On Sunday, May 25, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont framed Pope Francis’s unscheduled stop at Israel’s security fence in Bethlehem as a confirmation of his “determined independence“.
It is an image that will define Pope Francis‘s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel‘s imposing “separation wall”, a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.
The powerful gesture was made minutes after an appeal to both sides to end a conflict that the pope said was “increasingly unacceptable”. The unscheduled, conspicuous stop halfway through his three-day visit to the Holy Land – made en route to an open-air mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem – confirmed Francis’s reputation for determined independence.
On Monday, May 26, Beaumont reported on the pope’s visit to a Jerusalem memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism, an apparently unscheduled stop framed by Beaumont in an entirely different manner – as an attempt to “appease” his Israeli hosts:
Pope Francis has deviated from his itinerary for his tour of the Holy Land for the second time in two days – this time to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism.
The surprise addition on Monday was made at the request of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and was interpreted as an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts after his surprise decision to pray at the controversial Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem the day before.
So, to recap: the pope’s visit to a site which Palestinians seek to draw attention to is a sign of independence, while his subsequent visit to a site which Israelis seek to draw attention to is act of appeasement.
Evidently, it didn’t occur to Beaumont that the pope’s visit to the terror memorial (a day after his visit to the security fence) likely represented an acknowledgement that though the fence causes hardships for Palestinians, its construction was motivated by the ethical imperative to save innocent lives – a decision based on moral calculus so simple that even cynical foreign journalists should understand.