THE Vatican has issued one of its strongest condemnations yet of Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank.
It has rejected the use of biblical texts by Jewish settlers to justify “injustices”.
Releasing a strongly worded document by the synod of bishops for the Middle East, a senior Archbishop also challenged the notion of Jews as “the chosen people”, saying such a concept no longer existed.
After a two-week conference, which ended with a meeting with the Pope, the bishops called on the international community to pressure Israel to end the occupation.
“Recourse to theological and biblical positions, which use the word of God to wrongly justify injustices, is not acceptable,” the statement said.
At a news conference, the head of the committee, Greek-Melchite Archbishop Cyrille Bustros, said: “The Holy Scriptures cannot be used to justify the return of Jews to Israel and the displacement of the Palestinians, to justify the occupation by Israel of Palestinian lands. “We Christians cannot speak of the promised land as an exclusive right for a privileged Jewish people.
“This promise was nullified by Christ. There is no longer a chosen people — all men and women of all countries have become the chosen people.”
The bishops called for a two-state solution, saying this would allow Jerusalem to acquire its “proper status — which respects its particular character, its holiness and the religious patrimony of the three religions: Jewish, Christian and Muslim.”
Only 2.1 per cent of those living in Israel are Christian — the Vatican says there is a slow decline but Israel says while the percentage is low in absolute numbers, Christians are growing but being outnumbered because of Jewish and Muslim birthrates.
Israeli spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Australian he was surprised by the strength of the Vatican statement and that it was both theological and political.
“The debate over who holds the correct interpretation of the scriptures was something debated in the Middle Ages and it would seem unwise to try to revisit that,” he said.
Asked about the criticism of the use of the Bible to justify Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, Mr Palmor said: “Firstly, this has not been any official policy in Israel by any government and, secondly, he who has not sinned should cast the first stone — that is something they should understand.”