Israel wouldn’t need the security barrier, if acts of incitement and terrorism against it stopped, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Pope Francis on Monday at the start of their meeting at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.
“The security barrier has saved thousands of lives,” Netanyahu said, as he spoke of the structure, partially made of concrete and partially from steel wire fences, that Israel began to build a decade ago in response to suicide bombings.
He made sure to speak with the pontiff about the barrier, after Pope Francis briefly prayed there during his trip to the West Bank Palestinian city of Bethlehem.
The pontiff's motorcade’s route passed by the barrier. Pope Francis spontaneously stopped and stood by a steel gate in the barrier. The graffiti below where he stood said “free Palestine.” The graffiti above said, “Bethlehem look like Warsaw Ghetto.” It immediately became one of the iconic shots of the day and for Palestinians, of the visit as a whole.
To help Pope Francis understand why Israel built the barrier, Netanyahu brought the pontiff to the memorial for terror victims at the Mt. Herzl Military cemetery in Jerusalem. Here, the pontiff struck almost the same pose, that he had at the security barrier in Bethlehem.
His head bowed, his hand on the memorial.
Netanyahu also brought the matter up in their brief public conversation.
“If incitement and terrorism against Israel would stop, Israel would not need the measures it has taken, such as [building] the security barrier,” Netanyahu said.
“I long for the day when your call to recognize the state of Israel and the right of Jews to a state of their own, so they can live in peace and security, will be accepted by our neighbors,” Netanyahu said.
“If this doesn’t bring peace on earth, it will at least bring peace to a portion of it,” he said.
Netanyahu also told the pontiff that Israel was home to many churches in places like Jerusalem and Nazareth.
“We preserve all of them. Not even one stone has been moved,” he said.
“The rights of Christians in this state are protected. To my sorrow, that doesn’t happen in other places in the Middle East. We respect the call your Holiness made for religious tolerance. In Israel, we maintain that tolerance,” he said.
He told Pope Francis that under the Palestinian Authority, the Christian population in Bethlehem has dropped.
Later, at the Knesset, Netanyahu told his faction that over a decade ago, terrorists had taken over the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square and held priests hostage until Israel rescued them.
“Palestinian terrorists not only hurt us, they also harms Christians,” he said.
“So when we talked about steps for peace and an era of peace, we first had to demand an end to incitement and terror,” he said.
“We also have to call on the Palestinians to finally recognize the rights of Jews to a state of their own. This is the root of the conflict. The conflict will end, once they [the Palestinians] recognize that Israel is the homeland of the Jews,” he said.
Netanyahu told his faction that on Sunday when Pope Francis arrived at Ben-Gurion airport he told him that Palestinian incitement had led to a wave of anti-Israel incitement and renewed anti-Semitism in Europe.
At Monday’s meeting with Pope Francis, Netanyahu also told him about a televised report on Channel 10, which showed children in a refugee camp in the West Bank Palestinian city of Jenin, who held up toy guns and said that they wanted to die, so Israel would die.”
“That is the true face of Palestinian incitement,” Netanyahu said. "The attack in Brussels against the Jewish Musuem on Saturday, in which four people were killed, was the result of that incitement."
“A wave of anti-Semitism is washing over Europe,” Netanyahu said.