The visit to Israel next month by Pope Benedict XVI is becoming more political with an announcement by Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, Fuad Twal, that the pontiff will preach at an Arab village of descendants of former Arab Israelis.
The pope’s message at the village of Al–Aida, located near Bethlehem, is meant to symbolize the Arab claim of the “right of return,” according to Twal.
Israel already has told the Vatican that it does not want any pictures of the pope touring the separation barrier, which many foreign media refer to as the “Apartheid Wall.”
The Palestinian Authority violated agreements with Israel and built the Al-Aida village next to the route of the separation barrier instead of next to a school, according to the Hebrew-language Internet edition of Yediot Acharonot. The Civil Lands Administration has issued demolition orders for the village.
However, Tourism Ministry is encouraging the visit because of the expected boost to tourism by Christian pilgrims and the influx of hundreds of foreign journalists who will be covering the Papal visit in the second week of May.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov has also protested the inclusion of a visit to the Galilee Arab city of Sakhnin on the Vatican's itinerary. The mayor of Sakhnin led vigorous anti-Israel demonstrations during the counterterrorist Operation Cast Lead campaign earlier this year.
The pontiff's upcoming visit to Israel will be the first since Pope Jean Paul toured the country in 2000, several months before the outbreak of the Oslo War, also known as the Second Intifada.