President Donald Trump landed in Israel amid high hopes for change in the Middle East.
The president will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during the historic stop. The official visit is the first time in history that a president has journeyed to Israel on his initial foreign trip.
During Trump’s visit, he made a stop at the Western Wall, a significant holy site, becoming the first sitting president to visit the religious monument. Bibi Netanyahu mentioned the honor in a joint press conference with President Trump on Monday:
“Mr. President, I appreciate the fact that you went to the Western Wall and you were the first acting president who’s done that. The people of Israel applaud you for it.”
For background on why the visit by a U.S. president was so symbolic and powerful, one must understand the history of the Western Wall.
The Western Wall is located in one of the holiest places on Earth, at the base of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem.Screenshot/Google Maps
The location is called the Temple Mount because it was the location of the second Jewish Temple, which contained the Holy of Holies, the literal residing place of Jehovah in the Jewish faith.Culture Club/Getty Images
In 70 A.D., the conquering Romans destroyed the temple entirely. The wall was all that was left.Culture Club/Getty Images
According to the Jewish Virtual Library:
When Rome destroyed the Second Temple in 70 C.E., only one outer wall remained standing. The Romans probably would have destroyed that wall as well, but it must have seemed too insignificant to them; it was not even part of the Temple itself, just an outer wall surrounding the Temple Mount.
For the Jews, however, this remnant of what was the most sacred building in the Jewish world quickly became the holiest spot in Jewish life. Throughout the centuries Jews from throughout the world made the difficult pilgrimage to Palestine, and immediately headed for the Kotel ha-Ma’aravi (the Western Wall) to thank God.
The location of the Wall has served as a backdrop for enormously pivotal moments in Jewish history:David Rubinger/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
According to sixdaywar.org:
On June 7, 1967, IDF paratroopers advanced through the Old City toward the Temple Mount and the Western Wall, bringing Jerusalem’s holiest site under Jewish control for the first time in 2000 years. There are sound recordings of the scene, as the commander of the brigade, Lt. General Mordechai (Motta) Gur, approaches the Old City and announces to his company commanders, “We’re sitting right now on the ridge and we’re seeing the Old City. Shortly we’re going to go in to the Old City of Jerusalem, that all generations have dreamed about. We will be the first to enter the Old City…” and shortly afterwards, “The Temple Mount is in our hands! I repeat, the Temple Mount is in our hands!”
General Rabbi Shlomo Goren, chief chaplain of the IDF, sounded the Shofar at the Western Wall to signify its liberation. To Israelis and Jews all over the world, this was a joyous and momentous occasion. Many considered it a gift from God.
Today, it serves as the holiest place in the Jewish religion.Chris McGrath/Getty Images
It is a place of prayer and significance for people of all religions.Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images
When Trump visited the Wall, the act showed deep respect for the history of the Jewish people:Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
It is tradition at the Wall to write down a prayer and place it in between the stones:Ronen Zvulun/AFP/Getty Images
Trump did just this. (We do not know what his prayer contained.):Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Trump was joined at the Wall by his daughter Ivanka:Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images
And his wife, Melania:Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images
Ivanka converted to Judaism after marrying her husband, Jared Kushner:Heidi Levine/AFP/Getty Images
Jared was also present at the Wall and listened to a rabbi read to Trump from the Torah:Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Other members of Trump’s cabinet had their moments at the Wall during the visit as well:Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
The visit did contain its fair share of controversy:Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
As was reported May 16, the visit to the Wall was a point of contention between the U.S. and Israeli governments:
The Trump administration also widened the daylight between itself and the hard-right Israeli government while pivoting on the key issue of ownership of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Wall is a deeply holy site for the Jewish people and served as a marker for the first and second Temple Mount. The Wall is a popular place for prayer and reflection and is a regular stop for politicians and friends of Israel.
Trump will be visiting the Wall in his upcoming trip to Israel but does not intend to be accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. According to reports, Trump will visit the Wall alone because his team does not consider the Wall a part of Israel.
Netanyahu was absent from Trump’s visit Monday, no doubt a nod to the many controversies in the region; but according to the prime minister’s comments later in the day, the act was appreciated nonetheless.
A historic first, for both the U.S. and Israel.