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 CNS Story:

BUSH-ISRAEL May-16-2008 (620 words) xxxi

At end of Israeli visit, Bush tours museum of biblical-era artifacts

By Judith Sudilovsky
Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM (CNS) -- Capping off his three-day visit to Israel, U.S. President George W. Bush toured a museum showcasing biblical-era artifacts that trace the common roots of the three monotheistic religions.

Amanda Weiss, managing director of the Bible Lands Museum Jerusalem, said the president and first lady Laura Bush were inspired by the collection that speaks about biblical history. She took the couple through the museum's permanent exhibition May 16, making stops in the Gallery of Written Communication, which chronicles the development of writing from its earliest origins through the alphabet, and at the special exhibit Three Faces of Monotheism.

"He is one of the more personable, warm, friendly people I have taken through the museum," said Weiss. "He asked a lot of questions, made lots of comments and was very interested."

Bush was in Israel to mark the nation's 60th anniversary and attend Israeli President Shimon Peres' special "Facing Tomorrow" conference. Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and expressed support for the beleaguered politician, who is facing corruption charges. Bush's speech to the Israeli parliament, emphasizing the need to deal harshly with terrorists rather than try to appease them, sparked a political exchange with Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who said the remarks were directed at him.

Weiss said she showed the Bushes an extremely rare tablet from the time of Abraham. The tablet tells about a holiday in the village of Larsa, near where Abraham lived. Bush noted that Abraham was an inspiration for him, Weiss said.

Weiss said the experience of seeing the roots of all monotheistic faiths was "very powerful" for Bush, and he told her he wanted to come back to the museum as a tourist to have more time to see the collection.

Following the tour of the museum Bush met with a group of 12 young Jewish and Arab Israelis representing all three religions in a one-hour private discussion in the museum garden. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Richard Jones, U.S. ambassador to Israel, also joined the meeting.

Ron Hasid, 16, a Jewish high school student from Petach Tikvah, said the president was interested in hearing their views of the current situation and their hopes for the future.

"He was surprised when we all told him we were optimistic. He said he would do all he could to put an end to the violence," said Hasid, noting that the president immediately put the nervous young people at ease and treated them like friends. "I can say that with a clean heart I really believed what he said."

Manar Saria, a 22-year-old Arab resident of Haifa studying environmental engineering, said Bush asked her how she defined her identity as an Arab living in Israel. She said she sees herself as both a Palestinian and an Arab-Israeli. The president was also interested in whether there are any social interactions between Jews and Arabs in Israel, Saria said, so she cited her hometown of Haifa as an example of a city where there is good coexistence between the two.

Bush noted that he does not equate Islam with terrorism and described Islam as a religion of peace, which some people have corrupted into something else, said Saria.

He also spoke about the importance of democracy blossoming in the Middle East and his belief that there would be a Palestinian state for the Palestinian people, she said. When Saria responded that as an Arab citizen of Israel she does not receive all the rights due her despite Israel's claims of democracy, Rice said that as an African-American she could understand how Arabs in Israel feel as a minority.


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