Trump arrives in Holy Land, visits Holy Sepulcher, Western Wall

IMAGE: CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

By Judith Sudilovsky

JERUSALEM (CNS) — Following his official welcome to
Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, U.S. President Donald Trump began
his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private
visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and Western Wall.

Details of the visits to the holy sites had been a carefully
guarded secret until the last moment, but from early May 22 the alleyways of
the Old City were closed to both residents and tourists, and the main thoroughfares
leading to the Old City were closed off to all traffic.

Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honor
guard announcing the way with the thumping of their ornamental staffs, the
president made his way by foot through the Old City’s alleyways to the Church
of the Holy Sepulcher. He and first lady Melania Trump were welcomed at the
entrance of the church courtyard by Greek Orthodox Patriarch Archbishop
Theophilos III; Franciscan Father Francesco Patton, custos of the Holy Land;
and Armenian Patriarch Nourhan Manougian. The president spoke briefly to the
religious leaders and stopped at the entrance of the church for a group
photograph after also speaking to a few other religious.

Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his
daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, spent about 30 minutes
in the church, which encompasses the area where, according to Christian
tradition, Jesus was crucified, buried and later rose from the dead. At the
entrance of the church is the stone of unction, where tradition holds that
Jesus’ body was laid out and washed after his crucifixion. Inside the central
rotunda is the newly renovated Edicule, where Jesus was buried.

The delegation then walked the short distance to the Western
Wall plaza, where Trump was greeted by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the
Western Wall. Wearing the traditional Jewish kippa or skullcap, Trump walked
alone to the wall, where he placed his hands on the stones for several minutes.
He then placed a note with a prayer into a crack in the wall, a Jewish
tradition. Melania and Ivanka Trump visited the women’s section of the wall
separately, and the first lady spent a few minutes silently in front of the
wall, touching it with her hand.

Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western
Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians
claim Jerusalem as their capital city.

The Western Wall, considered the holiest site for Judaism
today as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple, also
surrounds the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif compound, where the Jewish temple
once stood and the location of Al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site.

Avoiding any symbolic controversy involving the issue of the
city’s sovereignty, the Trump administration insisted the visit to the sites be
private, vexing Israel by Trump’s refusal to be accompanied by Israeli
political leaders to the Western Wall.

Meanwhile, Palestinians said Israel had not allowed a Greek
Orthodox Scout marching band to accompany the delegation to Church of the Holy Sepulcher
as planned because of the Palestinian flags on their uniform. A spokesman from
the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied any Israeli involvement in the
matter, suggesting that it might have been a U.S. security issue.

In a visit that encompasses both political and religious
symbolism, Trump spent two days in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with King Salman and
other Muslim leaders. He was scheduled to meet with Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas May 23 in Bethlehem, West Bank, and was expected to urge the
Palestinian leader to take productive steps toward peace.

According to media reports, he did not plan to visit Bethlehem’s
Church of the Nativity because of an exhibit there supporting hunger-striking
Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly
about the U.S.-Israeli bond and his deep sense of admiration for the country.
He also spoke of the need to unite against “the scourge of violence.”

“We have the rare opportunity to bring security and
stability and peace to this region and to its people by defeating terrorism,”
Trump said at the welcoming ceremony upon his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport,
where he was greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife,
Sara. “But we can only get there by working together. We love Israel. We
respect Israel and I send your people the warmest greeting from your friend and
ally, from all people in the USA, we are with you.”

The next leg of his first overseas trip as president is
slated to include a visit to the Vatican as well as to Brussels.

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