- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2002

A delegation of American Muslims and Christians, denied entry into Israel, wearily returned to Washington yesterday and said they were victims of "racial and religious profiling."
"Technically we weren't deported, because we never made it past passport control," said James Jones, a world religions professor at Manhattanville College in New York. "The moment they realized our delegation was mostly Muslim, and included Palestinian descendants, we were surrounded by men with Uzis."
"They didn't ask a single question about who we were they simply said our itinerary posed 'security concerns.' We were treated like criminals."
The delegation of 17 Muslims and three Christians had been organized by the Washington-based American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ) to visit mosques and meet with peace activists in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Instead, the Israeli government detained them at Ben Gurion Airport for eight hours Sunday before sending them back to the United States.
An Israeli Embassy spokesman yesterday defended the decision.
"This is the case of a sovereign state deciding who gets to cross its borders," said spokesman Mark Regev. "As with the United States, that is our right."
Members of the delegation, who hail from as far west as California, called the Israeli security claim "theatrical."
"Israel has a well-documented history of discriminating against Muslims," said AMJ program director Margaret Zaknoen. "Clearly they have something to hide."
The Rev. Olin Knudsen, a Lutheran pastor and retired Air Force chaplain from Dallas, said he joined the trip for the chance to engage in peace talks with ministers from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Jordan.
Mr. Knudsen said he was refused water and threatened twice with a "cavity search" by female Israeli guards.
"This weekend I learned firsthand what it feels like to be discriminated against," he said.
The AMJ delegates also said they had planned to coordinate their activities with a partner group of 15 Americans all Christian that arrived in Israel on Saturday.
"Another delegation flew in on Saturday, with the same itinerary, and was allowed to enter Jerusalem because it was Christian," said Mr. Knudsen. "But because most of our group was Muslim, with only three Christians, we were barred."
Members of the delegation reported that some of their confiscated personal effects are still in Israel, including more than $50,000 worth of film equipment that a New York attorney had planned to use in creating a documentary on the Middle East conflict.
According to Miss Zaknoen, AMJ has asked the U.S. State Department to file a formal complaint with the Israeli government.
Frederick Jones, a spokesman for the State Department, said that the case will undergo a thorough investigation before any diplomatic action is taken.
"We will be following up with the AMJ and with Israeli officials regarding this incident," he said.


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