The following is a report from Connecticut local news channel News8.
They went to Jerusalem to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to witness for themselves the sites of the Holy Land. They ended up seeing Israeli army soldiers carting them off to jail.
It was frightening.
“When you see those heavy guns and hear those heavy voices,” said Jhoufran Annababiar, one of five people detained. “When you see the madness on those soldiers’ faces.”
“They wouldn’t talk to us and explain to us what was going on,” said Reza Mansoor, President of the Islamic Association of Greater Hartford and another person who was detained. “They just confiscated our passports, put five people in a corner, then kind of paraded us down the cobble streets.”
Mansoor and 4 others were held for 7 hours — they are all Muslim.
“We didn’t know what was going on,” he said. “We didn’t think that we had done anything wrong.”
They were arrested when their group from the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme posed for a picture they took while hoisting the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem. There were a total of 29 people in the group, but only the five Muslims were detained.
Church leaders say the annual trip is a chance to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, while exploring the Holy Land.
“It is an opportunity to travel as a group of Christians, as a group of Muslims, as a group of Jews all travelling together, reminding ourselves of our common faith together, our common humanity,” said Steve Jungkite, the senior minister at the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme.
What they saw happen to some in their own group was disturbing.
“I was upset that it happened,” Jungkite said.
They say they want to turn their anger into an educational moment. They say what happened to them is similar to what happens to the Palestinian people on a daily basis there.
“There seems to be an escalation of the kind of discrimination that we witnessed,” Jungkite said.
They hope that by sharing their story, they can help to bring justice and a better life in modern-day Jerusalem for Israelis and Palestinians.
“I really wish for that land to live in peace again,” Jhoufran said.
Now that they’re home, they say they are on a mission to do that by continuing to share their story. No one knew why the five members of the group were initially taken away and into Israeli custody.
The trouble happened when the group stopped to pose for a picture in Jerusalem while hoisting the Palestinian flag. Eventually they were told that the Israeli soldiers thought they were trying to incite a riot.
Members of the church group called the American embassy and the offices of Connecticut’s senators back here at home. A lawyer from Jerusalem was able to convince the authorities that the Connecticut group was not breaking any laws and they were released.
They were held about two weeks ago and returned to Connecticut last week.