Laura Bush Visits Jerusalem as Protesters Call for Pollard's Release

Aluf Benn and Nathan Guttman, Haaretz Correspondents, and The Associated Press - Haaretz - May 22 2005

Laura Bush arrived in Israel on Sunday as part of a Mideast tour meant to promote women's issues and help defuse growing anti-American sentiment in the region.

At her first stop, the residence of President Moshe Katsav in Jerusalem, about two dozen demonstrators chanted for the release of Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison for spying for Israel.

"Pollard, the people are with you," the group chanted.

Bush was to meet with Katsav's wife, Gila, and visit the Western Wall before heading to the West Bank town of Jericho for talks with eight prominent Palestinian women, including cabinet ministers and legislators, and a visit to the site of the ancient Hisham palace.

J4JP Adds: Gila Katsav did meet with the first lady and presented Laura Bush with a Women's Knesset letter initiated by MK Gila Finkelstein and signed by all the women MKs. The letter seeks to enlist Mrs. Bush's help in bringing to her husband's attention the desire of all Israel to have Jonathan Pollard released and sent home. The letter points out that the sentence he is serving is grossly disproportionate and that his treatment has been unduly harsh.

Back in Jerusalem, she is to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum. Her final stop is a church in the Arab town of Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, on Monday, before she leaves for Egypt.

At first, Bush's original itinerary included only Arab countries, according to senior political officials. However, sources in Jerusalem said the U.S. president asked his wife to include Israel in the visit. The first lady has no political meetings scheduled in Israel.

Bush arrived in Israel from Jordan, where she attended the World Economic Forum conference on the Middle East on Saturday. She told the gathering of more than 1,300 international business and political leaders that women need to have more prominence in government and business in the Middle East.

America's first lady said women already have achieved extraordinary gains in the Middle East and that change must come to any nation that wants to be considered truly free.

"Women who have not yet won these rights are watching," she said. "They are calling on the conscience of their countrymen, making it clear that if the right to vote is to have any meaning, it cannot be limited only to men."

She had shied from the spotlight in U.S. President George W. Bush's first term, but on Saturday, the first lady embraced a public role.

Justice4JP Adds: 200 activists greeted Laura Bush at the Kotel (Western Wall) chanting: "Send Pollard Home!" waving banners and holding photos of Jonathan Pollard aloft. Protesters were buoyed when the public praying at the wall spontaneously joined in chanting: "Pollard ha'bayta! (Send Pollard home!)"