Pope Calls for Palestinian Statehood

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Writer

Pope Benedict XVI delivered the most political speech of his Middle East trip yesterday in the Palestinian territories where he endorsed Palestinian statehood and called for the “walls” between the Israelis and the Palestinians to be torn down.

According to a report appearing in the National Catholic Reporter, Pope Benedict was standing in a Palestinian refugee camp, in the shadow of Israel’s security wall, when he said: “In a world where more and more borders are being opened up – to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges – it is tragic to see walls still being erected,” the pope said.

He went on to once again endorse Palestinian statehood, referring to the suffering in the Gaza Strip five times, and comparing the fate of Palestinian refugees with the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt.

“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 neighbors, within internationally recognized borders,” the pope said.

Later in the day, while visiting 3,000 Palestinian refugees, he was even more explicit: “Your legitimate aspirations for permanent homes, for an independent Palestinian State, remain unfulfilled.”

Referencing the plight of the Palestinians after decades of war and economic stagnation, he acknowledged their “natural right to marry, to raise families, and to have access to work, education and health care. . . .I know how much you have suffered and continue to suffer as a result of the turmoil that has afflicted this land for decades.”

He also pleaded with young Palestinians to reject terrorism.

“I make this appeal to the many young people throughout the Palestinian Territories today: do not allow the loss of life and the destruction that you have witnessed to arouse bitterness or resentment in your hearts,” he said. “Have the courage to resist any temptation you may feel to resort to acts of violence or terrorism.”

Early indications are that the Holy Father’s words and gestures today are likely to be well received by Palestinian spokespersons.

“I hope [the pope’s message] will reach the ears of all Palestinians, so people today will not feel alone, will not feel abandoned, will not feel scared, will not feel hopeless,” said Saeb Erakat, a chief Palestinian negotiator, to CNN.

“I am not saying that the pope will turn the train tomorrow and change things, but this is a step, a huge step in the right direction,” Erakat said.

The Pope spent only a day in the Palestinian territories. Today, he travels to Nazareth in the Galilee region of Israel, where among other things he is scheduled to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the two men’s first substantive encounter during the trip.

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