Palestinians Want Pope against Wall

Palestinian Christians want Pope Benedict XVI to bear witness to a symbol of their daily sufferings; Israel’s towering apartheid wall that is eating up their land.

"We want the world to see him with the wall and the Israeli army watchtower behind him," Adnan Ajarmeh, a member of the committee that will welcome the pontiff in his visit to Aida refugee camp outside the West Bank city of Bethlehem, told Agence France Press (AFP) on Monday, May 11.

The committee hopes that when he comes on Wednesday, May 13, Pope Benedict would put the Israeli separation wall erected illegally on their land under the international spotlight.

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The steel and concrete wall is snaking some 900 kilometers along the occupied West Bank, leaving larger swathes of it on the Israeli side.

The barrier leaves many Palestinian families cut off and deprived of their livelihoods.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued a landmark ruling branding the wall as illegal and asking Israel to compensate affected Palestinians.

The welcoming committee initially wanted to receive the pope on a specially built stage right against the imposing wall that snakes around much of the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ.

But after Israel banned the platform construction, the committee bowed to organize the event at a UN-run school nearby.

Nevertheless, the stage on which the pope will stand beside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will be sufficiently elevated that cameras recording the visit will capture the separation wall.

Coming and going from the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, Pope Benedict will move through a checkpoint in the steel and concrete wall.

"We’ll try to slow down his convoy as he passes the wall so that the maximum of photos can be taken," Ajarmeh says.

Pope Benedict arrived in Jerusalem on Monday, flying in by helicopter from Israel’s main international airport at the start of a five-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He will not be visiting the bombed-out, besieged Gaza Strip.


The 4,600 Palestinian refugees in Aida camp also hope the pontiff would draw the world’s attention to their right to return to their original 43 villages in what today is Israel.

"I’m not gullible enough to think that the pope will bring us back home," says Ajarmeh.

"But his visit will remind the world of our suffering, which can be used as a political lever."

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) defines as refugees the descendants of Palestinian who fled or were forced out of their homes by better-equipped Zionist militants in 1948 when Israel was built on the rubble of Palestine.

UN resolutions guarantee the right of return of Palestinian refugees, many still holding the keys and titles of their homes in what is now Israel.

"I want the pope to see the misery that we live in," complains Abssel Abu Odeh, a student at the UN-run school that will welcome the pontiff.

"The wall, the occupation and our families chased from their lands and dreaming of returning," the 14-year-old lists some of their problems.

His friend Najdat al-Azza is equally enthusiastic about the pope’s visit.

"I hope that he will speak about our suffering to the whole world and say that the Palestinian people only want to live in peace."

( and Agencies)

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