TEL AVIV, Israel (CNN)

Pope Benedict XVI urged the Israelis and Palestinians to find a "just resolution" to their long-running conflict as he arrived in Israel Monday.

"I plead with all those responsible to explore every possible avenue," the pope said, "So that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders." He cited the biblical prophet Isaiah on the meaning of "security" — a justification Israel often uses for its actions against Palestinians.

"Security — batah [in Hebrew] — arises from trust and refers not just to the absence of threat but also to the sentiment of calmness and confidence," he said in a speech at Israeli President Shimon Peres’ residence.

Later, speaking to religious leaders at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, the pope called for interfaith understanding and cooperation.

"Since many are quick to point out the readily apparent differences between religions, as believers or religious persons we are presented with the challenge to proclaim with clarity what we share in common," the pope said.

Controversy erupted after the pope’s statement when Taysir Tamimi, chief of Muslim Sharia courts in the West Bank and Gaza, commandeered the microphone and began to criticize Israel in Arabic. He was not scheduled to speak.

Some people clapped, but many appeared uncomfortable and the Latin Patriarch, Fouad Twal, walked across the stage and tapped Tamimi on the hand as he implored him to stop. Tamimi finished the speech after 10 minutes and sat down. It was not clear whether the pope understood, and he did not react.

Muslims and Christians must work together against Israel, Tamimi said.

"We struggle together and we suffer together from the injustice of the Israeli occupation and its oppressive practices, and we look forward to freedom and independence," he said.

Tamimi also criticized Israel’s West Bank separation barrier as the "racist wall," saying it "turned it [Palestine] into a giant prison and keeps Muslims and Christians from praying in their churches and mosques." Speaking about Gaza, Tamimi said Israel’s "aggression violated human rights in a way unprecedented in this era."

"His holiness the pope, I call on you in the name of the one God to condemn these crimes and pressure the Israeli government to stop its aggression against the Palestinian people," Tamimi said.

Jewish and Christian leaders criticized Tamimi’s actions.

"I was shocked and embarrassed," said Oded Weiner, director-general of the Chief Rabbinate, the supreme Jewish religious governing body in Israel. "It was unbelievable that Sheikh Tamimi would make such a speech against the spirit of this event, embarrassing the pope and his whole delegation."

The Rev. Gianni Caputa of Jerusalem’s Ratisbonne Monastery, who is involved in the church’s interfaith efforts said: "It was shameful and disgraceful. Sheikh Tamimi betrayed the trust of the people who invited him to this gathering."

The Vatican offered a statement, saying, "In a meeting dedicated to dialogue, this intervention was a direct negation of what a dialogue should be. We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage. We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident."

Controversy dogged the pope even as he arrived in the country, with Israelis and Palestinians engaged in a dispute over the location of the press center for the papal trip.

Palestinian officials set up an alternative press center, arguing the Jerusalem Municipal Building, the site of the official one, was linked to Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes built without permission in East Jerusalem. Video Watch why the pope’s visit is proving controversial »

Both sides claim the neighborhood.

Israeli police shut down the alternative press center, according to police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld, on the grounds that the Palestinian Authority was not allowed to host events in Jerusalem.

The pope also made reference to the Holocaust, an issue that sparked controversy for the Roman Catholic Church earlier this year.

"It is right and fitting that during my stay in Israel that I will have the opportunity to honor the memory of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Shoah," he said, using the Hebrew word for the Holocaust. "And to pray that humanity will never again witness a crime of such magnitude."

The pope said anti-Semitism was "totally unacceptable."

Benedict drew the ire of Jews and German Catholics this year by rehabilitating a bishop who had been excommunicated, and who had disputed the number of Jews killed in concentration camps during World War II. His excommunication was unrelated to his Holocaust denial.

The Catholic Church is "profoundly and irrevocably committed to reject all anti-Semitism," Benedict said at the time.

The pope later on Monday laid a wreath at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, in memory of victims of the Holocaust.

He clutched a small cross and bowed his head in front of the eternal flame at the memorial, where he was accompanied by Peres and other dignitaries.

The pope, quiet and somber, quoted the Book of Lamentations before saying he was "deeply grateful" for the opportunity to stand in silence and pray at the site. Video Watch pope visit Holocaust Memorial »

The pope arrived at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport as part of an eight-day trip that takes in places of unequaled religious resonance for the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics. He was due to meet Jerusalem’s Muslim grand mufti and two chief rabbis .

His first stop in the region was in Jordan, where he called for greater respect for women at a historic Mass in Amman on Sunday. Video Watch Jordan residents’ reaction to the pope’s visit »

In the 13-minute address, he urged Christians in the Middle East to persevere — an acknowledgment that the Christian population has declined sharply in the past 50 years in the region where the religion was born.

He also called on the faithful to oppose terrorism through good examples.

Benedict’s trip includes stops in Bethlehem and Nazareth, which Monday he called "the setting for the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I take my place in a long line of Christian pilgrims to these shores," he said.

It is the first papal visit to some of Christianity’s most holy places since Pope John Paul II made the pilgrimage in 2000




JERUSALEM (Reuters) – German-born Pope Benedict on Monday made an emotional visit to Israel’s memorial to victims of the Holocaust and said their suffering could not be denied, but some Jewish leaders said his comments did not go far enough.

Benedict visited the somber Hall of Remembrance of the Yad Vashem memorial, spoke to survivors, rekindled an eternal flame and laid a wreath of yellow and white flowers over a slab of stone covering victims’ ashes.

He spoke of the "horrific tragedy of the Shoah," the Hebrew term for the Holocaust, and called it an atrocity that had disgraced mankind and must never be repeated.

"May the names of these victims never perish. May their suffering never be denied, belittled or forgotten," he said.

Catholic-Jewish relations soured in January when Benedict lifted the excommunication of four traditionalist bishops, including one who had denied the Holocaust.

Israel‘s former chief rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who attended Monday’s service, expressed disappointment that the pope was not more explicit in his comments.

"There certainly was no apology expressed here," he said. There was no "expression of empathy with the sorrow." The pope had made a moving speech, Lau said, but "something was missing. There was no mention of the Germans or the Nazis who participated in the butchery, nor a word of regret."

Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev-Yad said the pope should have spoken of his own German background at the memorial.

"He stood here as a pope, but on the other hand he is a human being, and he had that experience, and I think the world expected he would have shared part of that awful experience in his address," he said.


Born Joseph Ratzinger in Bavaria in 1927, Pope Benedict was a member of the Hitler Youth when enrolment was compulsory, although biographers say he was never a Nazi party member or a supporter of Hitler.

During the service in the hall, whose floor is inscribed with the names of 22 of the most infamous of the Nazi camps, the stone walls echoed with the voice of a cantor chanting a Jewish prayer for the dead. Benedict chatted with six elderly Holocaust survivors.

"I told the pope he was born in Germany but I don’t look at him as a German but as a human being and head of the Catholic Church," said survivor Ed Mosberg, a Jew who was born in Poland and now lives in the United States.

"But I told him that he knows that the Holocaust happened and I asked him to condemn all the deniers," Mosberg said.

Since the affair of Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson exploded in January, the pope has several times said there is no room for Holocaust deniers in the Church.

After the outcry over the lifting of Williamson’s excommunication, the Vatican said it had not known enough about the British bishop’s past.

Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who also attended the Yad Vashem service, told the pope earlier at the airport arrival ceremony that he could contribute to peace in the Middle East.

At the airport, the pope called for a "just resolution" of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict "so that both peoples may live in peace in a homeland of their own, within secure and internationally recognized borders."

The call highlighted differences with Israel‘s new, right-leaning government. Since becoming prime minister six weeks ago, Benjamin Netanyahu has not endorsed creation of a Palestinian state, a U.S. and Arab priority. Netanyahu says he puts Israel’s security first.

At the pope’s last event on Monday night, a senior Palestinian Muslim cleric fiercely denounced Israeli policy in Jerusalem in the presence of the pope and appealed to the pope to help end what he called the "crimes" of the Jewish state.

The speech, at the end of a meeting between the pope and Christian, Muslim and Jewish clergy engaged in contacts among the three main religions in Jerusalem, angered both the Vatican and Israel’s chief rabbinate, which said it would boycott the dialogue forum until the Palestinians barred the cleric.

(Additional reporting by Reuters Jerusalem bureau staff; editing by Andrew Roche)





Pope Benedict XVI, right, shakes hands with Rabbi Shear Yashuv Cohen during an interfaith gathering at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem, Monday, May 11, 2009. The Pope is on a five day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories. At center is Vatican Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone.(AP Photo/Alberto Pizzoli, pool)

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  • Pope Benedict XVI (L) sits beside senior Palestinian Muslim cleric Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi at a meeting with representatives of the organizations for the inter-religious dialogue in the Our Lady of Jerusalem Centre in Jerusalem May 11, 2009. Tamimi fiercely denounced Israeli policy in Jerusalem in the presence of Pope Benedict on Monday and appealed to the pope to help end what he called the "crimes" of the Jewish state. REUTERS/Tony Gentile (ISRAEL RELIGION POLITICS IMAGES OF THE DAY)


  • REFILE – ADDITIONAL CAPTION INFORMATION A note written by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem is seen in their guestbook May 11, 2009. Pope Benedict, on his first visit to Israel, said on Monday that the suffering of six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany in the Holocaust must never be denied or forgotten. The note reads, "His mercies are not spent", the Book of Lamentations (3:22). REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun (JERUSALEM RELIGION POLITICS)

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  • Pope Benedict XVI (R) listens to a speech by senior Palestinian Muslim cleric Sheikh Taysir al-Tamimi (L) as he participates in a meeting with representatives of the organizations for the inter-religious dialogue in the Our Lady of Jerusalem Centre in Jerusalem May 11, 2009. Tamimi fiercely denounced Israeli policy in Jerusalem in the presence of Pope Benedict on Monday and appealed to the pope to help end what he called the "crimes" of the Jewish state. QUALITY FROM SOURCE REUTERS/Alberto Pizzoli/Pool (ISRAEL RELIGION POLITICS)


    Pope Benedict XVI shakes hands with Israeli President Shimon Peres during a reception at the President’s residency in Jerusalem, Monday, May 11, 2009. (AP Photo/Ettore Ferrari, pool)


    Pope Benedict XVI (R) speaks after laying a wreath at the eternal flame, commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, during a ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem May 11, 2009. Pope Benedict on Monday said at Israel’s memorial to 6 million Jews killed by Nazi Germany that their suffering must never be denied, a message that addressed Jewish anger over a Holocaust-denying bishop. REUTERS/Pier Paolo Cito/Pool (JERUSALEM POLITICS RELIGION)

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    Pope Benedict XVI (front row, 3rd R) stands with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (front row, 2nd L) and Israel’s President Shimon Peres (front row, 2nd R) during a welcoming ceremony on his behalf upon his arrival at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport May 11, 2009. Pope Benedict on Monday began the most delicate part of his first trip to the Middle East, landing in Israel for a five-day tour that will take him to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside