishop's residence, diocesan offices and cathedral are located.

Bishop Dawani, his wife and daughters had successfully renewed this permit, as required, in 2008 and 2009. On 24 August 2010, Bishop Dawani went to renew the permit with the Ministry of the Interior and was informed in writing that permits for himself, his wife and daughter would not be renewed because of allegations pending against the Bishop. 
"Israel is not interested in any unnecessary delays but the allegations are still under official review," an Israeli embassy spokesman in London told the Guardian. "We understand it is causing damage as long as it remains unresolved."

The Archbishop of Canterbury received assurances that the situation would be resolved promptly, according to the ACNS.  "Other Anglican leaders, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC and the Primates of the Anglican Communion representing Anglicans throughout the world, have all used their influence individually and collectively with Israeli authorities without success to date."

"I have been concerned about this matter since learning of it last August," TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori Jefferts Schori said today. "Overtures through our own State Department, with the Israeli ambassador, and directly to Mr. Netanyahu, have thus far proved fruitless. The situation Bishop Dawani and his family are in remains untenable. We seek an immediate regularization of the bishop’s residency status, and continue to express our concern about his treatment and the repeated failure to address this matter directly."

While Bishop Dawani and his family have lived next to Jerusalem's Victorian St George's cathedral, his jurisdiction also includes the rest of Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.

Late last month, the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and Bishop Dawani were received by His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, the Episcopal News Service reports from an Earth Times report on the February 2011 meeting.

King Abdullah, a Muslim, told Dr. Williams and Bishop Dawani at the meeting that "Christians need to "intensify efforts to force Israel to stop its unilateral measures that threaten the Christian and Islamic holy places and seek emptying the holy city of its Arab inhabitants, both Muslims and Christians," the ENS reported.

Pressure on Israel by supporters of Bishop Dawani has continued since Bishop Dawani was requested to leave the country last September. "The Archbishop of Canterbury, as the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion and church representative of the Queen of England, has been in contact with the office of the Prime Minister of Israel and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amer to resolve this issue. In addition, Bishop Dawani met personally with the Chief Rabbi, who is a good friend of both Bishop Dawani and the Anglican Church, who took immediate action to try to restore the Bishop's residency rights," the ACNS reports.

In addition to these efforts, a letter regarding Bishop Dawani's status was sent from the Anglican Primates Meeting in Ireland went to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in January.

Other Anglican leaders, says the ACNS, including the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Episcopal Bishop of Washington DC and the Primates of the Anglican Communion representing Anglicans throughout the world, have all used their influence individually and collectively with Israeli authorities without success to date.

Bishop Dawani's office told the Guardian that the bishop has now chosen to take legal action against the government of Israel.  "The lack of resolution, despite all the efforts, required [him] to seek legal counsel," reports the Guardian,  "upon the recommendation ... he has chosen to take the case to court, seeking redress through the Israeli legal system," said the spokesman.

The Israeli Ministry of the Interior responded to a request for a statement from ENI News.  "We are talking about a sensitive issue that was presented in front of the Interior Minister and our detailed answer will be delivered in the court, in the frame of the petition that was served," Israeli Ministry of the Interior to ENI News. 

An unidentified Israeli official told ENI News and reported by ENS that the legal issues involved in the case were 'very serious' and would need to go to court as well.

"No one is trying to kick [Dawani] out of Jerusalem," said the Israeli official, according to ENI. "He has been offered to be allowed to stay in Jerusalem under a different status, as someone with a work permit, but he rejected that."

Read more about it here and here and here and here

GAFCON watchers may remember that Bishop Dawani had issued statements that opposed the GAFCON pilgrimage in Jerusalem in 2008 saying that such a gathering emphasizing the major divisions in the Anglican Communion would have a negative impact on the work of the Christian churches in Jerusalem.  After meeting with GAFCON organizers, Bishop Dawani did attend a GAFCON gathering at St. George's Cathedral, though he was accompanied by The Episcopal Church's emissary, the Rt. Rev'd Robert O'Neil, Bishop of the Diocese of Colorado (TEC).


Anonymous said...

The issues here are extraordinarily tricky, as certainly must be the role of a Christian Bishop in a non-Christian, semi-theocratic state. The Palestinian Christian community was once the most vibrant in the Middle East, but it is sadly depleted by emigration as conditions for Palestinians have not improved over many years now.


Anonymous said...

It certainly is tricky, but I am surprised that he might imagine that having Schori and Chane (particularly the latter's support for Khatami) appeal to Netanyahu was somehow calculated to help his case.