The vast majority of Israelis welcome Francis' visit as a chance to show the world a side of Israel that supports the Pope's message of tolerance and dialogue, reports NCR Online.
In a whirlwind three-day trip starting tomorrow, Francis will visit Jordan, Palestine and Israel. He will celebrate Mass in Jordan's capital of Amman and Bethlehem in the West Bank as well as visit a number of holy sites in the three countries between meetings with political and religious leaders.
Jerusalem is busily preparing for the Pontiff's arrival by hanging more than 1,000 Israeli and Vatican flags on routes where the Pope's motorcade will pass. Security is at the highest level in preparation for a head-of-state visit, and 8,000 Israeli police will be deployed throughout Jerusalem and the Old City.
'This is a top-level visit in terms of security and significance, both on political and religious level,' said National police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld.
The security forces have their work cut out for them. In the month and a half leading up to the Pope's visit, there were a number of incidents of anti-religious graffiti spray-painted on mosques and churches in the greater Jerusalem area. These incidents, called 'price tag attacks,' are carried out by extremist Jews angry over what they perceive as pro-Arab policies. The vandalism is to show that the state must pay a 'price' for these policies.
The vast majority of Israelis welcome Francis' visit. 'Only good things will come from this visit,' said Shemtov Shaltiel, 58, a building contractor from Jerusalem. 'Things only happen when you meet each other. If there are no meetings, nothing happens. It's all what people are imagining in their heads about each other, and that can be wrong.'
Shaltiel added that the Pope's visit will hopefully inspire other people to come visit Israel. 'It's really good publicity for us,' he told NCR.
'If the Pope comes here, tourists will come also. People think it's a war zone here, like people are getting blown up all the time. They think that if 10 people come to visit Israel, only two will come back alive.'
Eli Naftali, a banker from Haifa in the north of Israel, where tensions between Jews and Arabs are calmer, said he hopes the Pope will encourage more people in the powder keg of Jerusalem to live peacefully with their neighbours.
'I live in an area where from my balcony, I can look down and see houses of Arabs, both Christian and Muslim, and look to one side and see the Ba'hai Gardens,' he said. 'It's more relaxed and more fun to live in good relations with everyone.
FULL STORY Israelis welcome pope but keep hopes realistic (NCR Online)