Lutheran Volunteer Held in Israeli Custody for 48 Hours, Deported
Faith Rowold (Polson High School '00, Washington University ‘04, University College of Dublin, ‘07), daughter of Pastor Paul and Donna Rowold of Polson, is in Prague after being denied entry to Israel, where she had been a volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem for the past two years.
Ms. Rowold, 27, was returning to Israel from the Czech Republic with her partner, Jared Malsin, 25, who is the chief English editor at the Ma'an News Agency. They were detained at the Prague airport by agents of Israel's El Al airline after going through preliminary screening, but were eventually allowed on their flight back to Tel Aviv after they were interrogated and given full body searches.
They were detained again by Israeli airport security when they presented their passports at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, and held and interrogated in the airport for 8 hours before being transferred to the Immigration Detention Center on the airport grounds. There, they were placed in separate cells and were unable to communicate with each other until just hours before Ms. Rowold was deported back to Prague on Thursday morning.
A lawyer for Ma'an had filed an injunction against the deportation order for Mr. Malsin, who is still in detention, awaiting a court hearing on Sunday.
This is the latest incident in what appears to be an escalation of Israeli government activity against foreign church and non-governmental organization (NGO) workers in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. It has recently been reported that approximately 100 church and NGO workers who had previously held work visas from Israel have been denied renewals.
Ms. Rowold commented from Prague that the reason Israel denied her entry was because of her connections to Palestinians.
"Of course I'm connected to Palestinians," she said. "I work for a church body that includes hundreds of Palestinian Lutherans. There are 172,000 Palestinian Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The Israelis are making it really difficult now for church and NGO workers who work with Palestinians or in the Palestinian Territories. It's so hard to get proper visas these days. Lots of us are on tourist visas, leaving every three months and praying to get let back in so we can do our jobs."
"Israel knows these people have proper jobs with registered organizations, and you can't legally work on a tourist visa, so Israel is making illegal workers out of a whole class of people, including some senior staff people. Anyone who looks at this situation can see that Israel is discriminating against organizations that work with Palestinians or in the Palestinian Territories," she continued.
Ms. Rowold has been a volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, where the offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) are located. The ELCJHL has six member congregations in the Palestinian Territories and Jordan. Palestinian Christians, who made up 20 to 30 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories before 1967, now make up less than two percent of the population. Outside observers are quick to blame Christian-Muslim tension for the high emigration rates that caused this dramatic demographic shift, but Palestinian Christians themselves blame the increasing restrictions and hardship of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
Ms. Rowold first went to the Holy Land in 1992, at the age of 10. She says her father leads trips there nearly every year, and she and her two younger sisters, Katie and Stephanie, occasionally traveled with their parents to visit the holy sites and meet with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem.
"It really opened my eyes, traveling at such a young age and learning about people living in such a different place. Also, I think a lot of people don't realize that there are Palestinian Christians, and that they are among the original Christians of Pentecost Day, not recent converts from Islam. When I got older I knew I wanted to support the ministries of these local congregations, and I'm really blessed to have gotten that opportunity. Insha'Allah, which means 'God willing' in Arabic, I will be able to go back soon."
For more information please contact Faith Rowold at firstname.lastname@example.org