Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino warned Sunday that his officers would not permit “extreme elements” to disrupt the visit of Pope Francis next weekend.
Speaking at a press conference in Jerusalem, Danino said, “There have been attempts here – principally as we get closer to the visit itself – by some extremists to try and make a provocation, and create a bad atmosphere before the visit.
“We have absolutely no intention of tolerating this,” he said.
Danino’s thinly-veiled threat against right-wing activists comes on the heels of police failure to infiltrate so-called “price tag” vandals that have slashed tires and scrawled graffiti in Christian and Moslem neighborhoods in recent months. Danino’s boss, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, has called price tag vandals “terrorists,” and has asked the government to give police “tools” to treat Judea and Samaria residents as if they were Palestinian terrorists. Presumably, these include administrative detentions, midnight raids and other police methods intended to thwart Palestinian attacks on Jewish lives.
In recent weeks, Latin Patriarch Fuad Twal, head of the Roman Catholic church in the Holy Land, has warned that “hate crimes” against Muslims and Christians is “poisoning the atmosphere” before the pope arrives, and has added that the Church is “very concerned” about security during the Papal visit.
There is no record of Twal having condemned the near-lynching of Israeli journalist Avi Issacharoff last week near Ramallah, or of any Palestinian terror attack against Jewish Israelis. On the other hand,Father Twal is on record calling for a ‘strong Palestinian state, and the Monsignor believes that Arab citizens of Israeli are “Muslims with Israeli passports.”
‘Pope not afraid’
In the Vatican, Church officials tried to to minimize concerns about the price tag phenomenon, saying the graffiti attacks had been committed by a handful of extremists with limited influence in Israeli society.
“We know that this happens but we should not overestimate them, or give them more importance than they have, because we know that the majority of the Israeli people are happy that the Holy Father is coming,” Papal Nuncio Archbishop Giuseppe Lazzarotto told reporters in Rome.
Lazzarotto said the pope’s decision to travel in Israel without an armored car was intended to send powerful message of coexistence without fear.
“The purpose of his visit is to encourage us not to be afraid of each other and to talk to each other and live together peacefully…The pope comes to ask for peace, understanding and collaboration, living together peacefully,” Lazzarotto said.
The pope will travel to Jordan on Shabbat, and will continue on to Bet Lechem the following day. Next Sunday, Francis will continue to Jerusalem, and will depart Israel on the evening of May 26.
Danino said the papal visit is being treated with the same significance as the 2012 visit of US President Barack Obama. Eight thousand additional officers will be deployed for the visit.
“You cannot exaggerate the importance of this visit on both a national and an international level,” Danino said. “This is a historic visit from his point of view, it is the first official visit outside the Vatican and he chose it to be here in Israel.
“We will do everything to ensure they won’t harm Christian holy places… and to ensure the trip goes successfully,” said Danino.