Concluding his three-day trip to Israel, President Obama got an unplanned look at the political realities plaguing the peace process during a visit to Bethlehem this afternoon.
The president was supposed to fly by helicopter to Bethlehem but a windstorm forced him to travel by motorcade instead. The change in plans was cheered by Palestinians because the president drove past the large concrete wall erected by the Israelis, giving Obama a direct look at the hostilities facing the region on a daily basis.
Read more about the president’s trip to Israel here.
The town is so walled off that one souvenir shop owner told ABC News’ Jonathan Karl that the store’s top seller is a carved manger scene depicting the wise men blocked from reaching the stable.
Once in Bethlehem, the president toured the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Jesus Christ was believed to have been born.
Obama wrapped up his trip with a trio of symbolic stops today. He paid tribute earlier this morning to the victims of the Holocaust at the Yad Vashem memorial and spoke of the “obligation not simply to bear witness, but to act” in response to anti-Semitism and racism around the world.
“We have the choice to ignore what happens to others, or to act on behalf of others and to continually examine in ourselves whatever dark places there may be that might lead to such actions or inactions,” he said in solemn remarks.
Read More: Obama stands firm on Mideast Two-State Solution.
“We could come here a thousand times, and each time our hearts would break,” he said. “For here we see the depravity to which man can sink.”
While the memorial is a reminder of man’s capacity for evil, Obama said it also highlights the capacity for good, citing the rescuers and those who refused to be bystanders during the Holocaust.
“In their noble acts of courage, we see how this place, this accounting of horror, is, in the end, a source of hope,” he said.
The president paid his respects to heroes of the Jewish state, visiting the graves of Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism, and Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who was assassinated in 1995.
The visit to Herzl’s grave is seen as a symbolic acknowledgement that the rationale for Israel’s existence lies in its historic ties to the region.
“Here, on your ancient land, let it be said for all the world to hear: The State of Israel does not exist because of the Holocaust,” Obama said. “But with the survival of a strong Jewish State of Israel, such a Holocaust will never happen again.”