Israel says Vatican criticism recalls `Middle Ages`

Israel objected to remarks by Middle East Catholic bishops that it used scripture to justify occupying Palestinian lands.

Jerusalem: Israel on Sunday objected to
remarks by Middle East Catholic bishops that it used scripture
to justify occupying Palestinian lands, saying they recalled
theological debates of the Middle Ages.

"The public theological debate over who holds the
correct interpretation of the Holy Scripture is a thing of the
Middle Ages," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told
a news agency. "It seems an unwise idea to try to revive it."
Bishops and patriarchs from across the Middle East
held a two-week synod at the Vatican chaired by Pope Benedict
XVI and on Saturday called on the international community to
end the occupation of Arab lands.

"Recourse to theological and biblical positions
which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not
acceptable," the synod said in a statement.

Archbishop Cyril Salim Butros, head of the
commission which drew up the statement, went one step further,
saying: "The theme of the Promised Land cannot be used as a
basis to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the
expatriation of the Palestinians."

"For Christians, one can no longer talk of the land
promised to the Jewish people," the Lebanese-born head of the
Greek Melkite Church in the United States said, because the
"promise" was "abolished by the presence of Christ."

Most religious Jews believe the land of Israel was
given to them by God, and Jewish settlers often cite biblical
justifications for holding onto the West Bank and east
Jerusalem, territories seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But Palmor insisted that scripture had never been
used by any Israeli government to justify the occupation or
settlement of territory. "Let he who has never sinned cast the
first stone," he said, without elaborating.

He said the matter would be raised as part of
normal diplomatic contacts with the Vatican.

He also pointed out that Israel`s Christian
population had grown since the establishment of the Jewish
state in contrast to much in of the rest of the Middle East,
where Christians have fled war, instability and economic

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat,
meanwhile, welcomed the synod`s call for a two-state solution
and blamed Israel for the emigration of Christians from the
occupied territories.

"The international community must uphold its moral
and legal responsibility to put a speedy end to the illegal
Israeli occupation," he said.