United Methodist Pastor Remains Under Arrest in Israel

Nov 19, 2002 03:00 AM EST

A United Methodist pastor from Washington state was still being held Nov. 18 at the Massyahu Prison in Ramle, Israel, after being arrested during a protest in a Palestinian village.

The Rev. Gordon "Gordy" Hutchins, pastor of Highland United Methodist Church in Tieton, Wash., was arrested Nov. 15 in Jayyous, near the border with Israel, with eight other international protestors and one Israeli protestor. The group had joined Palestinians who were trying to stop Israeli bulldozers from proceeding with the building of a "separation wall" that they say will illegally annex much of their fertile farmland into Israel.

Jenny Brav, a former employee of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, also was a part of the protest but was not arrested. Brav is in Israel and the Palestinian territories as a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement.

Hutchins was wearing his clergy collar at the time of the incident, Brav said.

"My impression was he was really there to make sure no one was going to get hurt," she told United Methodist News Service in a Nov. 18 telephone interview. "I was really impressed with him."

Hutchins reportedly had traveled to the Middle East with a Lutheran group from Minnesota to help Palestinians with the olive harvest. The Rev. Sandra Olewine, a United Methodist missionary based there, said U.S. Embassy personnel visited Hutchins in the prison on Nov. 18.

The Israeli demonstrator and an Irish citizen, who was put on a plane out of Israel, were released Nov. 16. However, four women and four men, including Hutchins, had been held under the charge of being in a closed military zone and given the status of "pending deportation." A hearing for the men is set for Nov. 19 in Jerusalem, Olewine reported. The other men are Cary Gibbons, United Kingdom; Thomas Linner, Canada; and Ole Martin, Sweden.

A hearing for the four women took place Nov. 18, according to Brav. The women - Susan Barney of Massachusetts, Rodhika Sainath of California, Esther Serra of Spain and Charlotte Carson of Ireland - were released but required to post bail. The Supreme Court in Jerusalem ruled that they could stay in Israel until their visas expired but could not return to the Occupied Territories, she added.

On Nov. 15, after his arrest, Hutchins had a phone conversation with United Methodist Bishop Elias Galvan of Seattle and reported that he was OK except for bruises from his handling by Israeli soldiers. But two days later, Olewine said, Hutchins called from the prison in Ramle to say that the four men "were experiencing food and sleep deprivation as well as beating."

The issue in Jayyous, according to Brav, is Israel's construction of a wall the government says is necessary for security purposes. Once completed, villagers would need permits to enter and exit the area. The farmers are protesting because the wall is not being built on the Green Line, the internationally recognized border between Israel and the West Bank, but in an area that will separate the village from much of its fertile farmland, she explained.

The loss of the land would affect 550 families in the village itself as well as some 50,000 others in the West Bank who depend upon the produce from their land, she added.

During the Nov. 15 protest in Jayyous, the international demonstrators had spent several hours with Palestinians who were trying to stop bulldozers from proceeding at a particular site. Brav said she noticed a row of demonstrators sitting down about noon, and then the Israeli army started to use "sound bombs," which hurt the ears, along with tear gas and rubber bullets on the crowd. As Brav and other protestors started to leave, she turned and saw the demonstrators in front being grabbed by Israeli soldiers.

When Olewine first spoke to Hutchins after his arrest, he said the international demonstrators were not trying to resist the action of the Israeli soldiers but wanted to protect the Palestinian group, which included many women and children. For example, Hutchins said soldiers had shot tear gas directly at the elderly woman standing next to him, and he had pushed her aside "to block her from getting the worst of it."

By United Methodist Church Services