02 March 2011 | Arieh Cohen
Sheil Dawani is considered a foreigner, having been born in Nablus, while the Anglican cathedral and offices are in East Jerusalem. Without a visa, in theory he can be arrested and deported at any time. Appeal already submitted to an administrative tribunal could have the negative effect of giving reason to the government.
Israel’s Interior Ministry has revoked the permit for the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, The Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, to live in Jerusalem, and 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 here, but cannot obtain either citizenship or legal residence in Israel, since he was born in Nablus, i.e. 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 of course 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 worry 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. Indeed, as has been made public by news reports over the years, the issue of entry visas and residence for Catholic clergy and religious is a priority item on the agenda of the negotiations between the Holy See and the State of Israel, right from their beginning in 1992 – with no agreement yet. So 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, except essentially raisons d’état. There is an opinion, too, that turning to the court is a mistake, since an unfavourable decision by the court (the likelier outcome perhaps) would give the Government the cover of law. It might have been better for him, some say, to rely instead on rousing Western public opinion, in the name of religious freedom and natural justice. Time will tell.