November 11, 2002
Evangelical Christian aid worker deported from Israel
___By Elaine Ruth Fletcher
___Religion News Service
___JERUSALEM (RNS)--It was 10 a.m. on a Friday morning earlier this fall, and Jonathan Miles had been up since dawn. He had driven down to the Gaza Strip and back in order to deliver a sack full of vital medicines to Palestinian children with metabolic disorders--formulas prescribed by an Israeli doctor and hand-mixed by an ultra-Orthodox Jewish pharmacy.
___The mission was typical of the sort of relief work that Miles, an evangelical Christian, has been performing over the past decade--work that has matched needy Palestinian Arabs with Israeli Jewish doctors and hospitals willing to offer humanitarian medical treatment.
___Along with the respect
Miles' work has gained him in Palestinian society, his efforts have received kudos from Israel's Ministry of International Cooperation and various Israeli parliamentarians.
___But good intentions backed up by action were not sufficient to head off an Israeli Interior Ministry order to deport Miles, his wife, Michelle, and their family of six children last June--after a long-delayed application for temporary residency in the countrywas denied.
___The family quickly relocated to nearby Amman, Jordan. And Miles since has been permitted to return to Israel for brief three-to-five-day stints like this recent one, in order to oversee the ongoing work of the humanitarian aid group he founded and still heads.
___The irony is that Miles, 41, while not a fan of current Israeli policies on the West Bank, is hardly an enemy of the Jewish state either. He speaks about the return of Jews to their historical homeland as a fulfillment of ancient biblical prophecy, and his relief work has played a role in bridge-building between people divided by violence, fear and hatred.
___A former television journalist who became a Christian in his mid-20s, Miles first came to Israel as a tourist in 1990 after a stint at California's Fuller Theological Seminary. At seminary, he said, he had become interested in the region while studying the texts of the Hebrew prophets, which made references to "God's promises to regather his people in the Holy Land."
___Believing he was answering a call from God, Miles returned to Israel later in the same year with his pregnant wife, their three young children and a story contract from Reader's Digest.
___The writing assignment--about an American surgeon who had straightened the crippled limbs of three Palestinian children for free--dragged on for three years. Meanwhile, Miles formed Light to the Nations, a non-profit organization providing humanitarian aid to sick and needy Russian Jewish immigrants and supported by donations by evangelical Christians around the world.
___In the mid-1990s, Miles had his first serious exposure to the plight of Palestinians.
___"I made a visit down to the southern Gaza Strip, which is the poorest and most isolated part of the region," Miles said. "Until this point, I had thought very little about Gaza and the Arab people in the land. But when I met people who were so warm and friendly and open, and I realized most of these people were never going to come face to face with a follower of Jesus, I felt that I had to do something."
___In 1996, Miles, his wife and their five children moved to Rafah, on Gaza's border with Egypt. There they lived in three tiny rooms under an asbestos roof, in what constitutes one of the poorest and most remote areas of the Palestinian territories--and one of the most crowded places on Earth.
___The U.S. embassy had warned Miles against working in southern Gaza, saying he could become a target of Islamic fundamentalists. But Miles had a different experience.
___"People brought us food from the very first moment we arrived, and they kept on visiting and helping us," he said. The family's integration was eased by the fact that Miles' wife and three daughters all opted to wear a traditional Islamic covering over their head and shoulders.
___"We were in a very conservative city, and it meant a lot to people," he said. "If anyone would question what we were doing there, people would immediately say, 'But his wife and daughters all cover their heads.'"
___Miles found his services were in great demand. With the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accord, the Palestinian Authority had assumed responsibility for the medical treatment of Gaza's residents. Ironically, the new arrangement meant Palestinians in need of sophisticated procedures and operations no longer could be treated for free in Israeli hospitals as they had during the military occupation.
___Miles, through contacts in Israel, was able to locate Israeli doctors and hospitals willing to provide specific treatments and arrange for suitable Palestinian cases from Gaza to be put under their care.
___But Israel's Interior Ministry was not as sympathetic to Miles' initiatives. Even though Light to the Nations had been legally registered with the Israeli government since 1994, his family's appeal for temporary resident status was delayed for years before finally being denied.
___With the Palestinian Authority's intervention, Miles managed to obtain an Israeli visa as a Gaza aid worker. But when the family moved from Gaza to Jerusalem in July 2001, their visa problems began anew. A renewed appeal for temporary residency in Israel was denied, and last July they were forced to relocate to Amman.
___Miles, characteristically, does not hold any ill will against Israel for the decision.
___"I should actually thank them," he said. "We've long talked about expanding our work into Jordan, and this forced me to get out of the status quo and do just that. ...
___"On both sides, I've seen the kind of things that you could easily take to heart and become bitter. But unless we have the ability to forgive, we can't really serve effectively. We have to be able to take the blame and anger from both Israelis and Palestinians when friction arises."
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