Here is some disturbing news from Israel, which calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East. Authorities in Jerusalem have asked Catholics to take down a banner featuring the Pope, lest it spur attacks ahead of the Pope’s visit May 25-26. AFP reports:
Police and the Shin Bet have reportedly been concerned Jewish extremists could increase attacks on Christian sites ahead of the pope’s arrival in an attempt to attract media attention.
In a sign of roiling tensions, Jerusalem police — at the request of municipal officials — asked a Franciscan centre just inside the Old City walls to take down a large banner welcoming Pope Francis in English, Arabic and Hebrew, informed sources said.
The highest western Christian authority in Jerusalem, Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal, gave a press conference yesterday addressing this and other issues. Haaretz:
In response to questions about images of Pope Francis being displayed in Jerusalem, Twal answered that they were put up just as they are throughout the rest of the world, to welcome the pope during his visit. Twal added that in Israel, it is common to put up pictures of athletes and soccer players when they visit, and asked why then should there be such criticism over pictures of the Pope.
UPI has reported on the rise in “price-tag” attacks by Jews on Christian sites.
The pope’s visit to Jordan and Israel, scheduled for May 24 to 26, comes after attacks of vandalism on Christian sites in Jerusalem, allegedly by far-right Jewish groups. Several Christian churches have been defaced, including a death threat painted in Hebrew on East Jerusalem’s Assembly of Bishops at the Notre Dame Center. The site is where the pope is expected to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
At his press conference, Patriarch Twal criticized the official non-response to these attacks:
“It damages, of course, the democracy that Israel purports itself to uphold,” Twal said at a news conference. According to the patriarch, the attacks have been met with only verbal condemnation from Israeli leaders and very few arrests. “All that it takes for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” said Twal.
“Currently, the acts of unrestrained vandalism are poisoning the atmosphere, an atmosphere of coexistence, cooperation, especially now, two weeks before the visit of Pope Francis,” he continued.
The Economist reports that Israeli authorities are turning Christian holy sites into a “military base” so as to secure the visit; but this policy could make Jerusalem a ghost town, and drive a wedge between Francis and his massive following.
WILL Jerusalem’s bustling Old City be turned into a ghost town when Pope Francis comes to the Holy Land on May 25th? That is what worries some of his officials. While the Palestinians are opening up the streets of Bethlehem and providing the pope with an open car when he visits their side of the biblical land, Israel is taking no chances. It is planning a strict permit regime, insisting that the Holy Father travels in an armoured car, with the public kept at arm’s length behind a security cordon.
The Patriarch also had this comment on the intolerance of Israel’s new demand that it be recognized as a Jewish state:
[T]he patriarch also called into the question the move by the government to pass a law making Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. “It can be said that dealing with this sad affair is not only restricted to the realm of law and order. A pressing question rises over how we educate our children, what do they learn about those who are different from them in terms of religion and ethnic and national identity? What effect is created by official discourse on Israel being a state for one group only?” he said.
More signs of intolerance. Agence French-Presse reports on a demonstration by the Orthodox ahead of the Pope’s visit, aimed at the “Cenacle,” a place alongside the Old City walls Jews believe is the site of King David’s Tomb, but that Christians regard as the site of the Last Supper.
Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered Monday near the reputed scene of Jesus’s last supper in Jerusalem demanding that Israel keep sovereignty over the site where Pope Francis will celebrate mass….
“When ‘the crusaders’ come here making the sign of the cross and all kinds of rituals, this place will become idolatrous for us, and we will not have the right to pray there any more,” ultra-Orthodox Jewish protester Yitzhak Batzon told AFP.
Ultra-Orthodox protesters are planning another demonstration there on May 22 — just three days before the pope is due to arrive in Jerusalem.