UK rabbis banned from Gaza over security fears

Two prominent British Liberal rabbis have been denied entry to Gaza after the Israeli authorities said it was too dangerous for them to visit.

Rabbi David Goldberg, emeritus rabbi of the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St John’s Wood, and Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism, had originally obtained Israeli clearance.

But when they arrived at the Erez crossing point into Gaza on the Sunday before last, Rabbi Goldberg said an Israeli officer told them: “Sorry, you can’t go, we’ve had security information that it would be dangerous.”

Rabbi Goldberg has long been an outspoken opponent of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, while Rabbi Rich was among critics of the recent Gaza campaign.

The two rabbis, who were in Israel to attend a World Union of Progressive Judaism conference, had arranged to go to Gaza through a contact at an international aid organisation and UNRWA, the UN agency which works with Palestinian refugees.

“We wanted to see what was taking place there,” Rabbi Rich said, “and of course meet people with different views from the ones we hold.”

They were due to be escorted by UNRWA and meet members of the Hamas-led civil administration during a short, possibly overnight stay.

“They were keen to meet us,” Rabbi Goldberg said. “As we were known to have been critical of Operation Cast Lead, it’s flattering but highly unlikely that they would have thought us worth kidnapping.

“In any case, two French rabbis had gone in with groups the day before.”

Rabbi Rich said: “Obviously we were disappointed, though we appreciate that the Israeli government wished to ensure our safety and not put us in jeopardy. We have to assume that if the Israelis say there is a security problem, there is one.”

But although it was also official Foreign Office advice for British citizens not to go to Gaza, Rabbi Rich believed it would have been safe to go since UNRWA had arranged to take them round in an armoured car.

John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, commented: “We are all very disappointed that these two activists for peace were denied entry to Gaza. Such actions hinder rather than help the process to bring about positive change.”

Following the WUPJ conference, Rabbi Rich took UK Liberal rabbis and lay leaders on a tour organised by Rabbis for Human Rights, visiting East Jerusalem, Sderot and Hebron.

He has a meeting with Israel’s deputy ambassador in the UK, Talya Lador-Fresher. “I hope it will facilitate an early opportunity for me to go into Gaza,” he said.

    Last updated: 10:37am, April 2 2009