Ultra-Orthodox Jews describe Pope as `evil one'


Posters plastered throughout an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood of Jerusalem have called Pope John Paul "the evil one" and promised that his pilgrimage to the Holy Land this month would not pass peacefully.

The posters in the Geula district were signed by "the headquarters for the cancellation of the Pope's visit, cursed be he, in the Holy Land".

They assailed the alleged desecration of the Jewish sabbath which they said the Pope's plan to celebrate Mass on March 25th, a Saturday, would cause.

The planned Mass in Nazareth, the home town of Christ, has enraged ultra-Orthodox Jews. They object because it means that many Jewish police will have to work on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest.

The walls of the Jerusalem office of Israel's chief rabbis were sprayed on Sunday with protests saying "No to meeting the Pope", "No to desecration of the sabbath", and "Blessed be he who uproots idol worship".

The slogans, signed by the outlawed ultra-nationalist Jewish Kach group, had been removed by Monday.

The Pope's visit to the Holy Land is part of his plan to walk in the footsteps of the biblical prophets and Jesus at the start of the third millennium. He visited Mount Sinai, where God is said to have given the Ten Commandments to Moses, last week.

The Pope will be in Israel and Palestinian-ruled areas from March 21st to 26th. After Mass in Nazareth he will arrive in the Old City of Jerusalem on Saturday evening before the end of the Jewish sabbath.

Jerusalem is sacred to the world's three monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Israeli Chief Rabbi, Dr Yisrael Meir Lau, condemned the graffiti opposing the Pope's visit. "We have to welcome the Pope with the respect he deserves. The current Pope is a friend of Israel and it is not wise to turn him into an enemy." Mr Jonathan Rosenblum, an unofficial spokesman of the ultra-Orthodox community, also opposed the graffiti and said Kach was anathema to ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Mr Ornan Yekutieli, a left-wing member of the Jerusalem city council and head of the Free Nation secular movement, demanded the arrest of those who put up the posters and graffiti.

"They will do everything to ruin the [Pope's] trip and if they do, it will be a feather in their cap. It will be for them victory over the non-Jews," Mr Yekutieli said. "I think the state of Israel, if it wants to remain a democracy and a part of the Western world and a part of the 21st century, has to stop them no matter what."