by ENInews Staff

The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, Suheil Dawani, said he has gone to court to seek a renewal of the Israeli residency permits that allows him to live and work in the ancient city.

The Israeli government recently declined to renew the permit and ordered Dawani and his family to leave the country.

According to a March 3 news release from Dawani’s office, he was informed in writing last August by the Ministry of the Interior that the permits would not be issued. A letter from the ministry said that “Bishop Suheil acted with the Palestinian Authority in transferring lands owned by Jewish people to the Palestinians and also helped to register lands of Jewish people in the name of the Church.” There were further allegations that documents were forged by the bishop.

Dawani said he replied, denying all the accusations, but received no response from the ministry.

A second letter, requesting documents or evidence of the charges, also went unanswered, the release said. “Bishop Dawani attempted to resolve this with restraint and without causing the government of Israel any embarrassment. The lack of resolution ... required Bishop Dawani to seek legal counsel,” according to the release.

Dawani had successfully renewed the visas in 2008 and 2009. He was elected in 2007 and was recognized by the State of Israel as the head of the Episcopal diocese.

All Anglican bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem who have not held Israeli citizenship have been granted residency permits to allow them to live in Jerusalem where the bishop's residence, diocesan offices and cathedral are located.

After the denial last August, a number of religious leaders, including Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and Israeli Chief Rabbi Schlomo Amer, advocated for Dawani with the Israeli government, according to the diocese.

In addition, “diplomatic efforts through the office of the British Foreign Secretary, the British Ambassador to Israel, the British Consul-General in Jerusalem, the State Department of the United States and the American Consul-General in Jerusalem have provided support for Bishop Dawani and ongoing contact with Israeli authorities but without tangible results in terms of discovering the source of the allegations,” the diocese said.

On March 2, in a written response to a question from ENInews, the Ministry of the Interior said, “We are talking about a sensitive issue that was presented in front of the Interior Minister and our detailed answer will be delivered in the court, in the frame of the petition that was served.”

An Israeli official, who asked not to be identified, told ENINews on March 2 that the legal issues involved in the case were “very serious” and would go to court, however, he said, he could not elaborate further.

The official also said Dawani had been offered a different status, similar to a work permit, but rejected it. The diocesan news release did not address this point and noted that Dawani “is awaiting a court date to be assigned.”