Tree Obama Planted in Jerusalem May Be Uprooted for Inspection

Mar 20, 2013 10:38pm
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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

It’s an old gospel song: Just like a tree planted by the water, I shall not be moved. But if you’re the magnolia tree the president of the United States planted today in Jerusalem, there’s a chance you might be moved.

Obama planted a tree on Wednesday in Israeli President Shimon Peres’s Jerusalem garden. It’s a gift for a man Obama said has planted “the seeds of progress, the seeds of security, the seeds of peace — all the seeds that have helped not only Israel grow but also the relationship between our two nations grow.”

The tree was meant to signify the strong roots of the relationship between the United States and Israel. But before these American roots can take hold, the Israeli government will inspect them.

An Israeli official tells ABC News that the magnolia tree will be tested and possibly removed in a week by the Israeli Agriculture Department. The roots of the tree were apparently kept in a plastic covering during the planting. As in the U.S., Israeli law forbids plants and trees from other countries from entering Israel. The White House and the Israeli government were aware of the limitations ahead of the visit.

A White House official confirms that the tree given to Peres was grown from a set of seeds from the original Jackson Magnolia alongside the Rose Garden on the South Lawn of the White House. It was planted in the 1830s by President Andrew Jackson. An official says it is the oldest known presidential tree on the grounds of the White House.

During remarks at Peres’s official residence, Obama mentioned the story in the Talmud of Honi and the Carob Tree: A man sees an older man planting a carob tree and tells him that it will take 70 years before the tree grows fruit. Obama told the crowd the older man’s reply: “When I came into the world, I found carob trees. As my forefathers planted for me, so will I plant for my children.”

There’s good news for Obama’s magnolia tree: If removed for testing, it is expected to be replanted in the same spot. It’s currently near a tree given by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI during his May 2009 trip to the Holy Land. An Israeli official says Benedict’s tree didn’t undergo any testing because it was purchased in Israel.

Update at 1101 a.m. ET: On Thursday morning Peres’s office released a statement saying the tree will be tested but won’t be removed.

The man who now heads up the agriculture ministry is Yair Shamir, the son of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Shamir’s office says he was informed but not consulted about the testing of the tree.

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