JERUSALEM (May. 22)
She may have brought a message of American goodwill toward Muslims, but Laura Bush spent a potential high point of her Middle East tour fending off protests from Palestinians angered by U.S. policies — and from Israelis, too. After arriving from Jordan, the first lady toured Jerusalem on Sunday, traveling from site to site under heavy Israeli police and U.S. Secret Service. In lieu of speeches, she spoke to her media entourage of the need to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“What an emotional place this is, as we go from each one of these very, very holy spots to the next,” Bush said. “We’re reminded again of what we all want, what every one of us prays for,” adding, “What we all want is peace.”
Some want more. When Bush arrived at the Western Wall, demurely dressed, to place a written prayer in the cracks of its stones, she found herself facing off with dozens of Israeli demonstrators who chanted that the United States should free Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. jail for spying for Israel.
From there, it was up to the Temple Mount, for a tour of one of Islam’s most revered sites, the Dome of the Rock. Most worshipers looked on incuriously, but there was heckling from Palestinians angered at a Newsweek magazine report — later retracted — that U.S. interrogators had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to torment a Muslim prisoner in their custody.
“Koran, Koran,” hissed one woman.
The Islamic terrorist group Hamas even posted a notice against the First Lady on the Internet.
“We in principle don’t reject anyone’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque (compound), but we see in the visit of Mrs. Bush an attempt to whitewash the face of the U.S., after the crimes that the American interrogators had committed when they desecrated the Koran,” it said.
Having earlier voiced regret at the Newsweek report and the Muslim rioting that has been linked to it, Bush took a more positive tack on the Temple Mount, marveling at the beauty of the shrine. She also voiced hope for the U.S.-led “road map” to Israeli-Palestinian peace, which has been tested by renewed fighting in the Gaza Strip but which President Bush hopes to bolster by hosting his Palestinian Authority counterpart in the White House on Thursday.
“The United States will do what it can in this process,” Laura Bush said. “It also requires the work of the people here, of the Palestinians and the Israelis, to come to the table.”
“We’re reminded again of what every one of us would want. What we all want is peace and the chance that we have right now to have peace, to have a Palestinian state living by a secure state of Israel, both living in democracy, is as close as we’ve been in a really long time.”
Toward evening, the first lady traveled to Jericho in the West Bank, where she met with Palestinian female leaders. In more polite terms, they voiced dismay at Israeli security measures — especially the barrier going up in the West Bank — and the apparent U.S. approval of them.
“It will take a lot of baby steps and I’m sure that there will be a few steps backward on the way, but I want to encourage the people I met with earlier, the women I just met with, that the U.S. will do what they can in this process,” Bush said.