(JNS.org) During his visit to the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Sunday, Pope Francis said he hoped “all will refrain from initiatives and actions which contradict the stated desire to reach a true agreement” to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“For the good of all, there is a need to intensify efforts and initiatives aimed at creating the conditions for a stable peace based on justice, on the recognition of the rights of every individual, and on mutual security,” the pope said while standing next to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Francis also mentioned good relations between the Vatican and “the State of Palestine,” and made a surprise stop at the Israeli security fence, where he prayed next to graffiti that read “Free Palestine” and “Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto.” The website Israellycool.com published photos showing that Palestinian Arabs were initially chased away by Israeli police for spraying anti-Israel graffiti on the fence, and that police erased the graffiti with white paint. But the anti-Israel messages were re-painted on the fence in time for the pope’s stop there, resulting in the controversial papal photo-op.
Vatican Spokesman Federico Lombardi said it was the pope’s “personal decision” to stop by the fence.
“This wall is a sign of division, that something is not functioning right,” Lombardi told a news conference in Jerusalem.
But Simon Wiesenthal Center Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told The Algemeiner in response to the photo-op, “There is only one reason for the security wall— Palestinian terrorism, [in the form of] suicide bombers, snipers and rock throwers.”