U.S. Vice President Mike Pence Tours the Western Wall in Private Visit

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U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 23, 2018.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 23, 2018.Credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence visited the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on Tuesday. Confirming Haaretz's earlier reports, Pence's visit to the site, which is located beyond the 1967 lines and therefore not recognized by the world as part of Israel, took place without the presence of any Israeli political leaders, just like the visit U.S. President Donald Trump made to the holy site in May.

During Pence's visit, female journalists accompanying the vice president were separated from their male colleagues and sent away to a fenced and covered area in the back of the Western Wall compound.

The incident provoked outrage among the American female journalists accompanying him. Following their protest, White House personnel have commenced removing the covering as part of a compromise, so the journalists could stand atop chairs and catch a view of the visit.

Female journalists accompanying U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the Western Wall separated from their male colleagues behind a fence, January 23, 2018.Credit: Yanir Cozin, Maariv

One of the female journalists present, Globes reporter Tal Schneider, told Haaretz: "I don't like being restricted in my job just because I'm a woman. I can't stand it and it's unacceptable in the modern world. This discriminatory attitude towards women is infuriating and inappropriate in a modern country." Other female journalists present used the #PenceFence hashtag when discussing the event on social media.

Pence was accompanied only by the rabbi in charge of the site, and the media arrangements were handled by the American embassy in Israel, not the Israeli government press office.

As tradition prescribes, Pence inserted a note into the cracks of the wall and recited a short prayer. According to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, Pence, together with Kotel Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, also recited Psalms 121 and 122. The foundation proceeded to gift the vice president and his wife, Karen Pence, with a handmade, stone Hanukkah menorah inscribed with the sentence, "We should know how to spread light and chase darkness from the world."

Earlier in the day, Pence met with President Reuven Rivlin, saying that President Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is the clearest sign of America's commitment to Israel. He expressed hope that the decision would advance the peace process.

At a press conference before their meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem, the vice president said: "We believe the bond between us has never been stronger, but under President Trump's leadership, we are committed to making it stronger still."

He added that his country would continue its trade and security collaboration with Israel, and repeated his statement from Monday night that "the time has come for changes in the Iran nuclear deal that will ensure that the sunset provisions in the deal are completely eliminated, and that punitive sanctions will be available for many years to come."

US Vice President Mike Pence (C) signs the guest book during a visit to Jerusalem's Western Wall on January 23, 2018.Credit: THOMAS COEX/AFP

Rivlin called Pence a "mensch" and said Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as the capital was a gift for Israel's 70th independence anniversary. Rivlin added that despite the harsh remarks by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas last week, Israel must continue to try to find a way to build trust between the two nations. He expressed regret that there is currently no trust between the two sides, and added that it is the fate of Israel and the Palestinians to live together.

Pence then visited Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, where he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance. Engraved on the mosaic floor of the Hall of Remembrance are the names of 22 Nazi murder sites, symbolic of the hundreds of extermination and concentration camps, transit camps and killing sites that existed throughout Europe.

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Pence's visit to Israel will draw to a close later in the afternoon, with his departure and return to the U.S. scheduled at 5:20 P.M. Originally, his trip was also supposed to include a stop in Bethlehem and a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. However, following Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the Palestinians claimed that the U.S. is no longer a suitable mediator in the peace process and retracted Pence's invitation, saying he was no longer welcome in Palestine.

The vice president kicked off his trip to the region on Saturday, with a visit to Egypt, where he pledged firm U.S. backing to the nation's fight against militants. While in Cairo, Pence also said Trump is "firmly committed" to restarting the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

In Jordan, Pence's second stop, the vice president met the country's King Abdullah, who voiced concern over Trump's recognition of Jerusalem and insisted that East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

After arriving in Israel on Sunday, Pence met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem. Meeting privately, Pence told Netanyahu it was a "great honor" to be in "Israel's capital, Jerusalem" and that he is hopeful "we are at the dawn of a new era" of renewed efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Later, Pence addressed a special session of Knesset on Monday, where he announced that the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem will open by the end of 2019. In his remarks, Pence said America was committed to forging a "lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians" and called on the Palestinians – who are boycotting his visit – to return to the negotiating table.

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