American church volunteer for Sabeel denied re-entry into Israel

Friends of Sabeel–North America
Voice of the Palestinian Christians

Krista Johnson, a volunteer for Sabeel in Jerusalem, tells her story below about being denied re-entry into Israel. She is a long term volunteer at Sabeel, sponsored by the United Church of Christ. This is her account of being deported from Ben Gurion Airport as she attempted to return to Jerusalem after attending the Sabeel Conference in Boston. Please hold in your prayers Krista and all others being denied entry.

Also, if you are a US citizen, please contact your legislators regarding the issue of reciprocity regarding visas for religious students and volunteers in Israel. Click here to find contact information for your U.S. senators and representatives.

Here is the Sabeel statement on that issue:

In our understanding of U.S. State Department policy, Krista as an American should be privileged to a “reciprocity” policy — the U.S . grants certain visas dependent on what the other country does. The current U.S. policy towards Israelis seeking religious visas — yeshiva students, rabbis, synagogue volunteers, is that they get an unquestioned multiple entry five-year visa. Obviously, Krista did not receive this reciprocity.”

KRISTA’S STORY

Every time I re-enter Israel/Palestine I am nervous about re-entry and hope for a new three month visa. I have had problems twice before- a one week visa once and a denial of entry this past summer on the way back from a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in ‘Amman.

Last Saturday morning I flew into Ben Gurion airport after attending a Sabeel conference in Boston and visiting my family in Indianapolis. As I walked up to the passport control counter the woman in the booth sneered at me and asked “what are you doing back here?” after seeing that I had been in Israel recently. She asked why I didn’t have a different visa- why was I trying to sneak past them? She did an additional computer check and exclaimed, “you sneaky girl! You were denied entry in Jordan- you sneaky little girl!” I felt my stomach drop like I was on a rollercoaster, I knew what was coming, but I stayed calm as I was led from one interrogation to another, as my passport was taken from me, and as I was informed that I would not be allowed to enter the country. I explained that I was here representing my church in the US on business, but they told me that I would need a visa from the Ministry of the Interior. I questioned why I would not be allowed into Israel to be able to go to the Ministry of the Interior to look into this further, but was not answered. I remained calm, asked the reasons for my denial and asked how they would suggest attaining a different kind of visa, as I am not employed by an organization inside Israel. I was given no further reasons for my denial of entry other than continuing to be referred to as “sneaky.” I was then taken to another room where I was photographed and fingerprinted. Then I was taken to identify my luggage and then taken to a back room where five security personnel searched through my luggage and I was given a body search by two female security officers.

Finally I was taken to a detention facility and held for 13 hours before I was put on a plane back to the US. I was treated decently but locked in a room with no door handle on the inside, bare bunk beds, and a bathroom. I stayed in the room for 13 hours, but they brought me something to eat twice. I was forced to leave my luggage outside, but was allowed to bring my backpack. I was not allowed to keep my camera with me, and I can only assume this was to prevent me from being able to record the conditions in the cell. I informed them that I was in touch with a lawyer, and would not fly that day, but they told me that a court injunction was required to stay. I requested to meet with the Ministry of the Interior representative at the airport, but was refused and taken directly to the tarmac and put on the plane.

On the airplane my passport was given to a flight attendant with instructions to only return it to me when I got off the airplane. I had seen that my bags were checked through to Indianapolis but I had no idea if I had a connecting flight or what time that it left. When I got my passport back at the end of the flight it had “denied entry” stamped in it and I did not have a connecting flight. Luckily I was able to call and book a flight for a few hours later, but after traveling for over fifty hours, I was completely exhausted.

While in the detention facility, I was working with the American Embassy, lawyers, colleagues, and the MYRTOE (My Right to Enter) Campaign. I felt exhausted and sad- I had plans- I was in the middle of projects- I have friends that I love- and wanted to be able to say goodbye at the least. One minute I had plans, and an apartment, and appointments- and the next my world was turned upside down.

I got a phone call from Sam Bahour of the MYROTE Campaign. He told me that I am “a real Palestinian now.” Sam and I have a few things in common. We both grew up near Youngstown, Ohio. We were both denied entry to Israel in the past- but one key difference is that Sam is Palestinian-American. Sam is a passionate, creative leader in the Palestinian business community. I am in Palestine to learn- to work at Sabeel- but also to soak up as much as I can to tell the story when I get back.

For me, this was a scary experience. This was a challenge- an interruption- an inconvenience. But for Sam and the thousands like him who are foreign nationals-Palestinians holding foreign passports who are often the highly educated, committed, creative contributors to the fabric of Palestinian society-this is a much larger issue. This policy of visa renewal takes away the ability to plan, and the stakes are much higher when denial of entry could mean separation from your family, your business, and your home.

My heart is breaking when I think of the special friendships that I have built, the projects that I have poured myself into, and all that I still hope to experience in Israel/Palestine. I’m not finished yet. I’m not done. But no matter what happens, this is a bump in the road, a blip on the radar screen for me- not a life and death issue as it is for many. As I sat in that cell, I was so tired. I had been traveling for over thirty hours and I was about to board another twelve hour flight. I reminded myself that I could leave, I could choose to quit, and I won’t because this is NOTHING compared to what my Palestinian friends and colleagues deal with daily.

I may have been denied entry, but I was not a Palestinian being denied access to my homeland, as many are. I may have been detained for half a day, but Palestinians can be put in administrative detention for up to six months without a reason being given. I may have had to wait while my things were searched through, but that is something that happens every day at the terminal checkpoints to enter Jerusalem or the checkpoints that separate Palestinian villages from one another throughout the West Bank. I know that I need to keep some perspective. However, I am also giving myself some space to grieve, catch my balance, and remember all the little things that I will miss if I am, in fact, not able to return.

I will miss the chaos of the market and the fresh delicious Palestinian food, the sweet thick cups of coffee, an office that is like a family, playing volleyball on the Mt. of Olives, my church community, picking olives, using my Arabic, hiking to remote villages, the piles of fresh spices and heaps of bright vegetables in the market: an assault on the senses, engaging in nonviolent resistance to the Occupation, and the support of good friends who laugh often but are seriously committed to peace with justice in this place. I wish I could have said goodbye.

I am in Indianapolis now, continuing to work by correspondence with Sabeel, with every intention of returning if possible. So much is up in the air right now, but one thing I do know. I may be in Jerusalem- I may be in Indianapolis- but I will continue to work and to advocate for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel. Denied entry or not, I will not let them win, I will not quit. I am not finished yet.

Krista’s email: johnson.krista@gmail.com

13 thoughts on “American church volunteer for Sabeel denied re-entry into Israel”

  1. From http://www.ucctruths.com:

    Global Ministries activist denied entry into Israel – again

    Sunday, November 11, 2007

    Krista Johnson, a member of Southport Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Indianapolis and a Global Ministries Intern/SABEEL activist, has been denied entry into Israel… again:

    Every time I re-enter Israel/Palestine I am nervous about re-entry and hope for a new three month visa. I have had problems twice before- a one week visa once and a denial of entry this past summer on the way back from a World Council of Churches (WCC) meeting in ‘Amman.

    Last Saturday morning I flew into Ben Gurion airport after attending a Sabeel conference in Boston and visiting my family in Indianapolis. As I walked up to the passport control counter the woman in the booth sneered at me and asked “what are you doing back here?” after seeing that I had been in Israel recently. She asked why I didn’t have a different visa- why was I trying to sneak past them? She did an additional computer check and exclaimed, “you sneaky girl! You were denied entry in Jordan- you sneaky little girl!” I felt my stomach drop like I was on a rollercoaster, I knew what was coming, but I stayed calm as I was led from one interrogation to another, as my passport was taken from me, and as I was informed that I would not be allowed to enter the country. I explained that I was here representing my church in the US on business, but they told me that I would need a visa from the Ministry of the Interior.

    SABEEL, of course, is outraged. From SABEEL:

    “In our understanding of U.S. State Department policy, Krista as an American should be privileged to a “reciprocity” policy — the U.S . grants certain visas dependent on what the other country does. The current U.S. policy towards Israelis seeking religious visas — yeshiva students, rabbis, synagogue volunteers, is that they get an unquestioned multiple entry five-year visa. Obviously, Krista did not receive this reciprocity.”

    Reciprocity? As is with most things concerning SABEEL, their statement is a half truth. For religious workers in Israel seeking a visa to the U.S., they must work in a professional capacity in a religious vocation. According to the U.S. Embassy in Israel, this specifically means:

    A job qualifying as a “religious vocation” includes ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy.

    Krista Johnson is not clergy, she is an activist and doesn’t (and shouldn’t) qualify for reciprocity.

  2. This is the entire paragraph from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv that you excerpted:

    A job qualifying as a “religious vocation” includes ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy. A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment. Jobs qualifying for R-1 visas include those who will be actively involved in the religious functioning of the organization. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of an R-1 applicant must relate to a traditional religious function: it must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion.

    Krista Johnson is a Global Ministries Intern. According to the United Methodist Church, interns are missionaries:

    Why We Are Volunteers

    The understanding that “we are called” and “we are sent” is at the foundation of our faith. The scriptures are full of stories of persons who responded to a call and were sent on mission for God. Abraham and Sarah, our parents in the faith, met God in the desert and entered into a covenant that from that moment claimed a people dedicated to God’s mission. Miriam heard the call and was sent to care for her baby brother. Moses heard the call coming from a bush that was burning but not consumed and was sent to lead his people out of captivity. Isaiah had a vision of God in the Temple and heard the voice of the Lord saying “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”; and Isaiah answered “Here am I, send me!” (Isaiah 6:1-8)

    Religious calling or not, Mr. Louis?

    The U.S. Dept. of State better defines the meaning of religious occupation.

    U.S. Department of State
    Temporary Religious Workers

    Definition of Religious Workers

    Religious workers include ministers of religion who are authorized by a recognized denomination to conduct religious worship and perform other duties usually performed by members of the clergy such as administering the sacraments, or their equivalent. The term does not apply to lay preachers. A religious vocation means a calling to religious life, evidenced by the demonstration of a lifelong commitment, such as taking vows. Examples include nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. A religious occupation means a habitual engagement in an activity which relates to a traditional religious function. Examples include liturgical workers, religious instructors or cantors, catechists, workers in religious hospitals, missionaries, religious translators, or religious broadcasters. It does not include janitors, maintenance workers, clerks, fund raisers, solicitors of donations, or similar occupations. The activity of a lay-person who will be engaged in a religious occupation must relate to a traditional religious function: i.e., the activity must embody the tenets of the religion and have religious significance, relating primarily, if not exclusively, to matters of the spirit as they apply to the religion.

  3. What does the United Methodist Church – have to do with this? She is a Disciple of Christ interning for Global Ministries which is a partnership between the United Church of Christ and Disciples of Christ and has nothing to do with Methodists. She was not a missionary at all, she was an intern activist working for Sabeel – that is a very different thing. By the definition laid out by the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv (which is what you have to base reciprocity on) she does not qualify.

  4. Her being a missionary was a cover for her working with the International Solidarity Movement that acts as human shields for terrorist groups like Hamas and Hizballah. She was not working for peace but as a human shield for such terrorist groups to try and destroy Israel. THAT is why she was deported. She is no missionary.
    She is a subversive for terrorist groups. Sabeel is a PLO front to try and persude Americans that Israel is persecuting the Christians in the West Bank and not the Arab Muslims who are the real culprits.
    Good riddance of her. Israel is waking up to these internationals who are seeking to destroy her sovereignty to aid the PLO to dismantle the Jewish state.

  5. Mr. Kaplan,

    Facts build character. Try them sometime. The internet is breaking through the walls of hate that propaganda creates, and the truth revealed is gaining momentum. Is it distressing to know that those who’ve read this far will likely be inspired to research further, rather than rely upon you or me for an opinion? I hope so.

    And I hope they add these sites to their internet travels:

    Salt of the Earth

    International Centre of Bethlehem

  6. Mr. Lee Kaplan, You are a sick person as evidenced by your posting on this Internet topic. It is your Zionist sickness that is spreading false and phoney stories so Israekl can continue to grab Arab land, paralyze the activities of Christians in the Holy Land due to repulsive regulations which deny visas to priests trying to bring peace to the Holy Land. Please try to get well, I will pray for your recovery, but I am afraid you are a lost cause, but, please do not try to take the world down with you. Get well!!

  7. Mr. Radloff and Diane Warth;

    I would classify people who work for terrorist organizations as sick people, not myself. The PLO persecutes Christians in Judea and Samaria and you choose to lie and suggest it’s the fault of the Jews. Comments like “Zionist sickness: reveal a warped mind bent on anti-Semitic vommunist ideology or just plain stupidity.
    You are not peace activsits calling for the destruction of a Jewish national homeland for another Arab Muslim dominated dictatorship. Missiles are falling on Sderot and you embrace the killers who shoot them. You are the sick one, sir, not me. t was my organization that got Krista deported and we are proud of this.

  8. Sorry for the typos before..been a long day. I wanted to emphasize that I do not lie, but lies are common practice among Sabeel and their ISM allies. Krista herself acknowledged she lied all the time to the Israeli border control. You are all very, very sick people. Krista will never get back into Israel and we will continue to get others like her deported for their stupid revolutionary goals of helping terrorists and murderers who kill not only Jews, but Christians as well. You will NOT help create a terrorist state to destroy Israel with your lies of Christian persecution by Israel’s Jews when the truth is the Arabs yo ally with are the real persecutors.

  9. Mr. Kaplan,

    The terrorist state legitimised in 1948 by the UN, after being strong armed by Harry Truman to do so, is one you support.

    So by your definition you are sick, sick, sick.

    You have testified. Now get well.

  10. Israel was set up by the United Nations and not Harry Truman. It had a majority Jewish population that purchased its land. Ms. Warth, don’t let your anti-Semitism cloud your history. Jordan was to be Isrel also but the Brits screwed ISrael out of that land so you have no complaints.

  11. I admit a bias against racists ignorant of history and/or willing to revise it for their own devices. I haven’t a good idea how ignorantly or willfully you lie, Mr. Kaplan, I only know you meet the criteria of that bias.

  12. A little dated on this reply. Ms. Wrath, my history is truthful and correct. I am not a racist, nor do I lie. Krista, of course, lied to the Israeli border police, a police force in a democratic society so she could aid a fascist Arab movement out to destroy the Jewish state under the guise of being a MEthodist missionary. Sick. I can prove my history with facts, can you with yours? As for bias, yes, I am biased in favor of the democratic state of Israel and not in favor of fascists and anti-Semites as you are.