A leading Palestinian cleric commandeered an evening devoted to interfaith dialogue with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday to rant against Israel for "killing Gaza's children," "bulldozing Palestinian homes" and "destroying mosques."
In an impromptu speech, delivered in Arabic at the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, chief Islamic judge in the Palestinian Authority, launched a 10-minute tirade against the State of Israel for confiscating Palestinians' land and carrying out war crimes against the residents of Gaza. He also called for the immediate return of all Palestinian refugees, and called on Christians and Muslims to unite against Israel. Tamimi invoked the name of Saladin, the Muslim sultan who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. Tamimi said that unlike Israel, Saladin upheld the religious freedoms of all faiths.
Following the diatribe and before the meeting was officially over, the pope exited the premises. However, he shook Tamimi's hand before walking out. The pope, speaking before Tamimi, discussed the importance of religion and truth for the advancement of humanity's mutual understanding.
He was visibly uncomfortable with the tone of Tamimi's discourse. Even those who did not understand his Arabic quickly understood that the Muslim cleric was giving a militant speech. Several attempts were made by Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land Fouad Twal, a Palestinian, to politely stop Tamimi. But Tamimi would not be deterred from reading his written speech, apparently prepared in advance without the knowledge of the organizers.
When Tamimi finished, applause could be heard from a few dozen in an audience of a few hundred. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, responded to Tamimi's tirade by e-mail. "The intervention of Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi was not previewed by the organizers of the interreligious meeting that took place at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.
The irony was the meeting was held as an ‘inter-faith’ dialogue and one of the first opportunities for the Pope to meet with the religious leaders. I am not a fan of the current Pope but good on him for walking out. Although did he really have to shake the Sheikh’s hand on the way out?