Prince William may visit Western Wall during trip to region

Duke of Cambridge ‘looking into possibility’ of visiting Jewish holy site, according to site’s Shmuel Rabinovitch; Israeli official confirms it is on tentative itinerary

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, attends the first annual Royal Foundation Forum on February 28, 2018, in London. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Chris Jackson)
Britain's Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, attends the first annual Royal Foundation Forum on February 28, 2018, in London. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / Chris Jackson)

Britain’s Prince William may visit the Western Wall during his upcoming visit to Israel, two people with knowledge of the planning of the trip said Thursday.

UK authorities are looking into the possibility of a royal visit to the Jewish holy site, Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the official rabbi of the site, told Israeli reporters, though he declined to say whether the visit had been confirmed.

An official in Jerusalem confirmed to The Times of Israel that a visit to the Western Wall is part of prince Williams’s tentative itinerary.

On Monday, Kensington Palace announced the Duke of Cambridge’s itinerary during his weeklong trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories later this month. It does not include a stopover at the Western Wall, but hints that he may consider visiting the holy site.

On June 28, Prince William — the second-in-line to the throne — will receive a “short briefing on the history and geography of Jerusalem’s Old City from a viewing point at the Mount of Olives,” according to Kensington Palace.

“From here His Royal Highness will travel a short distance to the Church of St Mary Magdalene where he will pay his respects at the tomb of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice.”

The statement then states that the program for the remainder of the day “will be announced at a later date, but will allow His Royal Highness to understand and pay respect to the religions and history of the region.”

A spokesperson for the British embassy in Tel Aviv said she cannot comment on the prince’s program “beyond what has already been announced.”

The royal itinerary had raised some eyebrows in Israel, as it implies that the palace considers Jerusalem’s Old City as located in the “Occupied Palestinian Territories.”

Much of the international community does not recognize Israel’s 1980 annexation of East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located.

If William does visit the Western Wall, it would likely be advertised as a “private visit,” as other dignitaries have done recently. A private visit would not necessitate William to be accompanied by an official representative from the host country, thus allowing him to avoid the prickly issue of recognizing a sovereign over the site. US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulchre last year was officially listed as a private visit, as was a visit to the Western Wall by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz this week.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, the rabbi of the
Western Wall and the holy places, touches one of the Western Wall stones discovered in the excavation under Wilson’s Arch in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Yaniv Berman, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

“I am not running after international recognition,” Rabinovitch, the rabbi in charge of visiting foreign dignitaries at the Western Wall, said. “To me, it’s more important that Jewish children come to this place and connect with their heritage,” he added, recalling recently hosting a Jewish boy from Britain who had never been to Israel but appeared genuinely inspired by his visit to the wall.

“I respect the prince, but this Jewish boy is more important to me,” Rabinovitch said.

Rabinovitch, who chairs the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, also said that he recently hosted the foreign minister of Togo, Robert Dussey, who told him that, while Togo currently has no embassy in Israel, if and when it opens one it will strongly consider placing it in Jerusalem.

“He looked, prayed, and then took me aside and said, ‘Look, I used to be a monk. I feel I have a mission to do for the Jews,’” Rabinovitch said.

The rabbi was addressing Israeli reporters on a particularly busy day, on which 300 boys celebrated their bar mitzah at the Western Wall. He also hosted US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen, who told him how honored and moved she was to visit the Jewish holy site.

“May God bless us all. May we always remember your name. May we also act with love and in your guidance,” she wrote in the guestbook after her visit. “Dear Lord thank you for all that you are and all that you have given your children. May we be forever thankful.”

US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen M. Nielsen visiting the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 14, 2018 (courtesy Western Wall Heritage Foundation)

After Donald Trump’s historic May 22, 2017, visit to the Western Wall — he was the first sitting US president to visit the site — the number of US administration officials going there during Israel trips has significantly increased, Rabinovitch said.

Last year, some 11.5 million people visited the Western Wall, an all-time record, according to Rabinovitch, who has held his current position for more than 20 years.

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