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CNN Today

Pope Faces Political Firestorm in Israel

Aired March 20, 2000 - 1:31 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The most well traveled pope in history is on the trip of a lifetime. Pope John Paul II is in Jordan, where today he stood on the mountain top, where tradition says Moses first glimpsed the Promised Land. From there, it's on to Israel in the pilgrimage that's profoundly religious, deeply personal and unavoidably political.

We get a preview from CNN Jerusalem bureau chief Walter Rodgers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WALTER RODGERS, CNN JERUSALEM BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Palestinians released doves, anticipating Pope John Paul II's visit. Still, this was less about peace than the battle for Jerusalem. When the balloon went up over East Jerusalem, it was sporting a huge Palestinian flag, a symbolic challenge to Israeli claims to sovereignty there.

FAISAL HUSSEINI, PALESTINIAN CABINET MINISTER: Raising the Palestinian flag, it is our right; it is our city; it is our capital; it is our people. And we will raise this flag in anytime we want. The provocation, illegal, is raising the Israeli flags in East Jerusalem.

RODGERS: Palestinians clearly tried to use the pope's visit to stake their claim on East Jerusalem as their capital. Palestinian flags sprang up in a city also claimed by Israelis as their eternal capital. And Israelis were busy hauling down the Palestinian banners.

CHAIM RAMON, ISRAELI CABINET MINISTER: The only thing that they will achieve in such, I must say, childish things -- will disturb the atmosphere and the goodwill of the historical visit of the pope.

RODGERS: But the atmosphere soured before the Palestinian flags went up, when Jewish extremists splashed red paint on the Vatican flag and equated the Christian cross with the Nazi swastika.

At the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, extremist Jews demonstrated against the pope. Members of the outlawed Kach movement prayed to God to pour out his fury on the gentiles just before the pope arrives.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's an enemy. I don't want him here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every Jew, that thinks about him and sees him, thinks about millions of Jews that were massacred by Christians.

RODGERS: Into this theological cauldron, the pope is bringing his own pilgrims, 45,000 of them. And officially, the Israeli government will be rolling out the red carpet for the pope.

EHUD BARAK, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: It's a historically important visit.

RODGER (on camera): It was, perhaps, too much, even for the pope to hope his visit would not be politicized. The hope now is that it stays peaceful.

Walter Rodgers, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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