JERUSALEM – An meeting of 300 religious leaders hosted by the Pope came to an abrupt end Monday night when a Palestinian sheikh, who was not on the program, forced his way to the pulpit to criticize Israel.
The head of Sharia courts in the Palestinian Authority, Taysir Tamimi, made an animated plea to the Pope to fight for “a just peace for a Palestinian state and for Israel to stop killing women and children and destroying mosques as she did in Gaza.”
“Israel destroys Palestinian cities and establishes settlements on Palestinian land,” he cried in a rising voice, adding that Jerusalem “will remain the capital of a Palestinian state.”
Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the outburst a “provocation” and said that instead of “fostering peace and co-exstistence chose to plant seeds of division and confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians and also between Jews, Muslims and Christians.”
“It is a shame that the extremists are those who represent the Palestinians and the Muslims in his important event in the presence of the Holy See,” said Aviv Shiron of the Foreign MInistry.
The speech was given in Arabic with no translation, but most local Christians and Muslims present understood what was said. Others simply understood the intent.
“If the Pope wasn’t there, I could stand up and leave the room, but I didn’t want to insult the Pope,” Oded Wiener, director general of Israel’s Chief Rabbinate, told Newsmax after the incident.
Wiener and his Palestinian friend from the Islamic land trust were supposed to present a gift to the Pope after the scheduled speeches, but the Pope left the stage after Tamimi finished his speech, which wasn’t stopped by officials at the dialogue.
During the speech, some in the audience got up to leave, but most attendees stayed put, some laughed while others even applauded enthusiastically when Tamimi finally brought his statement to a close.
The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said that the interruption was “a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope” and inter-religious dialogue.
“We hope also that inter-religious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident,” Lombardi added, in his statement.
Outbursts like these are not uncommon for Tamimi, who was specifically banned from speaking tonight because he has chosen to speak off-topic at other gatherings.
“All religious people in the world of all other religions need to guard the Palestinians from Israel and protect their lands,” he implored.
Wiener accused Tamimi of “time and again” spoiling the dialogue.
“We want to speak about peace and he speaks hatred,” he said. “He embarrassed the Pope and wasn’t supposed to speak tonight. The fact that a person like him ... used an internal stage instead of seeking peace, promoting peace instead of using the opportunity with the Pope to promote peace, he spoke about hatred and terrorism.”
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