The planned visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the Western Wall (Kotel) may force a ban on Jews from praying there for the first time since the holy site was restored to Israel after 2,000 years. Pope Benedict has said his visit to Israel in mid-May is devoted to “unity’ and “peace.”
Security officials have been discussing the issue with Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, who said he is vehemently opposed to the idea. Government authorities responsible for the safety of the Pope want to clear the area from the evening before his visit until he leaves.
“The Kotel must be open during the entire visit for every person who wants to pray,” Rabbi Rabinowitz said. “Jews have been praying at the Kotel for almost 42 years. There is no preference of one person over another.”
Jews were banned from visiting the Western Wall during the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem. Jordan also closed off all of the Christian churches, and Israel re-opened all religious sites to all faiths after recovering all of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War in 1967.
Pope John Paul II visited the Western Wall in March 2000 and followed the tradition of placing a prayer between the cracks of the Wall. It stated, “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your Name to the Nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer. And asking Your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.”