Obama ends Israel visit, touring symbolic sites
President Barack Obama, right, with Israeli President Shimon Perez, center, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stand behind, lays a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl during his visit to Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel, Friday, March 22, 2013. AA PhotoU.S. President Barack Obama visited Israel’s most powerful national symbols on his last day of a landmark Israeli visit March 22, paying respects to the country’s heroes and to victims of the Holocaust and stressing how Jewish roots to the Holy Land were centuries-old.
Accompanied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, Obama laid wreaths and, in accordance with Jewish tradition, placed stones on the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, who died in 1904, and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.
“It is humbling and inspiring to visit and remember the visionary who began the remarkable establishment of the State of Israel,” Obama wrote in the Mt. Herzl guestbook. “May our two countries possess the same vision and will to secure peace and prosperity for future generations.”
At Rabin’s grave, a short walk away, Obama was greeted by members of Rabin’s family. He initially placed a stone on Rabin’s wife’s side of the grave, and then returned to place one atop Rabin’s side.
In a gesture linking the U.S. and Israel, the stone placed on Rabin’s grave was from the ground of the Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, the White House said. Rabin was “a great man,” Obama said.
In his next stop at the Yad Vashem memorial, the image of Obama crouching in reflection after laying a memorial wreath to the six million Jews killed by Nazis added another emotional layer to a three-day trip full of symbolic gestures and appeals for peace. Wearing a Jewish skullcap, Obama rekindled an eternal flame next to a stone slab above ashes recovered from extermination camps after World War Two.
‘Holocaust will never happen again’
Obama made clear he recognized that Jewish roots to the Holy Land were centuries-old. “Here on your ancient land, let it be said for the entire world to hear, the state of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust, but with the survival of a strong Jewish state of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again,” he said. “We have a choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow - never again,” Obama added.
Officials said the visit to Yad Vashem and the Mount Herzl cemetery in Jerusalem were aimed to correct an impression the president had given in a speech in Cairo in 2009, where he appeared to argue that the legitimacy of Israel stemmed from the Holocaust.
Obama was scheduled to fly to Jordan for talks with King Abdullah, a U.S. ally, about an array of problems, including the civil war in neighboring Syria and stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations.