No peace after appeal for peace

The Middle East Synod in the Vatican ended with a Pope’s appeal for peace – Israel reacts to the bishops’ meeting with indignation. At the center of the accusations is the criticism of some bishops of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The Vatican defends itself.

The synod was "hostage to an anti-Israeli majority," Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told the online edition of the Roman daily "La Repubblica" on Monday (25.10.2010). Church representatives from the region would have used the meeting for "political attacks" in the form of "Arab propaganda".

Ayalon called on the Vatican to distance itself from positions expressed at the synod that ended Sunday, saying they defamed Jews and the state of Israel. Otherwise, this casts a shadow over relations between Israel and the Holy See. In a statement, he also called on the Vatican to distance itself in particular from the "offensive remarks" made by Melkite Archbishop Cyrille Salim Bustros of the U.S. The Lebanese-born churchman had said, among other things, that one cannot speak of a "promised land for the Jews" and derive political consequences for today from it. The whole earth is promised land. Ayalon called the remarks an insult to the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

The spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Yigal Palmor, expressly rejected the criticism voiced at the presentation of the final document of the synod, according to which Israel justifies the occupation of Palestinian territories with the argument that the Jews are the people chosen by God. "Israeli governments have never used the Bible" to declare control over certain territories, the Foreign Ministry spokesman stressed.

Lombardi reiterates demand for two-state solution
Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi, referring to the official final document of the synod, tried to cushion the conflict. This reaffirmed the Vatican demand for a two-state solution. Furthermore, it recognizes suffering and rights of both peoples. He said that interceptions of individual synod participants were legitimate, but should not be taken as an official Vatican position.

In a message presented on Saturday at the end of the two-week Middle East Synod, the participants had expressed concern about the situation of the Palestinians. The latter suffer from the consequences of the occupation of their territories, lack of freedom of movement, the security wall, military barriers, the demolition of their homes and the disruption of economic life. The synod fathers also pointed to the situation of political prisoners and thousands of refugees.

In view of the expansion of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas, the synod participants also warned against "unilateral measures" that affect the demographic character and the statute of Jerusalem as a holy place of all three great monotheistic religions. Only a "just and definitive peace" could guarantee the well-being of all ethnic groups in the region.

Regardless of possible negative reactions, the Pope also spoke clear words in the direction of Islam at the solemn closing Mass on Saturday. Religious freedom in Muslim countries must finally become a topic of dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

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