Mennonite Central Committee service worker Rachelle Friesen of Swift Current, Sask., was deported from Israel in late May and is banned from entering the country for a decade.
She was returning from a regional staff retreat in Spain on May 29 when Israeli authorities detained her at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
According to an MCC Washington Office report, Friesen was detained for more than 30 hours, which included three sessions of interrogation. She was returned to Barcelona, where she was met by MCC colleagues before making her way back to Canada.
Friesen was a peace coordinator in Palestine for four years, concluding her term this summer. MCC U.S. director of communications Cheryl Zehr Walker said Friesen was told she was deported for security reasons.
“She asked an official what she had done and received the answer, ‘I don’t have that information,’ ” Walker said. All other members of the MCC Palestine staff attended the retreat and completed their return trip.
MCC records indicate that since the organization began in 1920, 11 MCC workers have been deported from six countries. Walker said, to her knowledge, this is the first time Israel has deported an MCC worker.
“Friesen’s deportation is similar treatment to what some foreign visitors have experienced, simply for acknowledging contact with Palestinians, and to what MCC’s Palestinian and Israeli partners face on a regular basis in their nonviolent work for justice,” says the report, written by Washington Office director Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach.
“It also is a window into the reality of life for Palestinians under the illegal Israeli occupation, who experience ongoing discrimination or permanently emigrate from their ancestral homes. . . . Friesen’s deportation signals yet again the importance of working toward a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict.”