JERUSALEM (Jan. 24)
The Israeli authorities are refusing to grant an entry visa to Alex Awad, an American citizen of Palestinian origin who has been engaged to serve as minister of the Baptist Church in East Jerusalem.
Although important American political and religious figures, including some Jewish groups, have appealed on his behalf, their intervention has been futile.
The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of entry permits, says Awad is ineligible because he overstayed his last visa. He also worked here without a permit, according to ministry spokeswoman Tova Ellison.
But many are convinced the reason is political.
Alex Awad is a brother of Dr. Mubarak Awad, who headed the Center for Non-Violent Studies in East Jerusalem, which formulated ideas for non-violent Palestinian resistance to the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Awad family lived in East Jerusalem until the late 1960s, when they moved to the United States.
Mubarak returned in 1983. Alex, an ordained Baptist minister, came to Bethlehem in 1987 and taught at the Baptist college there.
He was deported in June 1988, eight months after his tourist visa expired.
His requests for a new visa have been repeatedly denied. Awad now lives in Ohio.
An religious watchdog group, the Rabbinic Human Rights Watch, is urging the Israeli government to reconsider.
One of its leaders, Rabbi David Forman, appealed to Interior Minister Arye Deri to allow Awad into the country to fulfill his religious duties.
In a letter to Deri, Forman argued that “as a religious minority which has been persecuted through history, we have to defend the freedom of religion in the State of Israel.
“Any accusations against Alex Awad because of his family relations stand against the principles of Judaism.”
Ellison said, meanwhile, that “Awad’s request for a visa is still under investigation with the proper authorities and he will soon receive a reply.”