UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday made a rare visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall and Temple Mount on the last day of three-day visit to Israel and the West Bank.
Javid, who comes from a Muslim family, donned a traditional Jewish skullcap as he toured the Western Wall holy site and placed a note between the stones of the ancient retaining wall.
The minister was accompanied at the Jewish shrine by the director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, according to a statement from the religious NGO that administers the site, but no Israeli government officials.
Javid on Monday also visited and prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, and the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
“I was honored to visit the [Temple Mount] earlier today,” he said, according to a statement from the British Consulate in Jerusalem. “Freedom of religion and belief is a non-negotiable right for all peoples, and the UK Government is committed to tackling anti-Muslim hatred, anti-Semitism, the persecution of Christians and any other impediments to this right both in the UK and around the world.”
The Western Wall, part of the Biblical Temple compound, is beneath the Temple Mount and is the holiest place where Jews are allowed to pray.
Javid recalled that his father believed deeply in Jewish-Muslim coexistence. “We love Jewish heritage very much and appreciate it,” he said during the private visit.
A statement from the Foundation said Javid was the first British minister to visit the Western Wall in 19 years.
Visits to the Western Wall by foreign dignitaries are adamantly opposed by Palestinians, who say they legitimize Israeli claims to the eastern half of the city, which they claim for the capital of a future Palestinian state.
A recent spate of such visits, including by senior US officials, has been held up in Israel as a sign of growing international recognition of Israel’s position.
Last year, Prince William visited the Western Wall and the Temple Mount during a visit to the Holy Land, becoming the first-ever member of the royal family to visit the site since 1948 when the British Mandate ended.
In May, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the Western Wall, the first time that Washington’s top diplomat has visited Jerusalem’s contested Old City accompanied by a senior Israeli official. The visit was seen by some as tacit American recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the contested Jewish holy site and a shift in US policy away from the two-state solution.
On Sunday, after meetings with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh and UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov, Javid said that the British government was still committed to Palestinian independence.
“The UK remains committed to making progress towards a two-state solution that leads to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as a shared capital,” Javid said. “Only this will further unlock the incredible potential of this region and its people.”
Javid also met Monday with Netanyahu. The two discussed strengthening security cooperation between the countries, according to a statement from the PMO. Netanyahu also thanked Javid for defining Hezbollah as a terrorist organization in the UK.