Pope Francis on Sunday in Israel called for Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts to continue, as he arrived in Israel for the final leg of a Holy Land pilgrimage.
“I implore to those responsible not to stop for a moment to search for fair solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace,” he said. The pontiff stressed that the “urgent need for peace” is “known to all,” and called for increased “dialogue, placation, and peace,” since “there is no other way [to achieve peace].”
Francis was greeted with an honor guard at Ben-Gurion International Airport, and the country’s top officials lined up to shake his hand as he walked along a red carpet.
In opening comments, Francis lamented that the holy city of Jerusalem “remains deeply troubled as a result of longstanding conflicts.”
He called for a “just and lasting solution” so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace. He said Israel deserves peace and security “within internationally recognized borders,” while the Palestinians have a “right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement” in their own homeland.
He also condemned the Holocaust as the “enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink.” Francis is to visit Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, on Monday.
Speaking at the formal ceremony at Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv after flying in from the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Francis reiterated calls for an end to anti-Semitism and intolerance.
“Let us promote an education… where there will be no place for anti-Semitism in any of its forms or for expressions of hostility, discrimination or intolerance toward any individual or people,” he said.
He also spoke out against religious intolerance in an apparent reference to a wave of anti-Christian attacks by Jewish extremists ahead of his arrival in the Holy Land.
“I express my hope and prayer that this blessed land may be one which has no place for those who, by exploiting… the value of their own religious tradition, prove intolerant and violent toward those of others.”
On Sunday morning, police arrested 26 Jewish extremists protesting at a site on Mount Zion where the pope will celebrate mass on Monday.
Veering off a prepared text, Francis deplored “this criminal act of anti-Semitic hatred” in Brussels, where four people, including two Israelis, were killed in Saturday’s museum shooting.
“With a deeply pained heart, I think of those who have lost their lives in the cruel attack that occurred yesterday in Brussels,” he said. “I entrust the victims to God’s mercy and invoke recovery for the injured.”
Earlier, Israel’s president, Shimon Peres, thanked Francis for his strong stand against anti-Semitism and noted the timing of the Brussels shooting.
“You carry a message of brotherhood among peoples, and friendship for all,” Peres said.
Peres was followed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called Israel “an island of tolerance” for religious freedom in the “turbulent and violent Middle East.”
Netanyahu also addressed the recent controversy over the contested status of religious sites sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and said he is “committed to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites of Muslims, Christians and Jews.”
The prime minister also addressed the stalled peace talks, emphasizing Israel’s commitment to peace. “Our hand is outstretched for peace to anyone who will take it,” he said.
Francis arrived from the West Bank town of Bethlehem, where earlier Sunday he voiced strong sympathy for the Palestinians.
During his trip to the cradle of Christianity, France plunged into Mideast politics, calling the current stalemate in peace efforts “unacceptable” and winning the concurrence of the Israeli and Palestinian presidents to pay a symbolic visit to the Vatican next month to pray for peace.
In another unscripted moment, he prayed at the Israeli security barrier surrounding the biblical West Bank town and briefly donned the checkered black and white headscarf that is a symbol of the Palestinian cause.