While Israeli officials, citing security concerns, forced organizers of the event at the camp to move the papal reception away from the wall, the miles of concrete slicing through the countryside and through people’s yards, gardens and fields were impossible to miss.
And for a person born in Germany, a country divided by a wall for decades, it was impossible to ignore.
“Towering over us, as we gather here this afternoon, is a stark reminder of the stalemate that relations between Israelis and Palestinians seem to have reached — the wall,” Pope Benedict told Palestinian officials and refugees.
The meeting took place on the basketball court inside the Aida camp’s school directly across the street from the wall, which Israel insists is necessary to protect its citizens.
The Israeli government says terrorist attacks have declined since the construction of the barrier — a series of cement slabs, barbed wire fences and security roads which, if completed as planned, would stretch nearly 400 miles and restrict the movements of 38 percent of residents of the West Bank.
“In a world where more and more borders are being opened up — to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges — it is tragic to see walls still being erected,” the pope said at the Aida camp, home to nearly 5,000 Palestinian refugees.
“How we long to see the fruits of the much more difficult task of building peace,” Pope Benedict said.
“On both sides of the wall, great courage is needed if fear and mistrust is to be overcome, if the urge to retaliate for loss or injury is to be resisted,” the pope said.
On his lone day in the Palestinian Territories, Benedict delivered the papal equivalent of Ronald Reagan’s famous 1987 “tear down this wall!” speech in Berlin.
Standing in a Palestinian refugee camp located in the shadow of Israel’s towering security wall, Benedict forcefully criticized such barriers between peoples.
“In a world where more and more borders are being opened up – to trade, to travel, to movement of peoples, to cultural exchanges – it is tragic to see walls still being erected,” the pope said.
Later, he said such walls “do not last forever” and “can be taken down” – a fairly clear hint that, in his mind, the wall should come down as quickly as possible.