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Israel deports local Lutheran volunteer

Faith Rowold, daughter of Pastor Paul and Donna Rowold of Polson, is in Prague, Czech Republic, after being denied entry to Israel. Rowold had been a volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem for the past two years.

Rowold, 27, was returning to Israel from the Czech Republic with her partner, Jared Malsin, 25, on Jan. 12. Agents of Israel’s El Al Airlines detained Rowold and Malsin at the Prague airport after they went through preliminary screening. 

Eventually Rowold and Malsin were allowed on their flight back to Tel Aviv after they were interrogated and given full body searches.

Rowold and Malsin were detained again by Israeli airport security when they presented their passports at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv. They were held and interrogated in the airport for eight hours before being transferred to the Immigration Detention Center on the airport grounds. 

Rowold and Malsin were placed in separate cells and were unable to communicate with each other until just hours before Rowold was deported back to Prague on the morning of Jan. 14.

“The most frightening episode was when I was startled from my bunk at 2 a.m. on the morning of my deportation and brought out of the room and into the hallway, where Jared was standing. He looked like he was in pretty rough shape, and we were both shaking from cold and exhaustion. This was the first time we’d seen or talked to each other in the 24 hours since we had been separated and put in different cells at the detention center, and we held each other and talked for a bit,” Rowold said in an e-mail interview. “ … Being forcibly separated and not knowing when we are going to see each other again is terrible. I still don’t know how many more days it might be before we can be together again.”

Malsin is the chief English editor at the Ma'an News Agency. Rowold said the Ma’an News Agency is based in Bethlehem and is an independent Palestinian news agency, with no ties to any church or political party.

“They’re (Ma’an News Agency) basically the local news from Palestine, but the English editors are very careful to call the Israelis for comments and try and include their side of the story,” Rowold explained. 

A lawyer for Ma'an filed an injunction against the deportation order for Malsin, who remained in detention, awaiting a court hearing. The state attorney filed the state’s case late on Jan. 17.

Rowold said, “Jared is still in Israeli custody … He has not been allowed out of the cell he is in except to walk around outside in the small yard on a couple of occasions, and he will certainly not be allowed to attend his hearing in Tel Aviv, if there is one. He was finally able to get a change of clothes and a book and some writing materials a couple of days ago.”

Although Malsin’s attorney has filed his case on Jan. 18, Rowold said the decision is with the judge to either rule on the case without a hearing or to schedule a hearing for sometime, “we don’t know when.”

“At least Jared is able to get some phone calls from his parents and from the American Embassy. There are no rights and no guarantees for Palestinian prisoners in administrative detention,” Rowold explained. 

Rowold tried to call Malsin on Jan. 18 but was not allowed to speak to him. 

It has recently been reported that approximately 100 church and non-governmental (NGO) workers who had previously held work visas from Israel have been denied renewals.

Rowold commented that the reason Israel denied her entry was because of her connections to Palestinians.
 
"Of course I'm connected to Palestinians," she said. "I work for a church body that includes hundreds of Palestinian Lutherans. There are 172,000 Palestinian Christians in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. The Israelis are making it really difficult now for church and NGO workers who work with Palestinians or in the Palestinian Territories. It's so hard to get proper visas these days. Lots of us are on tourist visas, leaving every three months and praying to get let back in so we can do our jobs."
 
Rowold had been a volunteer with the Lutheran Church in Jerusalem, where the offices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) are located. The ELCJHL has six member congregations in the Palestinian Territories and Jordan.
 
Rowold said she is trying to get the Evangelical Lutheran Church and the ELCJHL, with support from the Evangelical Church in America (ELCA) and “whoever else” to appeal to the Israelis and get her a visa to go back to Israel. Her current work was scheduled to end at the end of March “so that’s what I’m hoping to shoot for, but at this point even a week to go back and pack up would be great.” 
 
Palestinian Christians, who made up 20 to 30 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian Territories before 1967, now make up less than two percent of the population according to an e-mail from Pastor Paul Rowold. 
 
Rowold first went to the Holy Land in 1992, at the age of 10. She said her father leads trips there nearly every year, and she and her two younger sisters, Katie and Stephanie, occasionally traveled with their parents to visit the holy sites and meet with Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem.
 
On Wednesday, Pastor Rowold was advised Malsin signed documents dropping the case appealing his deportation on Tuesday evening.
 
Malsin had been held in a Tel Aviv detention cell for seven nights with only two embassy visits, Rowold said.
 
Pastor Rowold said he believes Malsin signed the document without a lawyer present or even consulted “under pressure from the Israeli Ministry of the Interior.”
 
On Wednesday, Malsin was on an El Al flight to New York City, Pastor Rowold said in his e-mail. Malsin has only his luggage, cell phone and passport. 
 
Faith will fly from Prague to Boston on Thursday, according to her father.
 
“Hopefully Jared, who will probably rent a car in New York and drive to his home in Hanover, N.H., will meet her there,” Pastor Rowold continued.
 
Faith Rowold is a 2000 graduate of Polson High School, a 2004 graduate of Washington University and a 2007 graduate of University College of Dublin.

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