Fifty years after Israel captured the Western Wall, US President Donald Trump on Monday became the first sitting American leader to visit the holy site, in a historic visit that saw him accompanied by his Jewish relatives in Jerusalem’s ancient Old City.
Entering the Old City’s warren of alleyways on Monday — on lockdown by police for his visit — Trump and his wife Melania met the heads of various Christian denominations and began their tour at one of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection.
Security camera footage showed the US entourage, numbering hundreds of people, strolling through the ancient city’s alleys from Jaffa Gate to the holy Christian site under unprecedented security.
The US president was greeted outside the ancient church by the Armenian and Greek Orthodox patriarchs of Jerusalem. After briefly stopping to be photographed, he entered the building, along with his son-in-law and daughter, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.
From there, the US delegation walked back to Jaffa Gate, where they entered the convoy of dozens of vehicles to drive to the Western Wall.
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch and Western Wall Heritage Foundation director Mordechai Eliav met the black kippah-clad Trump at the entrance to the plaza, which was emptied of worshipers for the presidential visit.
From there, Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner strolled to the men’s section of the wall, in accordance with the gender-segregated Orthodox practice at the site, while Ivanka and Melania Trump headed to the women’s section.
Trump approached the wall, lingering to touch the stones for some 30 seconds and slipping a note inside. On the women’s side, Ivanka Trump, who is Jewish, prayed at the wall, eyes shut, before stepping away. Melania Trump, too, stood in reverence at the wall.
The US president later read a chapter of Psalms along with the rabbis.
The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple compound, is the closest point of prayer for Jews to the site of the Temple itself and thus the Jewish people’s holiest place of prayer. It was captured along with the rest of the Old City and East Jerusalem in the 1967 war and annexed by Israel as part of its united capital — a move not recognized internationally.
Monday’s visit comes two days before the 50th anniversary of Israel’s recapture of the city.
In a bid to keep the tour free of political undertones, US officials reportedly rejected a request for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to join the visit, saying it would be “a private visit” by the president and that he would go on his own.
Last week, the White House confirmed that Trump would not be accompanied by any Israeli officials when he visits the holy site.
Earlier on Monday, police said a protest broke out near the Jaffa Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. The protesters were Jews, but the precise agenda of the protest was not immediately evident.
Police officers on the scene quickly dispersed the protest and removed the demonstrators, as the area was closed off as part of the security precautions for Trump’s trip, a police spokesperson said.
Trump, who landed Monday afternoon for a whirlwind 28-hour visit, will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the King David Hotel at 6 p.m., followed by a dinner at 7:30 p.m. at the Prime Minister’s Residence where Trump and Netanyahu will be joined by their wives.
On Tuesday morning, Trump will head to Bethlehem at 10 a.m. for a meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He may visit the Church of the Nativity in the city.
The Israeli part of his visit then resumes Tuesday with a 1 p.m. wreath-laying ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.
At 2 p.m. Trump is due to move on to deliver an address at the Israel Museum located across the street from the Knesset. This is set to be the main speech of his Israel trip.
The US president will then return to Ben Gurion Airport and lift off for Italy, and the Vatican leg of his trip, at 4 p.m.