VATICAN CITY – Pope John Paul II condemned the ongoing violence in the Middle East, and chided Israel for building a barrier against Palestine, during his traditional Sunday appearance in St. Peter’s Square, Nov. 16.
Sunday’s comments followed the terrorist attacks committed in the region this week. On Wednesday, a car bomb exploded at the Italian Carabinieri barracks in the southern Iraqi town of Nasiriyah, killing 19 Italians and 14 non-Italians. On Saturday, dual bombings at two Istanbul synagogues killed 23 people.
"Once again, in these recent days, terrorism has committed its evil work, particularly in Iraq and Turkey," John Paul said.
The pontiff who said he was praying for the victims and their families, called for the respect of life to prevail over violence and hatred.
"Without reconciliation, there cannot be peace,” he continued.
John Paul also noted Israel's construction of the 430-kilometer (270-mile) barrier that effectively cut off large plots of fertile land and villages from the rest of the Palestinian territory.
"The construction of the wall between the Israeli people and the Palestinian people is seen by many as a new obstacle on the road leading to peaceful cohabitation," John Paul said.
While the Israeli ministers insisted the wall was needed to prevent invasive terrorists and militants, Palestinians viewed the so-called “Apartheid Wall” as an attempt to draw the boundaries of their future state by seizing some of their most fertile lands.
"In fact, the Holy Land does not need walls but bridges," he told the pilgrims and tourists to St. Peter’s Square.
The Pope then urged the leaders on both sides to "have the courage to restart dialogue and negotiations, thus freeing the path toward a Middle East reconciled in justice and peace."
Critics however, accused the Pope of meddling in politics and said it would have been better if he would have condemned terror and murder rather than a wall of self defense.
"I really expected something different from the spiritual leader of one of the biggest religions in the world," said the Nobel peace laureate and Auschwitz death camp survivor, Elie Wiesel.
It would have been better, Wiesel continued, if the Pope had issued "a declaration which condemns terror and the murder of innocents, without mixing political considerations, and above all without comparing them with a work of self defence."
"Politicizing terrorism like that is mistaken. The authors of the carnage in Istanbul did not murder because of the wall, but because they hate Jews. The pope should have understood this and condemned it," Wiesel said, during Monday’s interview with an Italian newspaper, the daily Corriere della Sera.
"What distinguishes it from terrorism is that separation does not cause the death of someone and what's more, it has saved many lives,” he continued. "In recent years, the pope has worked ceaselessly to fight anti-Semitism in all its forms. But precisely because of this, a man in his position, knowing the weight of his words, should have been more careful and specifically condemned terrorism.”