Jerusalem Old City Arab ready for papal visit
Jerusalem Old City Arab ready for papal visitIsrael News Photo: Flash 90

Arabs in eastern Jerusalem told Reuters they intend to exploit next weeks’ papal visit to involve the Pope in a “war for each piece of land…every tile in the house” in the capital. The statements add evidence to charges that the Pope’s visit already is involved more with politics than religion. 

Adnan Husseini, former director-general of the Muslim Waqf department in Jerusalem and now special advisor to PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, told the news agency, "There is a battle on every piece of land in Jerusalem. In every room, every house in Jerusalem there is a battle.”

He said he will tell the German-born Pope about what he calls “harsh” Israel policies, which include demolitions of illegally-built Jewish and Arab homes alike. Husseini said he wants to get the Pope actively involved because he is sure the United States, which has criticized the demolitions, is not “capable of putting pressure on Israel.

Pro-Arab activists complain that existing legislation, which bars people from rights in the city if absent for more than seven years, is aimed at Arabs. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently announced a new building plan that provides new housing units for Arabs, but Husseini charged that if the municipality were serious, it would not demolish existing units.

The Vatican already has run into a political minefield with statements from its veteran diplomat, Cardinal Renato Martino, during the Operation Cast Lead counterterrorist campaign in Gaza, which he compared with a Nazi camp. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor responded, “We are astounded to hear from a spiritual dignitary words that are so far removed from truth and dignity.”

A sharper reaction came from Rabbi Marvin Hier of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, who stated that the clergyman’s comments are like others “used against Israel by terrorist organizations and Holocaust deniers.”

Intentions by Arabs to exploit the Pope’s visit were made clear last month, when Arab Catholics visited the Vatican and gave him a black and white checkered keffiyah, the Arab scarf that is associated with Yasser Arafat. The Pope obligingly wore the scarf while talking with the Arab delegation.

Other planned stop filled with political innuendo is a trip to the Arab city of Sakhnin in the Galilee, where the town mayor in January led inciting crowds against the Operation Cast Lead campaign. Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov has unsuccessful tried to convince the Vatican to avoid meeting the mayor because of his “support for terror.”

Israel has succeeded in changing the itinerary so that the Pope will not be able be photographed at the separation barrier, one of the favorite targets for anti-Zionists who call it the Apartheid Wall. Palestinian Authority legislator Essa Qaraqie said Thursday that the papal entourage will pass near the barrier but that military officials prohibited Arabs from building a stage.

The last time a pope visited Israel was in 2000, several months before the outbreak of the Oslo War, also known as the Second Intifada. The visit by Pope John-Paul II, who was born Karol Józef Wojtyla, also was laced with politics.

Shortly before the pope arrived, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem told an Italian newspaper, “Too many lies about the Holocaust, Wojtyla free us from the Jews. Six million Jews dead? No way, they were much fewer. Let's stop with this fairytale exploited by Israel to capture international solidarity. It is not my fault if Hitler hated Jews; indeed they were hated a little everywhere. Instead, it is necessary to denounce the unjust occupation endured by my people. Tomorrow I will ask John Paul II… to support our cause.”