In a meeting with visiting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope Francis was introduced on Monday, December 3, to the leader of the Joint List, MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash), who also held talks with Left parties while in Rome.
MK Odeh told the leader of the Roman Catholic Church: “I bring with me a present: two rocks from the villages of Ikrit and Biram.” In 1948, Israeli soldiers uprooted from their homes the residents of Ikrit and Biram, two predominantly Christian villages in northern Galilee, “until the security situation makes possible their return.” In 1951, Israel’s High Court ruled that the villagers should be allowed to return “so long as no emergency decree” against this is issued. The government hastened to issue such a decree against the Ikrit evacuees, and two months later, the Israeli army blew up the houses in that village. In 1953, it similarly demolished the houses of Biram. Only the churches of the two villages were left standing. Two years later, the lands of Ikrit and Biram – 16,000 and 12,000 dunams respectively – were expropriated by the Israeli regime.
During their brief conversation at the Vatican, the Pontiff expressed to MK Odeh his concern over discriminatory legislation in Israel, like the “State-Nation law.”
In his longer meeting with Abbas, Pope Francis also related his concern over the status of occupied east Jerusalem, months after the US recognized the city as Israel’s capital in defiance of widespread international criticism. The two leaders met at the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace on Monday, with Abbas briefing the Holy See on “the implications of the US decision” last year, the Palestinian news agency WAFA reported. During the meeting, “particular attention was reserved for the status of Jerusalem, underlining the importance of recognizing and preserving its identity and the universal value of Holy City for the three Abrahamic religions,” a Vatican statement said, referring to Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Last year, the Vatican reacted to US President Donald Trump’s contentious policy shift on Jerusalem al-Quds, saying the city’s “status quo” had to be respected.
Abbas, meanwhile, stressed in remarks to Italian daily La Stampa that the US efforts do not contribute to peace in the Middle East. “The US cannot be the only mediator in the Middle East,” he asserted. “A state which constantly imposes punitive sanctions against Palestine cannot be a mediator. US leadership is an obstacle in the Middle East,” Abbas added. The US has also ended its contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. “We do not want to continue to cooperate with the current US administration,” the PA President said. “We will not agree with conditions that violate international law.”