In an unprecedented move against the leadership of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the ecumenical movement, the WCC associate general secretary Prof. Dr Isabel Apawo Phiri was yesterday apprehended, interrogated and deported from Ben Gurion International Airport. Phiri, a respected African woman theologian from Malawi, is a senior official of the World Council of Churches whose 348 member churches represent over 550 million Christians in 110 countries around the world. She was travelling to attend consultations with church leaders in Jerusalem on the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI), one of the many programmes and activities supported by the WCC globally.

The reason given for Phiri’s deportation was “Prevention of illegal immigration considerations.” Phiri resides in Geneva, Switzerland, where she has served as associate general secretary with responsibility for Public Witness and Diakonia at the offices of the WCC since August 2012. She was the only African member of a WCC staff delegation currently visiting Jerusalem. All four other members were allowed entry. The WCC has instructed its legal representatives to lodge an appeal against this patently unjust and discriminatory action against Phiri immediately.

“The accusations made against the WCC and the EAPPI programme in the interrogation of Dr Phiri and published in the media today are completely false” said WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit. “I am very surprised and dismayed that the Israeli Ministry of Interior is apparently basing its decisions on incorrect and unreliable sources.”

The WCC deeply regrets the Israeli antagonism against the WCC’s initiatives for peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI )is a concrete response to an appeal to the World Council of Churches from church leaders in Jerusalem in 2002. They wrote in a letter: “We would respectfully request protection of all people in order to assist the re-establishment of mutual trust and security for Israelis and Palestinians. Further, we would call on all peace-loving people from around the world to come and join us in a manifestation for just peace”.

Over 70 churches, ecumenical bodies and specialized ministries in 22 countries from Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America actively participate in the programme. Almost 1,800 accompaniers have participated.

Jerusalem, 6 December 2016

Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit
General secretary
World Council of Churches