Politics already have intruded on the Pope's personal pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Benedict XVI has called for an independent Palestinian homeland and publically condemned the Shoah, the 'Final Solution' devised by the Third Reich which involved the systematic slaughter of six million Jews. (It's a touchy subject for the priest formerly known as Der Rottweiler. Some Israeli commentators did not detect sufficient contriteness nor compassion in a speech delivered by an erstwhile member of der Hitler Jugen. Benedict went on to serve in the German Army during the Second World War before deserting in the final year.) At an interfaith meeting in East Jerusalem, an angry Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi reportedly launched into a political speech denouncing Israel for atrocities in Gaza and when it was translated from Arabic, rabbis in attendance complained and the pope walked out shortly afterward. Among other things, the sheikh was upset that the pontiff had worn shoes inside a Jordanian mosque. His unscheduled speech lasted for six minutes, urging Christians to unite with Muslims against the Zionists! The pope shook his hand before departing, so he did not exactly leave in a huff.
Further Islamic ire was raised after the pope met the family of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in Jerusalem but ignored Palestinian prisoners' families. There is disappointment that the Pope will not be visiting Gaza, where a lively Christian congregation of 3000 worshippers await him in the rubble of Operation Cast Lead. Permits for 100 Catholics to travel from Gaza and greet the Pope were granted by Israeli security, while 150 applicants were turned away.