U.S. President Donald Trump touched the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Monday, the first visit at the Jewish holy site by a serving American leader, and one that is steeped in the centuries-old conflicts of the Middle East.
Trump, a Christian wearing a black yarmulke, walked alone to the massive stone wall after hearing a brief history of the holiest site in Judaism. He placed his right hand on the wall for about 30 seconds and then, as is custom, tucked a small prayer note into a crevice.
Later, Trump said he was “deeply moved” by the experience. “It will leave an impression on me forever,” he said.
The U.S. leader made his brief stop at the Western Wall unaccompanied by Israeli leaders, even though they welcomed the visit and the Western Wall is a site where Jews pray.
“The people of Israel applaud you” for visiting the Western Wall, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Trump at the end of a day of meetings and ceremonies.
Trump’s visit was ensnared in the history of Jerusalem and the unending disputes between Israel and the Palestinians over boundary lines if the two sides are ever to reach a peace accord with creation of a Palestinian state alongside that of the Jewish state.
In planning for Trump’s visit to Israel, the U.S. delegation rejected a request that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accompany him to the Western Wall, telling the Israelis it is “not your territory. It’s part of the West Bank,” part of lands that Israel annexed in the Six-Day War in 1967.
The future status of Jerusalem is one of the major unresolved issues in whether the Israelis and Palestinians can reach a two-state solution. Israel considers Jerusalem as its capital, although the international community does not recognize it as such and foreign embassies are located in Tel Aviv.
The Palestinians, if an independent Palestinian state is created, want to claim east Jerusalem as their capital.
Trump, during his run for the White House, said he would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but has since backed off that pledge.
The Western Wall is the outer wall of what Jews call the Temple Mount, the last remnant of the second Jewish temple, built by King Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
Muslims call the same compound al-Haram al-Sharif, home to the al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam. Jewish worshippers visit and pray at the Western Wall, while Muslims visit and pray at the mosque above the wall.
With no controversy, Trump also visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Christian tradition holds that Jesus was crucified and buried in a tomb.
On his nine-day trip, Trump has noted that he is visiting lands where Muslims, Jews and Christians celebrate their founding beliefs, first stopping in Saudi Arabia, then Israel before heading to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis, leader of the world’s Roman Catholics.