Israel says Vatican criticism recalls 'Middle Ages'

"The public theological debate over who holds the correct interpretation of the holy scripture is a thing of the Middle Ages," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told AFP. "It seems an unwise idea to try to revive it."

Bishops and patriarchs from across the Middle East held a two-week synod at the Vatican chaired by Pope Benedict XVI and on Saturday called on the international community to end the occupation of Arab lands.

"Recourse to theological and biblical positions which use the Word of God to wrongly justify injustices is not acceptable," the synod said in a statement.

Archbishop Cyril Salim Butros, head of the commission which drew up the statement, went one step further, saying: "The theme of the Promised Land cannot be used as a basis to justify the return of the Jews to Israel and the expatriation of the Palestinians."

"For Christians, one can no longer talk of the land promised to the Jewish people," the Lebanese-born head of the Greek Melkite Church in the United States said, because the "promise" was "abolished by the presence of Christ."

Most religious Jews believe the land of Israel was given to them by God, and Jewish settlers often cite biblical justifications for holding onto the West Bank and east Jerusalem, territories seized in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But Palmor insisted that scripture had never been used by any Israeli government to justify the occupation or settlement of territory. "Let he who has never sinned cast the first stone," he said, without elaborating.

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