Hadash MK Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, met with top officials of the Roman Catholic Church and Pope Francis on Wednesday, June 28, in the Vatican. The lawmaker told the pope that “It is urgent that Israel’s occupation of the West Bank be ended,” and spoke of the importance of reaching a regional peace agreement. Odeh gave the Pope a book on the history and affairs of Arab-Palestinians citizens in Israel and their struggle for equality, democracy and peace. MK Odeh also gave the pope a missive which, among other subjects, dealt with the situation of church schools, which have been under financial strife due to low government funding.
In his meeting with Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Odeh raised the plight of the residents of two Arab Christian villages of Iqrit and Bir’im, in the Upper Galilee, who were uprooted in 1948 and have tried to return to their village, and who have even lobbied the pope on the issue in the past. The two also discussed Israel’s policy of not allowing Palestinians from the occupied West Bank to live with their close relatives in Israel proper.
Both from the pulpit and during meetings with leaders from both sides, Pope Francis has called for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace, and he conducted a visit to the region in 2014. In May 2016, he met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Vatican after canonizing two Palestinian nuns as saints. During his visit to Israel and the West Bank, Pope Francis demanded the end of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.