Referring to Palestinian Muslims and Christians, Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi said: "We struggle together and suffer together from the oppression of the Israeli occupation.
"We look forward together to liberation and independence and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state."
The incident further marred the start of the German-born pope's five-day tour of Israel and the Palestinian territories....
In uncompromising language, [Taimmi] welcomed the pope to "Jerusalem, the eternal capital of Palestine" -- a direct riposte to Israeli claims to the same city -- and enumerated many of the complaints Palestinians have against Israel.
He said Israel had "desecrated" the Old City's holy sites since capturing it from Jordanian forces in the 1967 Middle East war and was defying international law by demolishing homes, seizing land, building Jewish settlements and erecting a series of walls and fences that had turned the city into "a prison".
Tamimi won a round of applause from some of the assembled clerics for comments referring to Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip in January in which 1,400 Palestinians died.
Addressing the pope at the end of a six-minute address, he said: "Your Holiness, I call on you in the name of the one God, to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people."
Tamimi shook the pope's hand as he left the podium and the meeting broke up as scheduled immediately afterwards.
Organisers tried to persuade the sheikh to stop, but he continued for several minutes. According to local media reports, there was no translation available, so the pontiff was made aware of the content of the statement only after Mr al-Tamimi had finished speaking. The Pope and his entourage then left the meeting.
"The intervention of Sheikh Tayssir Attamimi was not scheduled by the organizers of the meeting. In a meeting dedicated to dialogue this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the Pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident."The Tourism and Foreign ministries also denounced Tamimi's remarks:
It is regrettable that Sheikh Tayssir Tamimi has abused an inter-religious meeting aimed at promoting dialogue and understanding between Christians, Jews and Muslims, in order to incite against Israel.Coincidentally, this was the very same Sheikh who caused a similar disruption during an interfaith meeting attended by then-Pope John Paul II at the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center in 2000. Cindy Wooden and Judith Sudilovsky (Catholic News Service) recall the incident:
Minister Stas Misezhnikov, charged with the pope's visit to Israel, stated:
"The sheikh's provocation hurt, first and foremost, Pope Benedict XVI who came to the Holy Land to promote peace and unity between the peoples of the region and all persons of faith. Israel condemns these words of hatred uttered by the sheikh, who instead of fostering peace and coexistence chose to plant seeds of division and confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as between Jews, Muslims and Christians."
It is a shame that the extremists were those who represented the Palestinians and the Muslims in this important event in the presence of the Holy See.
Nine years ago, one of Israel's chief rabbis made a speech in which he called Jerusalem Israel's "eternal undivided capital" and claimed the pope had recognized it as such. Sheik al-Tamimi got up and made a rebuttal, saying Jerusalem was Palestine's undivided capital and decrying Israel's occupation of the city.
More recently, in 2006, Tamimi indicted Israel with "trying to hurt the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people also by means of exporting AIDS, drug trafficking, promiscuous norms, and making prostitution legal". (Via Elder of Ziyon).
- In Jerusalem, pope walks into politics of interreligious dialogue, by John Thavis. (Catholic News Service)
- FLASH: Pope Benedict walks out on Sheikh as he attacks Israel in unplanned speech Coverage from American Papist, and this from an alleged eyewitness in the combox:
I was there, In ND of Jerusalem. It was very evident how Msgr. George got nervous when Tamimi stood up and approached the microphone... He initiated sayin to the Pope: "Welcome to Jerusalem, capital of Palestine"... so you can imagine the rest of the speech. His tone was very strong, not very friendly. At some point some people (I guess the arabic speakers) started to clap hands supporting him. The Pope's "nunzio", ambassador, in Israel, when directly to the podium to ask Tamimi to end his speech. He ended and walked in front of the Pope and gave him a very distant hand greeting. After that, the Pope left the place, and in the way he stopped to say something and goodbye to Tamimi.A Muslim cleric who commandeered the stage at a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI to rail against Israel's harsh treatment of Palestinians said Tuesday he spoke out because he was representing Islam (San Jose Mercery News):
Vatican officials criticized Sheik Taysir Tamimi's five-minute speech Monday evening at what had been billed as an interfaith meeting. It was the first political controversy played out in Benedict's presence on his five-day Holy Land pilgrimage.
Tamimi said organizers had not allotted him speaking time, though he was seated on the stage, and he simply righted a wrong by walking up to the podium to address the pope. A rabbi at the meeting was also not scheduled to speak.
"I wanted to express the suffering of our people and to show the occupation's procedures against the Palestinian people," Tamimi told The Associated Press. "If I represent Islam at a meeting for dialogue and I don't speak, am I just a piece of furniture?"
- Rabbi Arthur Schneier, a leading American rabbi and confidante of Pope Benedict XVI defended the pontiff for his speech Monday at Yad Vashem, saying that expectations were too high. (Haaretz May 13, 2009.