The Pope's visit to the Holy Land marked a new era in Jewish-Christian relations, according to a senior Israeli politician, while a Palestinian official has described the visit as demonstrating papal support for the right of Palestinians to live in an independent homeland.Haim Ramon, the Israeli cabinet minister who was in charge of the pope's visit, which ended March 26, said that it had permanently altered the relationship between Christians and Jews."I believe that this visit brings to an end the era of conflict, the era of dispute and the era of war between Christianity and Judaism," he said."After 2,000 years [in which] these two great monotheistic religions fought against each other and in the Christian case even discriminated, deported, murdered, tortured - that era is coming to an end and this visit by the Pope to the Holy Land is marking the end to this era of conflict," he said.Some Jewish critics of the Catholic Church said they had been waiting for an apology from the Pope for the behavior of wartime pontiff, Pius XII, who they say remained publicly silent during the Holocaust. But Ramon said Pope John Paul II had made great gestures towards reconciliation with Jews during his six-days in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories. The Pope visited Israel's Holocaust memorial and spoke with great sadness about the six million Jews who were murdered during the Second World War. Pope John Paul II also visited the holiest of sites for Jews, the Western Wall of the second temple in Jerusalem. There, he prayed silently and, like many Jews, placed a note to God in a crevice of the wall, which asked for forgiveness for those of all generations who had caused Jews to suffer.Such an act could only be seen as something positive, Ramon said."When the Pope went to the Western Wall, [he] prayed in the holiest place in Judaism in Jerusalem, the capital of the state of Israel, and he has asked forgiveness from Abraham and his descendants. I think that the Jewish people cannot ask more from this great leader John Paul II," he said.But it is too early to tell whether a majority of Jews is completely satisfied with Pope John Paul's moves towards reconciliation.Ramon said that he hoped that the success of the papal pilgrimage demonstrated to critics of Israel that everyone in the Holy Land was free to practice their religion according to their beliefs.But Hanan Ashrawi, an Anglican and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) that the Pope's visit had demonstrated that East Jerusalem, which was annexed by Israel after the six-day-war in 1967, was in fact under Israeli military occupation.She said that Israeli soldiers had refused to allow many Palestinians—Christians and Muslims alike—from entering Jerusalem from the West Bank to witness the pontiff's tour of sacred sites in the Old City, which is located in East Jerusalem."On behalf of the Palestinians who could not come to Jerusalem to receive the Pope, both Christian and Muslim, I would like to express our extreme dismay at the ongoing state of siege that surrounds the city of Jerusalem and at the internal siege that prevented the Palestinians from reaching the Old City," she said.Before the start of the papal visit, leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had called on the Pope to support the right of Palestinians to claim Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.But Afif Safieh, a Roman Catholic and the PLO's representative to the Vatican, told ENI that he was not disappointed that during the visit, Pope John Paul II never explicitly addressed the issue of sovereignty over the Holy City.He said that since the Vatican had signed a document with the PLO on Jerusalem in February, it had probably decided it did not need to say anything more on the matter."Probably he [the Pope] has abstained of re-addressing the issue now so as not to complicate an itinerary that was known to be a minefield, but he had said it in the most unambiguous manner a month earlier," he said.Safieh added that Palestinians should also take heart from the Pope's visit to the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem last week, which is home to 10,000 Palestinians. There, the Pope called on political leaders in the Middle East and the international community to work towards a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem, saying that the refugees had an "inalienable right" to justice. Through such actions the Pope had clearly demonstrated the Vatican's support for the Palestinians' right to live in their own independent homeland, Safieh said.Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

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See our earlier coverage of the Pope's visit to Israel:Preach the Message of the Beatitudes, Pope says in Sermon on Mount | 100,000 hear message by Sea of Galilee (Mar. 28, 2000) Pope tells Palestinians to Seek Hope in the Place Where Jesus was Born | Kiss of ground symbolic as John Paul II calls for Palestinian homeland. (Mar. 24, 2000) At Jerusalem's Holocaust Memorial, Pope Regrets Persecution of Jews | Catholic Church 'deeply saddened by anti-Semitism directed against the Jews by Christians.' (Mar. 24, 2000)The Pope's speeches in the Holy Land are available at the Vatican's Web site.For more resources about the papal trip to the Holy Land, see The Jerusalem Post, EWTN, and The New York Times.