Following his official welcome to Jerusalem by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, US President Donald Trump began his two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories with a private visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Western Wall.
Under tight security and led by the traditional kawas honour 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.
Trump, who also was accompanied into the church by his daughter, Ivanka Trump, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The church 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 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 and put 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.
Trump is the first sitting president to visit the Western Wall in the contested Old City of Jerusalem. The Western Wall is considered the holiest site for Judaism today, as a remnant of the retaining wall of the Biblical Jewish Temple.
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 US 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 is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem, West Bank.
In statements upon his arrival in Israel, Trump spoke warmly about the US-Israeli bond and 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.
“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.