"Irish pilgrims deported from Israel despite protests "

by Emmet Oliver, and David Horovitz ("The Irish Times", October 12, 1999)

Despite objections from the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Israeli authorities last night deported 25 Irish pilgrims from the port of Haifa, apparently because they regarded them as a security threat.
The group, which includes seven handicapped children, was being returned to Greece via Cyprus. They are members of the Pilgrim House Community, based in Castletown, Co Wexford.
Mr Daniel Pinhasi, First Secretary at the Israeli Embassy, said that the group had attempted to enter Israel without visa. He conceded that it was "possible" that the Israeli authorities might have confused the group with the US-based Concerned Christians cult or with another millennium cult.
He said that an original visa application from the group had been turned down on the advice of the Israeli police. He added that Israel was deeply concerned that religious extremists might try to usher in the "end of the world" by provoking acts of violence there as the millennium approached.
The embassy confirmed that it had received a large number of complaints from members of the public about the treatment the group had received.
A spokesman for the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Desmond Connell, said that the Pilgrim House community was not part of any parish and was a "fringe Catholic group". The community's headquarters, although located in Co Wexford, was part of the Dublin diocese.
People living in the Castletown area described the group as "extremely private". But the local parish priest, Father Eugene McCarney, told The Irish Times that the community was a "committed and dedicated Christian group". It was not an extreme sect, as had been suggested.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, expressed his concern at the manner in which the Israeli authorities had treated the group when he met his Israeli counterpart, Mr David Levy, at an EU meeting in Luxembourg.
Mr Brendan Scannell, the Irish Ambassador to Israel, who spent most of yesterday with the group, was adamant that its members were not cultists and said that they presented no threat to Israel. He described them as a "Christian community group". They had arranged accommodation in Jerusalem through the Latin Patriarch and had made banking arrangements with Israel's Bank Leumi.
Mr Scannell said that he had asked Israel to reconsider the deportation, but his request had been rejected. He noted that the group could have entered Israel without a visa for a stay of up to 90 days. However, since the members had intended remaining there for eight or nine months, a formal visa application had to be made. When this was rejected the group had decided to travel anyway, but the Israeli authorities had intercepted them.
Speaking from the ferry leaving Haifa last night, Ms Helena O'Leary, who set up the group 10 years ago, said that they had wanted to bring the handicapped children to see the Holy Land, but had been punched and kicked by Israeli police in Haifa on Sunday night and then bundled on to the ferry.


"Group is not an extreme sect, says priest"

by Chris Dooley, in Wexford ("The Irish Times", October 12, 1999)

Neighbours of the Pilgrim House Community in the Wexford village of Castletown described the group yesterday as an extremely private one which kept to itself.
The local parish priest told The Irish Times that the community was a committed and dedicated Christian group and not an extreme sect, as had been suggested.
Father Eugene McCarney said that the group, which has been based in Castletown, between Arklow and Gorey, for about 10 years, operated independently of the parish. But he had visited the community at its base in the secluded Hyde Park estate on several occasions and had found its members to be "very friendly".
"They are a very committed group of people, looking after handicapped children and handicapped adults in a very dedicated way," Father McCarney said. "They are not an extreme Christian cult. That description is way over the top."
Other residents of Castletown, a small village about three miles off the main Dublin-Rosslare road, knew little about the group. "I saw them taking the children to the seaside once, but apart from that I've never laid eyes on them," said one woman, who asked not to be named. "They do their own thing up there and don't get involved in the community in any way."
"Sometimes they are very friendly and other times they pass by and don't speak at all," another woman said.
The only people at the community's headquarters yesterday were a caretaking couple, who had just moved in. They told The Irish Times that they had no involvement in the group, whose members had all left for Israel.
Before moving to Castletown, the group had operated in Sutton and later in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin. They then purchased the Hyde Park estate, which at one time was owned by the Beaumont family. New outbuildings and a chapel have recently been built in the grounds, close to the original estate house.
A planning application for retention of the new buildings, including the chapel, is posted on the gate of the estate, which is about a mile outside Castletown village.
The buildings used by the group are hidden behind woodland and several locals said they had never seen them. Neighbours said the group was frequently visited, however, especially by priests and nuns.


"Assault by police in Israel alleged"

by Emmet Oliver ("The Irish Times", October 12, 1999)

Members of the Pilgrim Foundation Community have accused Israeli police of punching and kicking them and pulling them along the ground by their hair.
They said the police ordered them onto a ship where they spent the night under armed guard. Speaking to The Irish Times from a Cypriot ship anchored in Haifa harbour, Ms Helena O'Leary, who set up the group about 10 years ago with her husband, Dr Dermot O'Leary, said she was still in shock at the treatment received by the 25 people, who live as a community in Co Wexford.
"The only word around here at the moment is bewilderment. We are trying to explain to the handicapped children why their parents were hit with batons and punched in the ribs. We are all stunned."
She said the group, including seven handicapped children, were Irish Catholics who had been turned away despite their only wish to see the Holy Land.
"We are pilgrims to the Holy Land, we are not that spectacular. We are not a cult, we are a group who live together as a community involved in social issues within the Catholic faith."
She said the group often protested outside the Department of Justice about asylum issues and ran a centre for handicapped children which was funded partially by the Eastern Health Board.
"We are here in peace to show these kids this country and the holy sites and we have been treated like animals," she said. She said they went to Israel at the invitation of Catholic friends there and planned to stay for at least three months.
"We wanted the children in particular to see the Holy Land and held several meetings with the Israeli Embassy before we left informing them of our plans," Ms O'Leary said.
The Israeli Embassy refused them a visa, she said, but would not tell them why. They left Ireland a few weeks ago and travelled to Greece. After leaving the ferry which brought them from Greece on Sunday morning, the group approached immigration control at Haifa Harbour.
Ms O'Leary said they waited there for four hours while the authorities consulted on whether to admit them. "They came back to us and said `you have to get on the boat'. We were completely flummoxed. When we asked them why they said `we are not telling you anything'," she said.
Two members of the group then went down to a local police station to make phone calls back to Ireland and to the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Mr Brendan Scannell. "When we got there, they asked the two people to go into a cell. They said, `You must be crazy, we are not going into a cell'," she said.
After making some phone calls, the two people went back to the immigration centre to join the rest of the group. "At that stage, they said get on the bus, we queried it and they said get on the bus," she stated.
"As I was talking to Brendan Scannell, they told us to get off the phone and said there was no more time. When we objected they rushed at us, some of them had batons drawn. One of our group had his fingers bent back and had to get treatment later. Another person was kicked in the ribs. Because we are a non-violent group, we did not fight back. If we had, I have no doubt we would have sustained serious damage. It was like being in Guatemala or somewhere in the 1960s," she said.
She said the police dragged her husband, Dr O'Leary, by the tie along the ground, while bundling the rest of the group onto their bus. She said the door of the bus was broken in the struggle. She said at no time were the handicapped children harmed, but they were frightened. "It was like we had entered another world, where people could be treated appallingly without anyone raising an objection," she said. The group were then put back on the ship, secured in a single room guarded by armed police, Dr O'Leary said. "It's awful to be treated as if you are barely human," he said.
Ms O'Leary, a psychologist, said the group were Catholics who believed the church was not concentrating on the social justice element of its teaching. She described as "crazy" news agency reports that they had $300,000 in their possession when they arrived in Israel. "We had a small amount of money each for the trip."


"Incident raised by [Irish Foreign Affairs Minister] Andrews"

by Patrick Smyth, in Luxembourg ("The Irish Times", October 12, 1999)

The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Andrews, yesterday raised the Haifa pilgrims issue with his Israeli counterpart, Mr David Levy, who was here for a meeting with EU foreign ministers.
Mr Levy said he had been in touch with Tel Aviv since their meeting and the authorities were "doing all in their power to see that they do not belong to a dangerous group which is coming to commit suicide in Israel".
He said once the checks were made, he was hopeful there would be a solution.
Mr Levy insisted "this is not an action against Ireland". Mr Andrews said he had expressed concern about the difficulties the group was having. They were not part of any sect and had been vouched for by the Bishop of Ferns, he told Mr Levy.
Mr Andrews said he was "seriously concerned the matter could cause damage to relations between the two countries". Meanwhile, Mr Levy, who was in Luxembourg to mark the establishment of a new EU-Israel forum, was asked by journalists about the implications of the Austrian election for bilateral relations between Israel and Austria.
Mr Levy made it clear if the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, Mr Jörg Haider, were to become part of the next government, Israel would review its diplomatic ties with Vienna. The choice of who was in government was a matter for the Austrian people, he said, "but we also have a prerogative to decide on our relations with a different Austria".


"Fear of 'doomsday cult' grips Israeli security"

by David Horovitz, in Jerusalem ("The Irish Times", October 12, 1999)

The initial reports were sensational, terrifying. Irish men, women and children from a "doomsday cult" had been arrested in Israel, stopped at the border, apparently bent on spreading death and destruction in the holy city of Jerusalem, perhaps even aiming to fuel a religious conflict that could usher in the End of Days and the messianic era.
Sensational, terrifying and, according to Ireland's Ambassador here, Mr Brendan Scannell, who spent five hours with the group on Sunday and 10 yesterday, the reports were a good distance wide of the mark.
Mr Scannell said the 25-strong group presented no kind of threat to anyone. Led by a psychologist and a psychiatrist, many of them suffer from various handicaps. They merely wished to mark the millennium in the Holy Land.
Mr Scannell, who has been in touch with the group since last month, has spent much of the past two days attempting to assure the Israeli authorities that they are harmless. To no avail.
Last night they were put back on a boat to Greece, via Cyprus.
The handling of their case underlines the extent of Israel's millennial panic. In January it deported members of Denver's Concerned Christians cult who had sold all their possessions and moved to Israel because their leader, Monte Kim Miller, had prophesied that he would die in the streets of Jerusalem in December of this year, and be resurrected a few days later.
The Concerned Christians appeared to be the first of what Israel fears may be a wave of religious extremists, flooding into the country as the new millennium approaches, some of them ready to resort to violence to bring about a prophesied apocalypse.
The deportation of the Concerned Christians was accompanied by leaked reports in the Hebrew media that the cultists may have been preparing "extreme, violent acts" to help prompt the End of Days.
But no hard evidence to that effect was ever brought. And after they were gone, some experts on religious fundamentalism warned that, by turning them into frontpage news, Israel might actually have boosted the threat posed by the Concerned Christians, a marginal group who might now regard themselves as truly significant, and might seek to enter Israel a second time, more subtly, and carrying the sour taste of their past ill-treatment.
Israel has set up a special task force to deal with millenniumlinked threats, an expert team equipped to gauge the threat posed by various groups, and that task force was involved in yesterday's handling of the group from Ireland.
If Mr Scannell's assessment is accurate, the treatment afforded this group is considerably more heavy-handed, and inappropriate, than that meted out in January to the disciples of Monte Kim Miller.


"Israelis send Irish `cult' group back"

by Samantha McCaughren ("Irish Independent", October 12, 1999)

TWENTY-FIVE Irish pilgrims, including children and mentally handicapped adults, were last night ordered out of Israel after being labelled members of an ``extreme Christian'' group.
The party had been held on board a ship at the Israeli port of Haifa after being refused entry.
The Israelis ordered the pilgrims back to Cyprus, from where they had travelled to Israel.
But the leader of the party, members of the Pilgrim Community from Gorey, Co Wexford, strongly denied they were a cult, as some reports had alleged.
Speaking from the ship last night, the founder of the community, Helena O'Leary, described the group as ``ordinary people'' and said ``a huge mistake had been made''.
She said they had been confined under armed guard in a dilapidated lounge. They had to pay for all their food and were under guard each time they used the toilet facilities.
She accused the Israeli police of brutality and said two people had their injuries treated in hospital.
``They punched some of the women. One man who sat on the ground was lifted up by the hair and put on the bus,'' she said.
But Israeli police spokesperson Linda Menuhin said ``reasonable force'' had been used and the Irish Ambassador to Israel, Brendan Scannell, had been made aware of this.
The expulsion of the group has put further pressure on Irish-Israeli relations already strained by incidents in south Lebanon, where Irish troops serving with the UN are stationed.
However, Daniel Pinhasi, First Secretary at the Israeli Embassy in Ireland, expressed hope that the matter would not further damage relations.
The community was founded 20 years ago to fight ``social injustice'' and work with minority groups.
The Department of Foreign Affairs said that they are ``a reputable charity with no links to fanatical religious groups''.
The community's headquarters is a Georgian house and five other houses built on 12 acres of land in quiet countryside near Inch, outside Gorey.
Handicapped people live alongside the community members, who have been based there for 10 years.
The organisation is funded through a combination of fund-raising activities, a grant from the Eastern Health Board for five residents and the proceeds from the sale of furniture produced in the house.
The trip is believed to have cost the community £25,000.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Press Office said that the Church was aware of the group as an organisation of Catholics, although they were not actually under the patronage of the Church.
However, a local priest, Fr Ken Quinn from the parish of Wexford, has been acting as chaplain to the community for some time. He was due to fly out to join the group today and described them as Catholics struggling to live a Christian life.
Mrs O'Leary said the group was a non-violent Catholic community. They had not fought back in the clashes with police.
During their time in Haifa they were not informed why they were being refused entry.
The group was refused entry to Israel despite assurances from Foreign Affairs Minister David Andrews. Yesterday Mr Andrews asked his Israeli counterpart to intervene on the group's behalf.
In Luxembourg, he explained to the Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy that the group was believed to be a reputable charity.
Mr Scannell, who called any references to the group as a cult ``scurrilous rumours'', spent the last two days trying to reach a compromise with Israeli authorities.
However, Mr Pinhasi of the Israeli Embassy said that the decision of the group to go without visas was ``dangerous and provocative''. He said the group had applied for visa some months ago and had been refused.


Pilgrim House Community: Updates

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Wed, Oct 13, 1999