I spent much of my day today squabbling with a travel agency (avoid this particular one like the plague), but it seems I’m still better off than the Pope. To wit: the Vatican has released the itinerary for Francis I’s visit to the Holy Land. Here is the middle of Day One:
15:45 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF PALESTINE at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
16:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem
17:45 Arrival at the helicopter port of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus
The problem here is that Bethlehem and Jerusalem are not just close by – they are parts of the same urban sprawl. It’s a bit like someone departing from the Arlington National Cemetery, flying to JFK, NY, for a ceremony that could have been held anywhere, and then flying back to the Capitol:
But why? Well, one likely possibility is that Israel wants to “own” the Papal visit and to make sure Francis officially enters through the main gate – Ben Gurion – and not through Bethlehem, which isn’t even supposed to be an international gateway, much less to the “STATE OF PALESTINE” – oh, how these caps must bruise the eyes of the fine people at the Prime Minister’s Office! Or it’s something to do with “security” arrangements, which tend to complicate the living daylights out of even the simplest logistical arrangements.
Or else, the schlep could have been arranged in the feeble hope that Francis will find time in one of his speeches for this tired old line (most recently recycled by David Cameron) about the obligatory “helicopter ride” that made the visitor realize how small Israel is, and how this is somehow meant to let Israel off the hook on something. If Francis fails to bring it up, I’ll bet you a pint Netanyahu will, in his welcome speech, pause, grin and say “Your Holiness, on your helicopter journey here you saw how beautiful the Holy Land is, and how small.”
Or it could be all three. Your guess is as good as mine.
Bonus points to the Pope for using WordPress, though.