MAY 13 2009


Rabbi to pope: Go split Rome - May 13


Pope Benedict XVI travelled to one of the ancient centres of Christianity today and declared his strongest support yet for an independent Palestinian state.


The pontiff challenged the reluctant Israeli leadership to find a two-state solution to the enduring conflict in the Middle East as his increasingly political tour of the region reached Bethlehem.


The town, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus, now lies within the West Bank in the shadow of the eight-metre tall Israeli wall.


The Pope led Mass in Manger Square today in front of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, and a crowd of several thousand Christians. As the crowd cheered and applauded he said his “heart goes out to the children” affected by the conflict.


He said he was praying that Israel’s embargo on Gaza “will soon be lifted” and noted how strange it was that Bethlehem is associated with the joy and renewal of Jesus’s birth “yet here in our midst how far this magnificent promise seems from being realised”.


Palestinian security guards stood on the roof of the Church of the Nativity and the surrounding buildings with rifles and Kalashnikovs, as the Pope urged a lasting settlement.


“The Holy See supports the right of your people to a sovereign Palestinian homeland in the land of your forefathers, secure and at peace with its neighbours, within internationally recognised borders,” he said.


“In particular I call on the international community to bring its influence to bear in favour of a solution.”


He said to the Palestinians gathered in the square: “I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.


“Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism. Instead, let what you have experienced renew your determination to build peace."


The trip to the Palestinian territories came a day after he was criticised by some in Israel for failing to adequately express remorse for the Holocaust during a visit to a Second World War memorial.


The wartime past of Pope has threatened to overwhelm his mission to the Holy Land and yesterday the Vatican issued a surprise denial that the pontiff had served in the Hitler Youth.


The Vatican described him as man of strong anti-Nazi credentials and a peacemaker after critics were angered that he failed to apologise for what they see as Catholic indifference during the Nazi genocide.


The Pope’s “peace mission” to the Middle East has proved more difficult than planned, but he has continued to speak out against the views of Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister.


The pontiff’s support for a two-state solution is in line with the international community but not the new Prime Minister, who says the Palestinians are not ready to rule themselves.


The Pope will visit the Aida refugee camp on the outskirts of Bethlehem later today where he is expected to highlight the destitution of some of the Palestinian population.


Christians are a tiny minority among the 3.9 million Palestinians who live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but thousands gathered to see the Pope this morning.


“When he comes and visits us, it gives us moral and material support,” said Ramzi Shomali, a 27-year-old electric company worker. “It motivates us to stay in our land, and he will see our situation and will use his power for our good.”


Victor Batarseh, Bethlehem’s Christian mayor, said he hoped the papal mission would “encourage Palestinian Christians to be steadfast on their land and encourage them to stay”.



Rabbi to pope: Go split Rome - May 13


If Pope Benedict XVI so fervently supports a Palestinian state which would split sections of Israel he also should divide Rome, charged the leader of a coalition of more than 350 Israeli rabbinic leaders and pulpit rabbis.


"I was shocked to hear that the first thing the pope had to say when he landed in Israel was that the Holy Land must be divided to make room for a Palestinian state," said Joseph Gerlitzky, rabbi of central Tel Aviv and chairman of the Rabbinical Congress for Peace, which includes some of Israel's most prominent Jewish leaders.


"I suggest that he divide Rome. The Holy Land was promised to the Jewish people and absolutely no human being on this earth has a right to relinquish even one inch of this land," Gerlitzky stated.


Gerlitzky made the remarks at a speech today commemorating the Jewish festive day of Lag Ba'Omer, which is about the mid-way point between Passover and the day on which the Jews were said to have received the Torah.


In his opening comments after disembarking at Israel's international airport yesterday, Benedict called for the creation of a Palestinian state with the hope that Israelis and Palestinians "may live in peace in a homeland of their own within secure and internationally recognized borders."


Gerlitzky's comments were just a taste of the criticism directed at the pope from Israeli lawmakers and religious leaders here, some of whom were disappointed with segments of Benedict's closely scrutinized visit to the Holy Land.


The pontiff's speech yesterday at Jerusalem's famed Holocaust Memorial Museum has been slammed, largely for stopping short of an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church, which historians charge could have done more to save European Jews during the Holocaust. The pope's speech did not once mention "Nazis" or "murder."


Benedict came under fire from the Jewish world earlier this year for lifting the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust.

Israeli newspapers today were filled with criticism.


"One would have expected the Vatican's cardinals to prepare a more intelligent text for their boss," one columnist, Tom Segev, wrote.


Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said in a radio interview the Vatican and its German-born pope had "a lot to ask forgiveness from our people for."


"And he is also a German, whose country and people have asked forgiveness. But he himself comes and speaks to us like a historian, as an observer, as a man who expresses his opinion about things that should never happen, and he was what can you do? a part of them."

"If we let this go, in the end they'll say, 'the Jewish people can manage,'" Rivlin said.


Rivlin said of the speech that "everything that we feared came to fruition."


"I came to the memorial not only to hear historical descriptions or about the established fact of the Holocaust. I came as a Jew, hoping to hear an apology and a request for forgiveness from those who caused our tragedy, and among them, the Germans and the church. But to my sadness, I did not hear any such thing," he said.


"The visit to Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum) does not constitute an expression of regret as such," Rvilin added. "The eyes of Jews across the world, and of the nation in Israel, were directed here, in anticipation of hearing honest communion personal and determined regarding the Holocaust of their people. And we heard nothing of the sort."


Holocaust Museum chairman Avner Shalev told the Jerusalem Post there was "certain restraint" in the pontiff's speech, which he labeled a "missed opportunity."


"I did not expect an apology, but we expected more," he said. "This is certainly no historic landmark."


Benedict began his speech stating, "I have come to stand in silence before the monument erected to honor the millions of Jews killed in the horrific tragedy of the Shoah."


He continued: "They lost their lives, but they will never lose their names. These are indelibly etched in the hearts of their loved ones, their surviving fellow prisoners, and all those determined never to allow such an atrocity to disgrace mankind again.


"I reaffirm like my predecessors that the church is committed to praying and working tirelessly to ensure that hatred will never reign in the hearts of men again," he said.


"As we stand here in silence, their cry still echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood," he said.


"I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope," the pope concluded.


The Vatican today defended the pope. Spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi told reporters that Benedict had mentioned his German roots previously, specifically when visiting a synagogue in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and at the Auschwitz death camp in Poland the following year.


"He can't mention everything every time he speaks," Lombardi told reporters in Jerusalem.






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