By Eric Leijenaar, Worthy News Senior Special Correspondent
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL (Worthy News)-- Security forces of Israel's immigration service broke into an African church in Tel Aviv damaging the ceiling and detaining several worshipers, news reports said Tuesday, December 22.
Israeli daily Haaretz said officers forced their way into the Redemption Power church, one of Israel's most popular African churches, which is situated on Lavenda street near Tel Aviv's central bus station.
Many worshipers, including local homeless people, reportedly fill the church each day.
Immigration officers gathered everyone on the premises and detained those who did not hold papers with a request for refugee status, Haaretz reported. It was not immediately clear how many people were detained.
Officers were quoted as saying that they "damaged the ceiling" because they were "sure the church was hiding illegal migrants there."
Critics condemned the move saying it violates an understanding that police would not raid places of prayer, hospitals, and human rights organizations. "This is a scandalous, harsh violation of all the past obligations" representatives of a migrant workers telephone hot-line told Haaretz. "Even immigration police who were known for their violent behavior and vicious arrests, made sure to state in their protocol that churches are protected territory."
The hot-line reportedly said "there is a feeling police are crossing all the red lines, one after the other. They are arresting children, threaten refugees, and are now forcing their way into religious holy sites."
The incident also underscored concerns among Christian groups about the difficulties they face in helping foreign refugees in Israel. Additionally, Christians have reported attacks attacks against congregations of what are known as 'Messianic Jews' who believe Jesus Christ is the Messiah.
Authorities have been accused of not doing enough to stop violence by extremists and creating stumbling blocks to set up Evangelical churches in the Jewish state. Officially Israel recognizes freedom of religion. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos).