President Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Judaism.
Trump arrived in Tel Aviv on Monday morning where he was greeted as a “good friend” by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In Jerusalem later on in the day, Trump placed his hand on the Western Wall and prayed at the site in a historic first for a US president.
Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama have all visited the sacred site, but in their capacity as private citizens or candidates for the highest office in the US. Trump is the first president to do so while in office.
Trump prayed and placed a small paper note in a crevice in the ancient wall, per tradition. Afterward, he and First Lady Melania Trump toured the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christians believe Christ was buried after his crucifixion.
Monday’s visit was tricky in diplomatic terms. The US does not officially recognize Old Jerusalem as part of Israel, as that portion of the city is located beyond the 1949 armistice line that effectively partitioned the old Palestine Mandate between Israel and territories annexed by Egypt and Jordan.
Israel claimed all of Jerusalem in 1967 and proclaimed it the capital in 1980. The US has not formally recognized that claim. One of Trump’s campaign promises was to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, which he called “the eternal capital of the Jewish nation.” However, his administration has been in no rush to do so.
The Western Wall, known in Hebrew as HaKotel HaMa’aravi, is part of the retaining wall around Temple Mount, a structure built by King Herod the Great over 2,000 years ago. The temple built upon it was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. Today, the mount is home to two mosques, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, while the Western Wall is the closest location to the former temple where Jews are allowed to pray.