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Pope Speaks out on Holocaust, Israel and the Palestinians

January 20, 1988
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Pope John Paul II took an opportunity Sunday to personally condemn an Israeli confrontation with Moslem worshipers last Friday, but also to express deep feeling for the victims of the Nazi Holocaust who were killed, he said, just because they were Jews.

In an extraordinary give-and-take session with the press, the pope said both Jews and Palestinians had the right to a homeland and called on both sides in the Middle East conflict to work together for peace.

The pope, however, did not utter the word Israel, but referred only to Jews. The Vatican does not recognize Israel officially.

The pontiff made the remarks during a visit to the offices of the Foreign Press Association, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. During the visit, the pope delivered a brief speech, then took several questions from the floor.

A Tunisian journalist asked the pope for his thoughts on an incident last Friday on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, when police fired tear gas at Moslem worshipers. The pontiff responded, “I think my opinion is clear, even without being explicit.”

“Certainly one cannot accept in any way . . . the attacking of people at their prayers,” he added.

Israel has disputed reports that police at the scene fired tear gas into Moslem mosques and only entered a mosque to rescue an officer who had been dragged inside by rioting Palestinians.

The pope also said he was deeply aware of the implications of the Holocaust and noted he spoke of this when he met last September with American Jewish leaders in Miami.

“I profoundly feel the reality that is called the Holocaust, the Shoah. I feel it deeply,” he said.

“I come from a country in which this thing took place brutally during the Second World War,” the pope continued. “It was genocide, genocide. They were exterminated for the very fact of being Jews, of belonging to this people.”

A people that has endured such suffering have a right to a homeland, the pope went on to say. He noted that at his meeting with Jewish leaders in Miami, “I stated clearly that the Holy See supports their (the Jews) right to have their own homeland, but at the same time supports the same right of another people, these Palestinian Arabs, to have their own homeland.”

He called for Jews and Arabs to come together and negotiate a peaceful solution to their conflict. “These two sides are morally invited–more than invited — to take up this problem, to resolve a situation that is so painful.”

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