“Welcome to Israel, an island of tolerance in the Middle East”. With these words, the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Pope Francis on the runway at the Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, where the Pope landed in a Jordanian military helicopter as he arrived from Bethlehem.

Pope Francis was received by Shimon Peres, who escorted the Holy Father through the guard of honour. After the national anthems, Peres was the first to speak, expressing a “hope for peace” and condemning the anti-Semitic attack in Brussels as a “senseless murder”.

Netanyahu was next to speak, paying homage to the “noble and natural humility” of the Pope, likening it to the Jewish concept of “Tikkun Olam”, the healing of the world, to then highlight how “Israel is a State where the right to freedom of faith is respected”. “We are proud of the pluralistic nature of our society, which respects all its citizens regardless of religion or nationality” added Netanyahu, thanking the Pope for his “strong stance against any anti-Semitic sentiment”. “Welcome to Jerusalem, the eternal city of justice and peace, Salve in Terra Sancta” concluded the Prime Minister.

“I thank you for the warm welcome, it is a joy to visit Israel” replied the Pope, saying that he was a “pilgrim in the Holy Land in the footsteps of his predecessors” and expressing his good wishes that “this blessed land be a place in which there is no space for intolerance or violence towards others”. Bergoglio then referred to Jerusalem as a “city of peace” observing how “it is still deeply troubled as a result of longstanding conflicts”.

“I implore those in positions of responsibility to leave no stone unturned in the search for equitable solutions to complex problems, so that Israelis and Palestinians may live in peace” added the Pope. “The “Two State Solution” must become reality and not remain merely a dream”. Francis also talked of the right of the Palestinians to a “sovereign homeland” and the right of the Israelis to live in safety.

The Pope then repeated his invitation – which he already extended in Bethlehem – to presidents Abu Mazen and Shimon Peres to “come to my home in the Vatican” for a “meeting of prayer” for peace. In the final part of the speech, the Pope condemned the attack at the Jewish museum in Brussels, in which three people were killed including two Israelis: “With a deeply pained heart, I think of those who have lost their lives in the cruel attack that occurred yesterday in Brussels," he said, highlighting the need to “teach tolerance” as an antidote to anti-Semitism.

“A particularly moving part of my stay will be my visit to the Yad Vashem Memorial to the six million Jews who were victims of the Shoah, a tragedy which is the enduring symbol of the depths to which human evil can sink. I beg God that there will never be another such crime, in which Jews suffered but also many others,” he concluded. The Pope then left the Ben Gurion airport for Jerusalem, where he will meet the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I on the Mount of Olives.