An interfaith peace delegation of 19 people, organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), was deported from Israel after being detained overnight at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv on July 2.

“We are an interfaith peace delegation traveling to Israel and Palestine to speak to all sides in the region in order to study and learn about this conflict. Based on Israel’s treatment of us – our detainment, harassment, and denial of access to the region – one conclusion stands out loud and clear: Israel is not interested in real peace at this time,” Dr. Joseph W. Groves, co-leader of the delegation, told the press in Washington, D.C., on July 3.

Calling the delegation and its itinerary of meetings with peace, religious and elected officials a “threat to the security of the State of Israel,” according to the Associated Press, the Israeli Ministry of the Interior gave no reasons to the delegation for the denial of entry. This is the second U.S. peace delegation to be deported in the past two weeks. A group of 22 American Muslims and two Christians organized by American Muslims for Jerusalem were deported the week before the FOR delegation’s arrival.

Despite efforts by General Counselor of the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv to negotiate a compromise to allow the delegation to go to their hotel in East Jerusalem and meet with the Israeli Ministry of the Interior the next day, their visas were stamped with “denial of entry,” making it impossible to return to Israel or the West Bank and Gaza Strip for ten years.

Delegation co-leader Sarah Eltantawi from MPAC said, “We are shocked at the fact that our government is virtually unwilling to secure the safety and access of American Jews, Muslims and Christians to the Holy Land and to the people of the region.”

When asked why this happened to the delegation, Groves told the World, “First, it was a 50 percent Muslim delegation. The second factor was Bush’s speech. What he said gave Israel the license to go through with what they wanted to do – that is to keep every American peace activist they could out and do what they wanted to do in the [Palestinian] territories. They felt they had the go-ahead to deal with us in a way they had not before.”

After the group’s return to the U.S. they were told by the Israeli Embassy that they had not followed procedures. Groves said, “It isn’t that we didn’t follow proceedures but someone established a procedure that we didn’t know about.”

When traveling to Israel, U.S. citizens receive 90-day tourist visas upon arrival. Groves said, “This is totally out of the ordinary. These are special demands that have not been placed on U.S. cittizens or delegations before. FOR has been running delegations for 27 years. This is the fifth delegation in the last 18 months. Even in the circumstances of the second Intifada, four delegations have gone through without any serious questions from the state of Israel.”

FOR is currently resubmitting the names and itinerary of the delegation and requesting that the delegation be allowed to re-enter Israel. “If they don’t admit us then it is clear that it is not a proceedural matter but a substantive issue,” Groves said. “They are trying to keep peace groups out of Israel.”

Peace activists in Israel and on the West Bank and Gaza Strip who were to host the peace delegation were outraged. Urging delegation members to inform the public of what happened, Rabbi Jeremy Milgrom, a leader of the Israeli group, Rabbis for Human Rights, said, “Not only were your basic rights to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land violated, but also the civil liberties of Israeli citizens of all religions who would have benefited so much from your visit, not to speak of the Palestinians, who need and deserve more support than ever.”

For updates on FOR’s efforts to send the next peace delegation, go to their website at or call 202-244-0821.

The author can reached at jleblanc@pww,org