After touching down in Bethlehem, Pope Francis pressed his forehead against Israel’s barrier wall and prayed in silence for many minutes at a graffitied section of the wall just beneath a watchtower overlooking the occupied West Bank. The graffitied message on the wall reads: “Pope we need some1 to speak about justice, Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto”.
To most Palestinians, this unprecedented move spoke to the Vatican’s sympathy toward the Palestinian struggle for liberation. The Israeli government, on the other hand, was not thrilled by the Pope’s decision to pray at the barrier wall, accusing Palestinians of turning his trip to the occupied territories into a “publicity stunt” the “Vatican plays along with”.
“We had expected that the Pope would make a human gesture,” said a spokesperson for the Israeli foreign ministry who criticized the renewed sense of hope displayed by Palestine’s Muslim and Christian communities. “There’s nothing political here.”
In a way, the spokesperson is right in saying the Pope’s move was a human gesture. With the world’s eyes trained on him, he put Israel’s barrier wall and its associated effects on a caged-in population of Palestinians under the harsh global spotlight. That is indeed a human move.
But the spokesperson is wrong in saying there isn’t anything political about the visit or the prayer or the timing of the whole thing. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have been dispatched to inform reporters of future plans to communicate diplomatically with the Vatican to express Israel’s displeasure with the Pope’s recognition of Palestine.