Anglican Bishop Suheil Dawani denied permission to live in Jerusalem[Episcopal News Service] The Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, has filed court action seeking reinstatement of his permit to reside in the city of Jerusalem, which was revoked in August 2010 upon what the bishop says are unfounded accusations, according to a March 3 press release issued by his office.
Israel's Ministry of the Interior denied the residency permit for Dawani, his wife and his youngest daughter on the grounds that Dawani had illegally sold Israeli land to Palestinians, according to the release. He also was accused of forging documents.
The official letter denying the permit, which was written in Hebrew, said (in a translation provided in the Diocese of Jerusalem release), "Bishop Suheil acted with the Palestinian Authority in transferring lands owned by Jewish people to the Palestinians and also helped to register lands of Jewish people in the name of the Church."
The letter also stated that Dawani and his family should leave the country immediately.
"This is placing huge pressure on my role as Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem as I now have no right to live in the city of which I am the Anglican representative. It directly affects my ministry here as the future of my position remains uncertain," Dawani said in a recent e-mail to ENS.
Dawani has denied the allegations, none of which have been substantiated by any documentary evidence, according to the release. The bishop has attempted to resolve the matter, sending letters to the Ministry of the Interior and the nation's attorney general in which he asked to know the specific charges against him and requested reinstatement of the residency permit. According to the release, none of his inquiries have been answered.
According to Ecumenical News International, inquiries and protests from Western diplomats to Israel's Ministry of the Interior and prime minister's office have had no effect. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and the primates of the Anglican Communion are among church leaders who have attempted to intervene on Dawani's behalf.
"I have been concerned about this matter since learning of it last August," Jefferts Schori told ENS. "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."
"Diplomatic efforts through the office of the British Foreign Secretary, the British Ambassador to Israel, the British Consul-General in Jerusalem, the State Department of the United States and the American Consul-General in Jerusalem have provided support for Bishop Dawani and ongoing contact with Israeli authorities but without tangible results in terms of discovering the source of the allegations against Bishop Dawani or the restoration of the residency rights which are crucial to his providing leadership of his diocese and residency in Jerusalem for himself and his family," according to the release from the Jerusalem diocese.
Chief Rabbi of Israel Shlomo Moshe Amar and Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre (ICC), have also spoken out on Dawani's behalf without success, according to the release. The ICC, which is sponsored by the Jerusalem churches, the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, coordinates ecumenical action in and for Jerusalem, Palestine and its churches, according to ENI.
"There is a feeling among church leaders that Israel has no respect for Christians or Christian leaders," Daher told ENI in a March 1 telephone interview. "There is no respect for the request of the issuing of residency visas and [it seems as if] they are almost doing the contrary."
In response to a question from ENI, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior wrote, "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."
An Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, told ENI that the legal issues involved in the case were "very serious" and would need to go to court. However, he said, he could not elaborate further.
"No one is trying to kick [Dawani] out of Jerusalem. 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," said the Israeli official, according to ENI.
Dawani was born in Nablus in the Palestinian territory. Like all West Bank Palestinians, he must obtain and regularly renew a "temporary residency permit" in order to live in Jerusalem, where the episcopal residence, cathedral and offices of the diocese are located. According to the diocese's release, this privilege has always been granted to the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem when the incumbent is not an Israeli citizen.
Upon his installation in 2007, Dawani "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 13 recognized churches in Israel," said the release. He renewed his permit without incident in 2008 and 2009.
Church leaders are following the case with concern, Daher of Jerusalem ICC told ENI, because many of the bishops, clergy and other religious leaders serving in the various churches of the Holy Land come from abroad, including Arab countries, and must renew Israeli permits every two years in order to remain in Jerusalem and enter Israel in order to reach the West Bank.
"I hope and pray that with support from the primates and other leaders this situation will be resolved as soon as possible but in the meantime it is shedding a shadow across my ministry and that of this diocese," Dawani told ENS.