25 October 2010
Pope Benedict XVI has urged Israelis and Palestinians to push for peace in the Middle East and not to give up hope of a settlement. Closing the two-week-long synod of Middle Eastern bishops in Rome, the pope declared: "Peace is also the best remedy to avoid the emigration from the Middle East." In its closing document, the synod called on the international community to take "the necessary legal steps to put an end to the occupation of the different Arab territories". The gathering also repeated a Vatican call for Jerusalem to have a special status “which respects its particular character” as a city sacred to the three great monotheistic religions.
While recognizing “the suffering and insecurity in which Israelis live” and the need for Israel to enjoy peace within internationally recognized borders, the document said Palestinians “are suffering the consequences of the Israeli occupation: the lack of freedom of movement, the wall of separation and the military checkpoints, the political prisoners, the demolition of homes, the disturbance of socio-economic life and the thousands of refugees.”
The Lebanese-born Bishop Cyril Salim Bustros, who headed the synod’s Commission for the Presentation of the Message, told a press conference at the Vatican: “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands. […] We Christians cannot speak of the ‘promised land’ as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people. This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people – all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”
Palestinians seized on the Synod’s declaration as evidence of the "moral and legal" justification for an independent Palestinian state. "We join the synod in their call to the international community to uphold the universal values of freedom, dignity and justice," chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said. According to the French news agency AFP, Erekar said Christians were "an integral part" of the Palestinian people and blamed Israel for their emigration from the region.
Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon reacted angrily to the synod’s final communiqué: "We express our disappointment that this important synod has become a forum for political attacks on Israel in the best history of Arab propaganda. The synod was hijacked by an anti-Israel majority," he said in a statement. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor called it absurd that the Jewish state was singled out for condemnation by the bishops since Israel was the only country in the region where Christians were actually thriving. According to statistics, there were some 151,700 Christians in Israel last year, compared with 132,000 in 1999 and 107,000 two decades ago. Palmor also criticized the bishops' statement that Israel shouldn't use the Bible. "This has never been a policy of any government in Israel, so this position sounds particularly hollow," he was quoted by the news agency AP as saying. "Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone."
The meeting at the Vatican was attended by nearly 200 participants, including nine patriarchs of the ancient Christian churches in the Middle East and representatives from 13 other Christian communities. A rabbi and two Muslim clerics also addressed the synod.
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