De : Fr. Firas Aridah [mailto:Aridah11@hotmail.com]
Envoyé : vendredi 11 janvier 2008 18:35
Objet : Visa problem

Restrictions by Israel on Christians
Threatening the Future of the Church

The Israeli Ministry of Interior decided to limit the entry of holders of valid visas to “one entry” or “no entry”. Initially, this measure was meant to prohibit entry to those coming from “enemy countries”. Now however, it includes Jordanians and Egyptians as well, the only two Arab countries who signed a peace agreement with Israel; among those holders of visas being restricted are priests, religious men and women, seminarians and other church personnel.

What may seem a normal restriction imposes grave consequences:

-         The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, which includes Palestine, Israel and Jordan, will be divided, as Jordanian priests and church personnel will not be allowed to move between Jordan and Israel/Palestine. The same applies to the Custody of the Holy Land, the Melkite Church and the religious congregations.

-         Seminarians at the Latin Patriachal Seminary in Beit Jala, most of whom are Jordanians, will not be allowed to visit their families for Christmas, Easter or any other occasion including family emergencies. If they do visit them, they will loose their residence visa. Applying for a new visa while they are outside the country, according to the new Israeli regulations, will take 3-4 months. Jordanians can leave the country, but re-entry is not guaranteed.

-         Jordanians, and other Arab priests, have to stay in the country without leaving it, and when their residence visa expires, they have to leave the country, apply for a new visa before they can go back to their parishes and ministries. The waiting period can be 3-4 months, with no guarantee they will obtain it. The whole work and life of the Church is in jeopardy by this policy.

-         If Israel continue with the new regulations, the consequences will be dire:       1. by June 2008, the Catholic Church will loose many of its clergy, many of whom are Jordanians; 2. the Seminary, founded in 1852 and which formed all the clergy and bishops of the Latin Patriarchate (256 since 1852), will be closed; 3. and many parishes will be left priestless.

These new restrictions are added to the already existing ones:

-         We witness long delays and complicated bureaucratic procedures to obtain visas for the personnel the Church needs for its work; the refusal to give or renew visas without any explanation. The freedom of the Church in the matter is stated in the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel in 1993, and never ratified by the Israeli Parliament (the Kenesset).

-         Palestinian priests are not allowed to enter Israel or Jerusalem; they may be given “permits” by the Israeli military authorities, restricting the entry points, the duration of their stay, restricted hours, no use of a car, being subject to humiliating search on checkpoints, and canceling the permits any time or with the frequent closures “of the Territories”. This restriction does not allow any normal pastoral work or any participation at the religious ceremonies in the Holy Places or the monthly meetings/spiritual retreats at the Latin Patriarchate.

-         Palestinian Christians, as it is the case of all Palestinians, are not allowed to go to Jerusalem and/or visit the Holy Places. When new restrictions are imposed on the pastors, seminarians and the Church personnel, the life of the Church will be gravely affected.

What is needed now is for Israel to:

-         respect religious freedom;

-         respect the status of the Holy Land as the center of the life of the Church;

-         respect the freedom of the Church to exercise her pastoral work;

-         respect the engagement taken in the “Fundamental Agreement” with the Holy See;

-         allow the Church personnel to move freely, by simply giving them “Multi-entries” on their residence visas.

If the restrictions continue, the future of the Church in the Holy Land is gravely threatened.

God bless you

Yours in Christ

Fr. Firas Aridah

Fr. Firas Aridah
Parish of Our Lady Mother of Sorrows - Aboud
tel: 0097022864526
Mobile: 00972599325957
Fax: 00970222864527