President Donald Trump made a historic, yet private visit Monday to Jerusalem’s Western Wall, becoming the first sitting American president to do so.
Trump, who was accompanied by his wife Melania as well as his Jewish daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, was presented with a Book of Psalms containing the inscription of his name by Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi of the Western Wall. Afterward, Trump separated from the women in his delegation and headed to the men’s section of the Western Wall, where he stood for several minutes before placing a customary note inside the wall’s cracks.
Trump’s visit came after last week’s controversial statements by U.S. officials regarding the holy site’s status. David Berns, political counselor at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, reportedly told his Israeli counterparts the Western Wall “is not in your territory.” The Trump administration quickly disavowed the statement, but at a subsequent White House press conference, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster declined to say whether the U.S. considers the Western Wall as part of Israel, commenting that the matter “sounds like a policy decision.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly sought to accompany Trump on his visit to the Western Wall, but the Trump administration rejected the request.
The Western Wall (also known as the Kotel), regarded as one of the holiest sites in Judaism, is the outer retaining wall of the Second Temple destroyed by the Romans in the 1st century A.D. Israel gained control over the Western Wall during the 1967 Six-Day War as it captured the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan. Despite the Kotel’s significance to Judaism and Israel’s control over a united Jerusalem, the international community—including the U.S.—has refused to officially recognize the Western Wall as part of Israel.