Pope's lack of specifics on Gaza, Holocaust disappoint Muslims and Jews
He was politely received at Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem Tuesday, but clerics, judges, and Hamas representatives want stronger statements on Israeli policies and Palestinian suffering.
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The tense parleys and terse words are a testament to the fact that the pope is walking not just on holy ground, but into explosive territory. On Wednesday, he visits Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus and now a West Bank city that is overwhelmingly Muslim. During his visit to the Aida Refugee Camp, which abuts a towering wall that is part of Israel's West Bank security barrier, Palestinians hope to throw a spotlight on their situation. He will also visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.Skip to next paragraph
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On Thursday, he is also scheduled to hold mass for 40,000 people in Nazareth, followed by another on Friday at the Holy Sepulchre as he wraps up his visit to Israel.
Muslims, too, want specifics
Similar to critical Israelis, some Muslims are looking for more specifics from the pope over past grievances. A senior Muslim cleric in the Palestinian Authority, Sheikh Ishaq Taha, says that while the pope has made efforts to repair the damage done to the Vatican's relations with the Arab world after his 2006 speech, it would be helpful if he made further clarifications. In a lecture, the pope read from a 14th-century text in which the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologos said: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Vatican later explained that the pope did not intend to offend, nor did he endorse the words as his own.
"I hope during this visit, the pope will use the opportunity to show his respect for Islam, because there are many who have not heard it," Sheikh Taha says. Palestinians, he adds, will also be listening for a stronger statement on Palestinian suffering at the hands of Israeli policies. They feel they have been hampered from being able to show the pope a variety of sites and to highlight issues such as home demolitions.
"The reason this visit is so important is because of the hope that he will contribute to the peace process," says Taha. "But let's not forget that the occupation has intervened in his visit and has prevented him from arriving at certain locations." Palestinian Authority officials were prevented by Israeli police from having their own press conference on the pope's visit at an East Jerusalem hotel on Monday.
Hard-liners look for criticism of Gaza war
Harder-line Islamists say they expect little out of the pope's visit. Sheikh Mahmoud Musleh, of Hamas, says that Palestinians were disappointed that he didn't criticize Israel more forcefully during the war in Gaza in January.
"He said he considered it an act of self-defense for Israel and did not say that it was a breach of human rights, or an act of excessive force. This adds fuel to the fire of his comments he made about our prophet two years ago," says Sheikh Musleh in an interview in his Ramallah office.
"We find it strange that he is biased toward our enemy," Musleh says. "He has to stay an honest broker and not be biased. We will forgive him once we see he has gone on the right track."
In Gaza, a parliament member from Hamas charged that Pope Benedict was "the most pro-Zionist pontiff in the history of the Catholic Church." Younis al-Astal said that other Muslim leaders' meetings with the pope were pointless because "Islam doesn't accept half solutions."