VATICAN CITY — Pope John Paul II criticized Israel's building of a wall to keep out Palestinians, and he called for a global movement against terrorism following deadly attacks in Iraq and Turkey.
“In reality, the Holy Land does not need walls but bridges. Without reconciliation of souls, there can be no peace,” the Pope said at a Sunday blessing Nov. 16.
He renewed his “strong condemnation” of all acts of terrorism in the Holy Land and said it was disappointing that the peace process seemed blocked.
“The construction of a wall between the Israeli and Palestinian people is seen by many as a new obstacle on the road to peaceful coexistence,” he said.
The Vatican has stepped up criticism of the Israeli security barrier, which when completed will stretch more than 200 miles along the Israeli border and deep into sections of the West Bank. Earlier in the week, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, a Vatican envoy, said the wall would institute a “geography of apartheid” and foment more violence.
The papal comments came on the eve of a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Italy. Sharon was not scheduled to meet with Vatican officials.
In his remarks from his apartment window above St. Peter's Square, the Pope said he was con-cerned that in recent days “terrorism has once again accomplished its wicked work.” He spoke the day after two synagogues were bombed in Istanbul, Turkey, and in the wake of a suicide attack that killed 19 Italian soldiers and more than a dozen civilians in Iraq.
While condemning the attacks, the Pope said the reaction cannot be one of more violence.
“No one can abandon themselves to the temptation of discouragement or of revenge. The respect for life, international solidarity and the observance of the law should prevail over hatred and violence,” he said.
In a telegram, John Paul deplored the synagogue bombings that left at least 20 people dead and more than 300 injured. The synagogues were filled with Jewish families attending bar mitzvahs; the blasts also killed 11 Muslims in the vicinity.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim country with a Jewish community of about 30,000, has close ties to the United States and Israel.
The Pope sent his “deepest condolences to the entire country and to all those concerned” and said he was praying for the dead, the wounded and their families, and for “all believers touched by this new drama.”
He urged “men and women of the whole world to mobilize in favor of peace and against terrorism, in the respect for the freedom of personal beliefs and convictions.”
“Never again should religious identity be a source of conflict that bloodies and disfigures humanity,” the telegram said.
The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, called the Istanbul attacks especially “vile” because they took place on the Jewish Sabbath in an attempt to kill the greatest number of worshippers.
The newspaper said the bombings in Turkey appeared to be part of an attempt to increase terrorism and fear throughout the region in order to cause “more hatred, division and violence.”
On Nov. 12, a suicide bombing on a military police headquarters in Iraq left 19 Italian soldiers dead in the city of An Nasiriyah. The Pope briefly embraced one soldier's widow and baby girl during an audience at the Vatican on Nov. 15.
Writer Elie Wiesel, a concentration-camp survivor and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, sharply criticized the Pope's comments about the Holy Land wall.
“To politicize terrorism this way is a mistake,” he said in an interview with the Milan newspaper Corriere della Sera. “The authors of the slaughter in Istanbul did not kill because of the wall but because they hate Jews. The Pope should understand and condemn this.”
But one day after John Paul's appeal for “bridges” rather than “walls” in the Holy Land, the region's Catholic leaders supported his remarks about the barrier being built by the Israelis.
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio of Jerusalem, explained that the wall under construction “separates schools from pupils, the sick from treatment centers, individuals from their work places, families from their relatives.”
“A wall has never been a sign of peace; it hasn't been and it isn't,” the archbishop said Nov. 17 on Vatican Radio.
Archbishop Sambi said he has let the Israeli authorities know that the barrier, which is intended to separate Israel from the Palestinian territories, also cuts in half monasteries, convents, churches and cemeteries.
According to the Israeli government, the construction of the barrier, which in places is an electric barbed wire fence and in others a concrete wall, is to impede Palestinian terrorists from entering Israel.
The Palestinians see the wall as an attempt to usurp their territories, pointing out that the construction does not follow the internationally recognized border drawn before the Six Day War of 1967.
Earlier this month, the Israeli press reported that Archbishop Sambi had negotiated some sections with the Israeli government so Christian lands in the Palestinian territories would remain on the other side of the wall, in the Israeli part.
Archbishop Sambi replied: “The article in the Mahariv newspaper was not correct. It's never been asked that Catholic institutions of the Bethany area be included in Israel. What I have requested is that they be included in Jerusalem. It is about East Jerusalem, that is, the Arab part of Jerusalem.” Thus, the information “has no foundation,” he said.
For his part, Father Giovanni Battistelli, superior of the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, told Vatican Radio: “What we really need is a love that unites and not means that separate, which do nothing but increase rancor, hatred and — I think — also injustice.”
(Zenit and RNS contributed to this story)