his first trip to Israel in 1998 Texas governor George W Bush
read his favorite hymn, "Amazing Grace," aloud with tear-filled
eyes, standing at the place where his 'favourite philosopher'
Jesus is believed to have delivered the Sermon on the Mount.
He also toured
Jerusalem's Old City, site of the Via Dolorosa, where Jesus carried
his cross toward the site of his crucifixion, and helicoptered
over the Jordan River with Ariel Sharon, but he didn't visit Palestinian
territory at that time, so didn't manage to tick Bethlehem off
his pilgrimage list.
later in January 2008, visiting the Holy Land as President of
America, Bush set aside some time on January 10 to visit the little
town in the occupied West Bank where Jesus is believed to have
by helicopter, the president was whisked quickly to the Church
of the Nativity in a motorcade, past Israel's towering concrete
and barbed wire barrier, military checkpoints and red-roofed Jewish
settlements, too quick to notice a handful of demonstrators gathered
on the outskirts of Bethlehem, waving Palestinian flags, pictures
of family members in Israeli jails, and signs saying "Stop Israeli
terror", "Set our prisoners free", "No apartheid walls", and "Zionism
were used to push small groups of onlookers back up the empty
streets of shuttered shops and closed restaurants leading to the
empty Manger Square, guarded by thousands of Palestinian security
forces, as helicopters clattered overhead.
the roof of the sixth century Byzantine church as Bush descended
into the underground chapel, the Grotto of the Nativity, where
he lit a candle and prayed at the believed site of Jesus' birth.
the Lord's instructions to 'love your enemies', Bethlehem's
72-year-old Christian mayor Victor Batarseh was not invited
to meet Mr Bush, because he is a member of the Popular Front
for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), an organization
which the US State Department considers 'terrorist'.
after less than half an hour, the president described the experience
as moving. "A gift of that Almighty to each man, woman and child
on the face of the Earth is freedom. And I felt it strongly here.
For those of us who practise the Christian faith, there isn't
a more holy site than where our saviour was born."
has to be a very personal trip, and one he has wanted to make
since he took office," said Jim Towey, ex director of the president's
Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. "He loves the
Lord and he's in the Lord's front yard... Being in these holy
places must be very emotional for him and must make his heart
well up with gratitude to God. In that sense, he is no different
than other pilgrims."
the Lord's instructions to 'love your enemies', Bethlehem's 72-year-old
Christian mayor Victor Batarseh was not invited to meet Mr Bush,
because he is a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation
of Palestine (PFLP), an organization which the US State Department
his tour of Christian sites Bush also laid a wreath at the Yad
Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem on January 11, a site that
memorializes the Jews exterminated by Nazi Germany during World
War II, and an obligatory stopover for virtually every foreign
leader that visits the Jewish state.
an hour-long tour of the memorial a teary-eyed president told
Secretary of State Condaleezza Rice that the U.S. should have
bombed Auschwitz to halt the killing.
would hope if many people in the world would come to this place,
it would be a sobering reminder that evil exists and a call that
when we find evil, we must resist it," he said, curiously contradicting
his saviour's words "that ye resist not evil."
afternoon Bush flew by helicopter from Jerusalem to wind up his
tour of Christian sites at the village of Capernaum on the shores
of the Sea of Galilee, and visited the octagon-shaped Church of
the Beatitudes, a Catholic Franciscan chapel built in 1938 with
the support of Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini on the
spot where Jesus is believed to have preached his Sermon on the
Mount, laying out core teachings and his call to "turn the other
would hope if many people in the world would come to this
place, it would be a sobering reminder that evil exists
and a call that when we find evil, we must resist it," George
Bush said, curiously contradicting his saviour's words "that
ye resist not evil."
was welcomed by several priests and nuns from the Chapel, and
later, after two black-gowned monks had read him verses from the
Bible and pointed towards the different holy sites in the area,
he was presented with a statue of Jesus inscribed; "Blessed are
the Peace-makers, for they shall be called the Children of God."
the country Bush predicted that Israel and the Palestinians could
sign a peace treaty by the end of his term in January 2009.
In the visitors'
book at the Holocaust memorial Bush wrote "Long Live Israel",
and at a press conference before leaving to continue his trip
to Arab countries he said that Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip has
delivered nothing but misery to the Palestinian people.
a competing vision taking place in Gaza and in my judgement Hamas
(who) I felt ran on a campaign that 'we're going to improve your
life'... have delivered nothing but misery."
Sami Abu Zuhri called Bush's comments a "declaration of war".
"Bush's visit and remarks have indicated that his visit came to
support the occupation and has brought nothing to the Palestinian
people but evil," he said.
At the beginning
of his term in Office as president, when asked by a reporter to
elaborate why he chose Jesus as his favourite philosopher, Bush
replied: "When you turn your heart and life over to Christ, when
you accept Christ as the Savior, it changes your heart. It changes
your life. And that's what happened to me."
time he had another look at the words of love and tolerance preached
by his Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Two thousand years ago,
Jewish Jesus lived in a country under foreign occupation and he
called for peace and brotherhood. Two thousand years later, modern
Palestine is oppressed, divided and occupied by the Israeli state.
If Jesus were alive today he would be an Arab.
Dickinson is an English teacher working in Istanbul, Turkey. Dickinson
did the cover art for two of CounterPunch's books, Dime's Worth
of Difference and Serpents in the Garden, as well as Jeffrey St.
Clair's Grand Theft Pentagon. He can be contacted via his website
or at [email protected].
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