The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL), and the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, were denied entry to Gaza Feb. 4, according to a news release from the ELCJHL.

     The bishops were traveling with the heads of churches of Jerusalem to visit Christians in Gaza. Younan and Dawani were the only Palestinians in the group and the only ones denied entry, the release said.

     Younan hosted 44 bishops from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, who visited the region Jan. 6-13.

     Phoning his Jerusalem office from near the Israel-Gaza border, Younan said he could see F-16s flying toward the beleaguered strip. Younan called the scene “worrying,” fearing the planes meant more loss of life in Gaza.

     “We are protesting because this is against our right to move and against our freedom of religion,” Younan said. The group planned to visit churches and humanitarian projects of the Middle East Council of Churches, and the Al Ahli Hospital, as well as to “encourage Christians at this very difficult time,” he said.

“Isn’t it our right as heads of churches to have free movement and to enter Gaza for pastoral visits where ever we want?”

     After returning to Jerusalem, Younan said the heads of churches planned the visit and applied for permits to visit Gaza 10 days ago, according to the release. He said they had been assured by the Department of Christian Communities that they had the proper permits to enter Gaza. But Younan and Dawani were turned back at Erez Crossing between Israel and Gaza, the release said. Younan said phone calls to the authorities were fruitless.

     “Although we are denied entry, whatever the reasons of the Israeli security, this will never change our policy. We will continue to work for justice, peace and reconciliation between the two nations and dialogue among the three religions,” Younan said. “We still believe that violence from any side will not

bring justice and peace. It will bring more hatred and extremism and bitterness between the two peoples. Only nonviolent ways will assure security for Israelis and freedom for Palestinians.”