Trump May Speak at Symbolic Jewish Fortress When Visiting Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | May 5, 2017 | 4:39am EDT
Masada in Israel's Judean desert. (Photo: Andrew Shiva/Wikipedia)

( – President Trump’s first trip abroad as president may include a speech at the highly symbolic ancient Jewish fortress of Masada, Israeli media outlets reported Thursday, after the White House announced a visit later this month to Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Vatican, Italy and Belgium.

The White House said Trump has accepted invitations from Saudi King Salman to visit the kingdom for a summit with Muslim leaders; from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin to visit Israel; and from Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas for a meeting – presumably in the Palestinian self-rule areas although no venue was given.

Trump would then travel to the Vatican for a meeting with Pope Francis, meet with Italian leaders, attend a NATO summit and meetings with European Union leaders in Brussels, and participate in a G7 summit in Sicily.

Israel’s Channel 2 television reported that a White House advance team has requested Masada as the venue for a presidential speech.

If true, the plan will likely draw a mixed response in a region anxious to learn how Trump plans to tackle the Israeli-Palestinian peace puzzle. The desert hilltop overlooking the Dead Sea, where a group of Jewish Zealots besieged by the Romans in the 1st century AD took their lives rather than accept defeat and slavery, has for Israelis long symbolized the indomitable spirit of a people surrounded by enemies.

In a tradition attributed to Moshe Dayan, some Israeli soldiers take an oath of loyalty to the state, either atop Masada or at the Western Wall or another symbolic location, concluding with a famous phrase from a 1927 epic poem by Yitzhak Lamdan, “Masada shall not fall again.”

As a symbol of the Zionist dream and national pride, it is not a place generally embraced by the Palestinians.

The Palestinian news agency Ma’an, in a 2013 article suggested the story of Masada was “a myth created by the Jews in order to explain to their people that they have a history similar to the [Arab] peoples of the region and [that they] have been there since ancient times.”

Trump would not be the first U.S. president to visit Masada. President Clinton, First Lady Hillary Clinton and their daughter Chelsea visited in 1998, hosted by Netanyahu, as did President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush in 2008, on that occasion accompanied by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Neither Clinton nor Bush delivered speeches at the site.

Despite its history and symbolism, Masada is not necessarily seen as a sanctified site. It is one of the country’s most visited locations for tourists, and a popular venue for weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, operas and music concerts.

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