The Western Wall has been deemed too controversial a place for US President George W. Bush to visit. He is opting instead for Masada – where Jewish rebels committed mass suicide.
Bush will be visiting Israel as part of Israel’s 60th Independence Day celebrations. His visit will be 60 hours long. In addition to addressing the Knesset, Bush is reportedly searching for a symbolic location to visit, with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as his tour guide.
Haaretz reported that Bush’s aids were leaning toward the Masada fortress. The site was where Jews held out against the Roman army, but were eventually beaten and committed suicide rather than face the humiliation and torture of captivity. Haaretz mentioned the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hevron, the Golan Heights and the Western Wall, explicitly, as places deemed too controversial for Bush to visit.
The Western Wall, also called the Kotel ("wall" in Hebrew) or Wailing Wall, is the western retaining wall of the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site. The mount itself is occupied by two Muslim structures and Jewish worship there is severely restricted. The Western Wall is highly symbolic as it has been the focal point of Jewish worship in the most recent return to Zion. It was approachable via a small alleyway prior to the War of Independence, was off-limits to Jews under Jordanian rule following the 1949 armistice and was liberated in the 1967 Six Day War. Among the most famous photos in Israel's history is that of IDF paratroopers looking up at the wall with awe following their participation in the battle for the Old City. Shortly after the victory, Israel bulldozed the area around the wall, creating a huge prayer plaza.
Muslims have recently been staking a claim not only to the Temple Mount, but to the Western Wall as well. They call it Al-Burak and say the religion's founder, Mohammad, tied his horse there during a midnight journey that took him to "the farthest mosque" - which they say is a reference to the Jerusalem mosque later given that name.
The Bushes also want to witness the Biblical prophecy of the ingathering of the exiles first-hand. White House staffers report that the Bushes are looking to meet with recent olim (Jewish immigrants to Israel) during the visit.
Bush will not be visiting Palestinian Authority-controlled areas or meeting with PA officials during his visit to Israel, but will hold a meeting with Fatah chief and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in Egypt afterward.
Media analyst Dr. Aaron Lerner of Israel Media Research and Analysis says that the phenomenon of Bush steering clear of the Western Wall does not bode well and belies statements by Israeli officials’ claiming an improved relationship with the US due to Israel’s willingness to make repeated concessions to Fatah. “Things are so screwed up that while the Pope can visit the Western Wall in what was clearly the "Israeli" portion of his visit, President Bush can't make the same photo op as part of his historic trip marking Israel's 60th anniversary,” Lerner opined. “And now an example of the incredible lack of thinking on the part of whoever is working on this trip: instead of visiting places associated with Israel's rebirth or ancient life - the idea is a photo op at a place remembered in history for the group of Jews who committed suicide rather than fall captive to the Romans.”
Dr. Lerner concluded, with tongue-in-cheek: “Then again. How appropriate. PM Olmert, who critics warn is following a suicidal path with the Palestinians, will visit Masada with Bush.”