Methodist pastor among activists detained in West Bank

Posted: Thursday, November 28, 2002

JERUSALEM (AP) -- A United Methodist pastor from Washington state was among a group of protesters detained after demonstrating against Israel's construction of a security fence near the West Bank town of Tullkarem.

The Rev. Gordon Hutchins said he was released Nov. 19 after four days in custody and rejoined the Lutheran group he had been traveling with.

''The people of Palestine are being systematically destroyed,'' he told United Methodist News Service. ''The objective of Israel is ultimately to be the only people in this country.''

Nine other activists also were arrested Nov. 15 while trying to block Israeli bulldozers clearing land for the barrier. About 100 Palestinians participated in the demonstration and one of them was among those detained, along with an Israeli.

Hutchins said soldiers fired tear gas, then dragged protesters away.

An army spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said soldiers detained the demonstrators after they refused to leave the area.

Israel began building the barrier six months ago in an attempt to keep Palestinian militants from crossing into the Jewish state. So far, less than one mile of the planned 75-mile-long barrier -- part wall and part fence -- has been completed, the Defense Ministry says.

By July 2003, the barrier will run the length of the West Bank.

The project has been criticized on both sides.

Jewish settler leaders complain the barrier will become a de facto international border with a Palestinian state they do not believe should exist. Palestinians maintain it will cut into West Bank land they want for a state.

Said Hutchins: ''I love Israel and the people of Israel, but something's gone terribly, terribly awry.''

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