NEW YORK (Apr. 14)
A document submitted by an official of the Syrian Red Crescent to the United Nations’ special committee investigating human rights in Israeli-occupied territories, which purports to provide evidence by the World Council of Churches of maltreatment of Arab prisoners, was repudiated today by the church group. During the committee hearings in Damascus, Shaw-kat Shatti, the Red Crescent official, said the document was signed by citizens of the United States and Great Britain who “must be regarded as impartial.” He told the committee that the church council had not sent an investigation team into the area but had sent relief workers who had witnessed many of the “facts” contained in the document. Mr. Shatti added that the “President” of the WCC had himself visited the area, had seen the results “of Israeli aggression” and “can testify to it.” A digest of the committee’s hearings in Damascus, as those of previous hearings during the past two weeks in London and other Arab capitals, was released by the UN’s information officer accompanying the committee and distributed to the press at UN headquarters in New York.
A spokesman for the World Council of Churches in New York today denied the authenticity of the document submitted in its name by Mr. Shatti. The spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the WCC never issues documents signed by individuals in any country and the one in Damascus could not possibly have come from it. The spokesman suggested that it might have been signed by members of a particular church affiliated with the Council and that sometimes in such instances the WCC’s mane is “tossed about.” The spokesman said there was no President of the World Council of Churches but six co-presidents. none of whom has visited the Middle East. She suggested that Mr. Shatti might have been referring to Dr. Eugene Carson Blake, General Secretary of the WCC whose headquarters is in Geneva, Switzerland. Dr. Blake visited the Middle East in March, 1969. But he made no statements whatever on the alleged maltreatment of Arab prisoners by Israel and in fact leveled no charges against either side, the spokesman said.
Rabbi Marc H. Tannenbaum, national interreligious affairs director of the American Jewish Committee, one of a 14-man delegation to the World Council of Churches meeting in Geneva last February, told the JTA that the conference dealt extensively with the Middle East situation but that “at no time did anyone make any assertions of such (Israeli maltreatment of Arab prisoners) a character.” Rabbi Tannenbaum said that among those participating in the discussion on the Middle East were WCC specialists in that area and several who are in charge of Arab refugee camps. Rabbi Tannenbaum recalled that the last document issued by the WCC on the Middle East was in December 1969 at a meeting in Nicosia, Cyprus, of representatives of Arab and Christian churches in the Middle East and other countries. “That conference was dominated by representatives of the El Fatah,” said Rabbi Tannenbaum, “who sought support from the World Council of Churches. When one hears generalizations of this type (described in the UN special committee report) it has to be weighted against who was at what meeting of the Council and who tried to achieve what effect.”
Israeli Ambassador Yosef Tekoah protested on April 13 to the UN Office of Public Information for publishing “anti-Israel diatribes” of two witnesses at the committee hearings in London, one of whom he described as “a well known Arab propagandist in the employ of the Arab information services in London,” and the other witness as being notorious for “his hostility to Israel.” Mr. Tekoah added, in his letter of protest, that it is “regrettable that the OPI “should lend its services of this type to Arab propaganda.” The special committee and the two witnesses repudiated Mr. Tekoah’s charges and asserted he had made them “without attempting to ascertain the facts.”