Pope Francis nods to Palestinian case with unscheduled visit to West Bank barrier
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas poured a litany of mostly unfounded anti-Israel grievances and propaganda in the ear of Pope Francis Sunday, May 25, taking advantage of his decision to visit Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem before spending a day in Israel. Abbas accused Israel of expelling Christians, complained about settlement construction and the plight of Palestinian prisoners and most of all, the “ugly wall” Israel had built.
Abbas “forgot” to mention that the barrier finally put an end to years of Palestinian suicidal terrorist outrages in Israeli towns, schools, markets and restaurants. These atrocities also targeted West Bank Christians, especially in Bethlehem, and accounted for their dwindling numbers.
Ignoring this piece of history, the pope was persuaded to visit the West Bank barrier. He was also presented with a crucifix filled with stones from the “Wall.”
Standing alongside Abbas, the pope delivered an even-handed statement, which called on “both sides to make sacrifices to create two states” and end the “unacceptable” Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.
He then conducted a Mass in Bethlehem’s Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity, built over Jesus’ traditional birthplace, and was greeted by jubilant Palestinian Christians waving giant Palestinian and Vatican flags.
The Mass was superimposed by the muezzin’s call to prayer over a loudspeaker from a Bethlehem mosque. The Christian congregation reacted with whistles and stamped feet and the choir accompanying the Pope raised their voices higher.
In the official program, the Vatican referred to Abbas as the president of the State of Palestine.
Sunday afternoon, the head of the Catholic Church lands at Ben Gurion airport. Israeli President Shimon Peres will be on hand to welcome him before he is flown by helicopter to Mt Scopus for another welcoming ceremony.
His visit to Jerusalem, another religious and national minefield after the West Bank, will start Sunday evening with an ecumenical prayer service he is to conduct with the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians at the Church of the Sepulcher, and heads of the various Christian churches and communities.
Francis has said that this encounter, marking the climax of his pilgrimage, falls on the 50th anniversary of a landmark meeting between Pope Paul VI and Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras, which ended nine centuries of Catholic-Orthodox estrangement.
He spends Monday in Israel, amid tight security for which thousands of police have been recruited.
The pope’s schedule includes a visit to Temple Mount and the Western Wall, Herzl’s Tomb and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Center.
It also includes a meeting on Temple Mount with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, who is notorious for endorsing Jewish genocide. In a Palestinian TV broadcast in 2012, Hussein declared: “The hour of [resurrection] will not come until you fight the Jews. The Jew will hide behind stones or trees. The stones or trees will call: ‘Oh Muslim, servant of Allah, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.’”
Not surprisingly, Muslim prayers on the mount are frequently the occasion for worshippers to hurl rocks at the Jews praying at the Western Wall below, an experience from which heavy Israeli police guards will be there to protect Pope Francis.
Israel has issued special visas for 23,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 600 from the Gaza Strip to enter the country for the visit of Pope Francis Sunday and Monday.
The emotions inflamed by the visit were expressed early Sunday when a group of young Israelis barricaded themselves in the traditional Tomb of David on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. They were protesting reports that the building, whose upper floor is reputed to hold the Room of the Last Supper, would be presented to the Christian Church. Twenty-eight protesters were detained after attacking the police.