“Sadness, confusion, loss and the road to Emmaus”: Video of my Passover/Easter message

emmausroadOn Wednesday night, I had the honor of teaching at a wonderful church in Tucson, Arizona. It is shepherded by Pastor Robert Furrow. When I had first accepted in the invitation last fall, I had intended to teach about “The Future of the Middle East In Light of Bible Prophecy.” But in the meantime, Robert’s dear wife, Lisa, went home to be with the Lord after a very difficult battle with cancer.

Having been to Tucson numerous times over the years to teach with and for Robert and Lisa, and having built a sweet friendship with them both, and having prayed for the Lord to let this cup pass from them both, I was so saddened when I got the news. It was hard to fathom such a strong and faithful woman of God was gone. I was happy for her — she is well and whole and worshipping in the presence of Jesus. But I was grieved for Robert and his family and his congregation. It was an honor, therefore, to be out there this week. I was glad to be able to spend time with Robert, and pray with him, and listen as he shared with me the hard road he’s been on since the Lord took Lisa home to heaven.

In that context, I didn’t feel I was supposed to teach about the Middle East. Rather, I felt moved to teach about the two Jewish disciples on the road to Emmaus, about their sadness and their confusion and their deep sense of loss, perhaps even betrayal, when the man they thought was the Messiah was betrayed, arrested and crucified.  Here is the link to the audio and the video of the message. I hope you and your family will take some time to listen to the message and share it with others. And may the Lord bless you, and comfort you, and encourage you this Passover and Easter season.

>> “Sadness, Confusion, Loss & The Road To Emmaus (Luke 24:13-31)”

>> Also: “My Spiritual Journey”

Game-changer: Israeli natural gas began flowing today. Dawn of “energy independence.” Prophetic, too?

Photo of the Tamar Lease natural gas rig, located 90 kilometers west of the city of Haifa, northern Israel (photo credit: AP/Albatross Aerial Perspective/Times of Israel)

Photo of the Tamar Lease natural gas rig, located 90 kilometers west of the city of Haifa, northern Israel (photo credit: AP/Albatross Aerial Perspective/Times of Israel)

UPDATED: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced this weekend that the dawn of Israeli “energy independence” has arrived. Today, for the first time in history, Israeli natural gas is being pumped out of the Mediterranean Sea and back towards the Jewish state. Soon, the Jewish state will no longer need to import energy, thus making Israel more financially independent and in turn enhancing her national security. What’s more, if it chooses to, Israel will soon also be able to export natural gas to Europe, a move that could make Israel enormously wealthy and become a game-changer economically, geopolitically and perhaps prophetically.

Here are the latest headlines from the Israeli media:

Readers of The Last Jihad novel series may recall that the plot — Russia and Iran form a military alliance and seek to attack Israel, a move that triggers the “War of Gog and Magog” that was prophesied in Ezekiel 38-39 — was premised on two key prerequisites: 1) Jews “living securely” back in the Land of Israel after centuries in exile; and 2) Israel becoming so wealthy that the leaders of Russia (Magog) would seek to plunder the Jewish state. In the novel series (which was first published in 2002), I created a fictional scenario in which Israel discover massive amounts of petroleum and become a regional economic superpower, thus drawing Russia’s attention, and the greed of the leaders in the Kremlin.

Back then, many people scoffed at the notion that either of these prophetic prerequisites could ever come true, particularly in our lifetime. So in my first non-fiction book, Epicenter (published in the fall of 2006), I laid out the research behind my novels. Noting that Israel was already far more prosperous than her immediate neighbors — including the Palestinians, the Egyptians, the Jordanians, the Syrians and the Lebanese, I argued that it was possible that the Israel could become far more prosperous due to a series of Bible prophecies which indicate that Israel will make major discoveries of petroleum in “the last days.” IN Chapter 5 of Epicenter, which was entitled, “FUTURE HEADLINE: ISRAEL DISCOVERS MASSIVE RESERVES OF OIL, GAS,” I explained the prophecies and how they could come to pass in the future, possibly in our lifetime.

Has that moment arrived?

“Natural gas from the offshore Tamar field was pumped to Israeli shores for the first time Saturday, four years after its discovery, in preparation for its first use in the Israeli energy market — a move that could transform the Israeli economy,” reports the Times of Israel. “The Tamar deposit, discovered in 2009 some 90 kilometers west of Haifa, holds an estimated 8.5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

“On Saturday, hailed an ‘important day for the Israeli economy’ by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, natural gas from the field was being pumped to a newly erected facility on the coast at Ashdod, connected to the gas field via pipelines laid out on the ocean floor, 150 kilometers long and 16 inches wide,” noted the Times. “Commenting on the historic development, Netanyahu drew a link between the event and the holiday of Passover. ‘On the festival of freedom, we are taking an important step toward energy independence. We have advanced the natural gas sector in Israel over the last decade, which will be good for the Israeli economy and for all Israelis,’ Netanyahu said. The gas is to be transferred Sunday from the facility to a processing plant in Ashdod. From there, it will flow into the Israeli market. These newly harnessed resources promise to be a major boon to both the country’s public and private energy needs. The controlling Tamar shareholder, Yitzhak Tshuva, said Saturday’s start of pumping came ‘months ahead of schedule.’….The gas from Tamar is expected to help meet Israel’s energy needs for the next 20 years, Channel 2 said, and will save the economy some NIS 13 billion (some $35 billion) per year. Its ahead-of-schedule use will also save Israeli citizens some cash — lowering a planned rise in electricity costs to 6 percent, less than originally planned. ‘This is an energy independence day for Israel,’ said Energy and Water Minister Silvan Shalom. ‘This breakthrough is the harbinger of the foray of additional private companies’ into the Israeli energy market, he added.”

“The Tamar deposit, and especially the heftier Leviathan, which was discovered in 2010, are expected to provide Israel with enough natural gas for decades and transform the country, famously empty of natural resources, into an energy exporter,” reported the Times. “Leviathan, which boasts an estimated 16 to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas, is expected to go online in 2016, the approximate time when exports are expected to begin.”

Curiously, the Russians are already eyeing Israel’s new gas discoveries and wanting a piece of the action (see articles below).

Bottom line: While it is too soon to conclude definitively that we are seeing events line up for the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 in our lifetime, the discovery, development, and pumping of natural gas is certainly an historic moment for Israel. It will be a great blessing to the Jewish people, to be sure. But it also could draw enemies who will try to attack Israel’s burgeoning natural gas industry and choke Israel economically. Could Russia conceivably become one of those enemies? Only time will tell, but it’s worth noting that Russia certainly views itself as a superpower in the natural gas market, and is currently the biggest supplier of natural gas to Europe.

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Book tour through Texas: Asking people to pray for Israel in light of Iran & Syrian threats

Talking about Israel on Channel 19 in Tyler, Texas.

Talking about Israel on Channel 19 in Tyler, Texas.

For the last several days of the Damascus Countdown book tour, I’ve had the honor of traveling through Texas to talk about the latest threats rising in the Middle East, and to ask Texans to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, as we are instructed to do in Psalm 122:6.

On Friday, I traveled to Austin to meet with Texas Governor Rick Perry and Congressman Louie Gohmert. For nearly 90 minutes, we discussed the President’s trip to Israel and Jordan and how Texans can stand with the State of Israel at this critical time.

On Saturday, I was in Tyler to speak at a brunch and dinner about events in the Middle East, and to do interviews with three local TV stations.

On Sunday, I spoke at both morning services at Green Acres Baptist Church, one of the largest congregations in the country with some 15,000 people attending. There I spoke on Matthew 20 & 21 and Jesus’ trip from Jericho to Jerusalem, His healing of two blind beggars in Jericho, and His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday morning.

At a special service on Sunday evening, I was interviewed by Green Acres Pastor David Dykes about current events in Israel and the Middle East in light of Bible prophecy. It is a very special congregation and I was deeply blessed to speak there and spend time answering questions. David has traveled to Israel 25 times (he just got back) and has really instilled a great love of Israel and the Jewish people in those attending the church he shepherds. (As soon as video for these events are available, I’ll be sure to post them.)

On Monday, I did media interviews from Dallas, before heading to Tucson, Arizona where I will speak tonight at Calvary Tucson.

I have been deeply encouraged by meeting so many people who love Israel — and Israel’s neighbors — and are sincerely committed to doing four things:

  1. Learn — about God’s plan and purpose for the people of the epicenter, and the threats that are rising against them
  2. Pray — faithfully and consistently for geopolitical peace, for spiritual peace, for the persecuted Church to be bold and strong, and for the Word of God to change many hearts
  3. Give — financially to ministries like The Joshua Fund that are blessing Israel and her neighbors with food, clothing, medical supplies and other forms of humanitarian relief, as well as with pastor training and encouragement
  4. Go — visit Israel and show your solidarity with the Jewish and Arab people there (I’m leading a “prayer & vision tour” to Israel this summer — from June 25 to July 7 — and holding the 2013 Epicenter Conference on July 5th; please come with us — there is still space available).

>> Video: Discussing Obama trip, an Israeli first strike & “Damascus Countdown” on Hannity show.


Damascus Countdown hits NYT best-seller list for third week.

NYT_home_bannerWe just got the news that Damascus Countdown will remain on the New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list for the third  week. In the Times’ “Book Review” section published on April 7th, Countdown will be positioned at #11.

The novel — which explores an Israeli first strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities and the blowback that comes from Iranian and Syrian retaliation — has also hit the USA Today and Publishers Weekly,  best-seller lists.

Thanks so much to everyone who is enjoying the book and posting their reviews on Amazon, B&N, Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere.

Bolton: Obama “committed to preventing an Israeli first strike on Iran’s nuclear program”: My interview with Ambassador John Bolton

John Bolton served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

John Bolton served as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under President George W. Bush.

(Dallas, Texas) — Judging from the televised images, President Obama’s first state visit to Israel was a love fest. The Israelis literally and figuratively rolled out the red carpet, even giving Mr. Obama a medal to thank him for his friendship to the Jewish people. The President, in turn, literally and figuratively hugged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and repeatedly called him by his nickname, “Bibi,” as though they had been best pals for years. The days of frosty, even frigid, relations between the two leaders seemed over.

But John Bolton isn’t buying it. The long-serving American diplomat and national security expert, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, says behind the scenes there is still trouble in paradise.

I interviewed him by phone yesterday and his message was crystal clear. On the three critical issues facing the U.S. and Israel in the Middle East — dealing with the Iran nuclear threat, the implosion of Syria, and the peace process — Bolton says the President’s objectives have not changed one iota. Netanyahu cannot count on this White House, he argues. And if Israel is going to strike Iran, they’re going to have to do it this year, and on their own.

What’s your assessment of President Obama’s trip to Israel?

Bolton: I think the President had two objectives.

One was political, to try to smooth over some of the differences in the relationship with Israel in general, and with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu in particular.

The other purpose was to have substantive, private discussions with the Israeli leadership to tell them not to even think about using military force to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons, and pressure them to make more concessions to the Palestinians.

I think the President accomplished the political objective the moment he stepped off the plane, embraced Netanyahu, and visited the Dead Sea Scrolls and [Zionist leader Theodor] Herzl’s tomb, and made all his other public stops. It was a cosmetic effort to stem some of the criticisms he’s been taking in recent years, and on that level it was somewhat successful.

But while the optics may have improved, the fundamental differences remain exactly what they were. I don’t think Obama changed his positions, or softened his positions. I think he remains just as committed to preventing an Israeli first strike against Iran’s nuclear program, and to creating a Palestinian state very much along the ’67 borders with minimal changes.

Some analysts – including some conservatives – have suggested that the President retreated somewhat by not insisting that Israel stop building settlements as a precondition to direct negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. But I don’t see it that way. I think that’s a tactical decision that isn’t that important. The point, for Obama, is to get the talks [between Israel and the Palestinians] going again, because once negotiations begin, Obama knows he will be free to pressure Israel to stop building settlements and to make more land concessions. So I didn’t detect any real substantive change on the settlements issue.

So back to the Iran issue, just to be clear, you don’t believe the President gave Netanyahu a “green light” to hit Iran. To the contrary, you believe he is continuing to pressure Israel not to strike?

Bolton: I watched the President’s public statements very carefully. The President said several times that Israel has the right to defend itself. How could he say anything else? Of course they have that right. But in private he’s saying, “Don’t do it.”

The calculus that Obama leaves with Netanyahu is that the U.S. won’t really back Israel if he orders a first strike. There is an implied threat here, that if Israel uses military force, that we will not will have their back, that we will not resupply them with planes or other weapons, that we will not help them if they’re attacked by missiles from Hezbollah and Hamas, and so forth.

This is a critical factor for an Israeli Prime Minister to weigh, the possibility that Israel wouldn’t have full U.S. assistance in a major regional war. Now, I don’t think Obama could sustain that position because of strong Israeli support in Congress and in the public. Polls are showing the American people actually support military action against Iran’s nuclear program. But it’s challenging for Israeli leaders because there could be a window of vulnerability if there is a sharp disagreement inside Washington over whether and how to help Israel during such a conflict.

How much time does Israel have to make a final decision about going to war?

Bolton: Time is growing short. Iran may be developing facilities we don’t know about. I think this is the year of decision. If the Israelis don’t act now, they’re not going to have as advantageous an opportunity in the future as they do now. I think they’re running out of time.

What Netanyahu is not going to do is rely on the U.S. to take care of this.

If you asked Israel, they would prefer the U.S. to take action, of course. It’s the difference in capabilities that drives the different views of timing. The U.S. has much more capability to set Iran’s nuclear program back for much longer. That’s why the White House doesn’t feel the same sense of urgency that Israel feels.

Personally, I would have attacked years ago because you set the program back further when Iran doesn’t have all the knowledge and materials to build a Bomb.

I think the Prime Minister has until the end of the year to strike. If he doesn’t do it by the end of the year, then I think it will move beyond Israel’s capabilities.

One more question, on Syria. How do you assess the situation in Syria, and what should the U.S. be doing there right now?

Bolton: It’s a very dangerous situation. The highest priority for the U.S. is to make sure Syria’s chemical and biological weapons don’t get used, and don’t get transferred out of the country into the hands of state sponsors of terrorism or terrorist groups. This is a priority we share with Israel, Turkey, Jordan and with every friendly country in the region, of course. But it’s very difficult to do. As we’ve seen, there are conflicting reports about whether the rebels or the regime may have used chemical weapons in recent days. I would not vouch for the safety of Syria’s chemical and biological arsenal. It’s a very dangerous moment.

As for helping the rebels, look, we have not yet been given the name of a single Syrian opposition leader whom we can trust to not to unleash a bloodbath if he gets into power, and destroy Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons, and stabilize the country. The opposition is fragmented and divided, so I’m not optimistic that we can do much to help at the moment.



Video: Discussing Obama trip, an Israeli first strike & “Damascus Countdown” on Hannity show.

Appearing on the primetime Mideast special on Fox News.

Appearing on the primetime Mideast special on Fox News.

Chag sameach! To all my Jewish family and friends & to the nation of Israel, may the Lord bless you this Passover season. Next year in Jerusalem! Better yet, this year in Jerusalem! Come with me and The Joshua Fund to Israel and the 2013 Epicenter Conference this summer.


On Friday night, Sean Hannity broadcast a  special on the President’s trip to Israel. He interviewed a panel of Congressmen and Mideast experts, and I was honored to be included.

Hannity: Joel, you have written — from The Last Jihad straight on through — you have written a lot of novels, and every time I read them, I’m thinking these scenarios seem very possible to me. You have a very dark, twisted mind.

Rosenberg: I’m looking at worst-case scenarios,.

Hannity: But it could happen….

Here’s the link to the video of my discussion with Sean. We talked about Damascus Countdown and it’s parallels to current events in which an American president tries to pressure Israel not to launch a preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, but Israel strikes anyway.


New video shows satellite images of alleged secret Iranian nuclear & missile facility

Satellite image of alleged nuclear and missile facility in Iran, about 15 miles northwest of the Fordow facility near Qom.

Satellite image of alleged nuclear and missile facility in Iran, about 15 miles northwest of the Fordow facility near Qom.

“Iranian scientists are working on nuclear warheads — and trying to perfect them – at an underground site unknown to the West, according to a high-ranking intelligence officer of the Islamic regime,” reports Reza Kahlili. A former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps officer, Kahlili joined the CIA and became a double agent against the Iranian regime during the 1980s and ’90s.

On March 21st, I shared with you his report. While I cannot independently verify his allegations or the details that he presents in the report, or in his Washington Times oped, I do believe it is important to make readers aware of this information so that it all can be thoroughly analyzed and assessed.

Now, Kahlili has released a 2:34 minute video on YouTube that provides satellite images of the alleged Iranian nuclear weapons and ballistic missile facility.

According to the video:

  • The nuclear site is located about fifteen miles northwest from the Fordow nuclear site near Qom, Iran.
  • It is larger than Iran’s Fordow and Natanz nuclear facilities combined.
  • It includes a facility where Iran is developing nuclear warheads.
  • There are over 380 missile silos at the site.
  • An airport has been built nearby.
  • The site is linked to a large electrical power lines.
  • The site is surrounded by barbed wire fences and security towers.

The video is worth watching, and sharing with others. If the information is accurate, this would suggest that Iran may be at — or may have crossed — the “red line” and is on the verge of completing operational nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them.


64% of Americans support military action to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, finds new poll.

Pew Research Center Poll, March 2013.

Pew Research Center Poll, March 2013.

The big question that remains after President Obama’s trip to Israel and Jordan last week is this: Has the U.S. given Israeli leaders the “green light” to launch military strikes to neutralize Iran’s nuclear program before it’s too late?

In Damascus Countdown, I portray a scenario in which an American president does not want Israel to strike, but Israel launches the attack anyway. Iran then retaliates, and draws Syria into the War of Annihilation against the Jewish State. In real life, the White House has been putting enormous pressure on Israel not to hit Iran, though some analysts are speculating that perhaps President Obama has softened that position and may have, in fact, signaled his assent to Netanyahu to do what was necessary.

What’s interesting is that should military action be needed, a new poll finds that nearly two-thirds of the American people are in favor, including 62% of Democrats. To be clear, ten years after the Iraq war, Americans do not want another war in the Middle East. But strong majorities do support military action against Iran if absolutely necessary.

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, 64% of Americans “say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action; 25% “say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means they may develop nuclear weapons.”

“Majorities across nearly all demographic groups say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action,” noted Pew. “Still, Republicans (80%) are more likely to express this view than either Democrats (62%) or independents (59%).”

The poll also found that “the sympathies of the American public remain firmly with Israel in its dispute with the Palestinians. And when it comes to Iran, the public continues to say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons than to avoid a military conflict.”

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, found that:

  • 49% say they sympathize more with Israel
  • 12% sympathize more with the Palestinians
  • 12% volunteers that they sympathize with neither side.

“Dating back to 1978, just prior to the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the public has consistently sympathized more with Israel than the Palestinians,” noted Pew. “But the partisan differences in sympathies are much wider today than they were 35 years ago. In the current survey, 66% of Republicans say they sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, compared with 49% of independents and 39% of Democrats. In the 1978 survey, conducted by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, 49% of Republicans, 45% of independents and 44% of Democrats sympathized more with Israel than the Palestinians. The survey finds that 21% of Americans say that Obama favors the Palestinians too much while 9% say he favors Israel too much; 41% say he is striking the right balance in the situation in the Middle East. The percentage saying Obama favors the Palestinians too much has changed little over the past four years. About four-in-ten Republicans (39%) say Obama favors the Palestinians too much. That compares with 22% of independents and just 7% of Democrats.”

One element of the poll concerned me, however — young people have far less sympathy for Israel that older Americans.

“Just 36% of those younger than 30 sympathize more with Israel, while 19% sympathize more with the Palestinians,” the poll found. “A relatively large share of young people (37%) either offer no opinion (34%) or say they sympathize with both sides (3%). Among older age groups, there is more support for Israel: 47% of those 30 to 49 sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians, as do majorities of those 50 to 64 (59%) and 65 and older (54%).”

Clearly, we will need to do much more to educate young people about why Israel is so important and why we should support and bless Israel and the Jewish people.


On trip to Jordan, President Obama & King Abdullah II warned of dangers posed by implosion of Syria & Iran.

Press conference with President Obama and Jordanian King Abdullah II. (White House video)

Press conference with President Obama and Jordanian King Abdullah II. (White House video)

>> NOTE: I’m looking forward to speaking at the Calvary Tucson evening services this Wednesday night. Please join us if you can.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II needs our prayers. He is a man trying to lead his country into a more peaceful, prosperous and democratic future. But he faces extraordinary challenges — the implosion of Syria to the north and the possibility of an Israeli-Iranian war are just two, but they are the most urgent at the moment.

“Looking from the Jordanian point of view and the challenges that Jordan faces as we look around the region, the challenges of what the Israelis and the Palestinians that we faced in 2012, the instability as you’re seeing in Syria, we have the concerns as what’s happening in Iraq,” the King noted during a press conference with President Obama on Friday, “any military action at the moment, whether Israeli or Iranian, to me at this stage is Pandora’s box, because nobody can guarantee what the outcome will be. So hopefully there is another way of resolving this problem. At a time with so much instability in the Middle East, we just don’t need another thing on our shoulders.”

“President Obama and King Abdullah II of Jordan warned Friday of the mounting danger Syria’s widening civil war poses to this neighboring kingdom but offered only fresh demands that the Assad government step down immediately,” reported the Washington Post. “Appearing for the first time in an Arab nation since his 2009 address in Cairo, Obama pledged an additional $200 million in aid to Jordan this year to help address the growing needs of almost half a million Syrian refugees, equal to roughly 10 percent of the kingdom’s population.”

“But Obama, speaking inside a cavernous dark-wood hall alongside the king, also raised the question he said preoccupies his administration regarding Syria,” noted the Post. “His concern is how the fighting, which has killed an estimated 70,000 people, will shape the religious and cultural makeup of a long-repressed nation. He warned that Syria could become a beachhead for Islamist extremism, adding “that is why the United States has a stake” in the war’s outcome. Abdullah, too, warned that the increasing sectarian cast to the war threatens to pull the country apart. Asked by a Jordanian journalist why ‘the leading superpower’ does not intervene in Syria, Obama suggested that the unpredictable nature of the civil conflict has left him no policy option that would guarantee more good than harm, either through a direct military strike or by arming Syrian rebels.

“The sight of children and women being slaughtered that we’ve seen so much I think has to compel all of us to say, what more can we do?” President Obama said. “And that’s a question that I’m asking as president every single day.” But, he added, “ultimately what the people of Syria are looking for is not replacing oppression with a new form of oppression.”

>> Transcript of press conference with President Obama and Jordanian King Abdullah II

>> Video of the press conference


On Day Three of epicenter tour President Obama visited Jewish, Christian landmarks

President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

President Barack Obama pauses after adjusting a wreath placed in the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, March 22, 2013. Standing behind the President, from left, are: Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau; Israeli President Shimon Peres; Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu; and Avner Shalev, Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

“President Obama began the third day of his historic visit to the Middle East with a visit to Mount Herzl, Israel’s national cemetery, where he honored the significant contributions of two Jewish heroes, Theodor Herzl, the founder of Zionism and former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin,” reported the White House blog. “The President laid a stone from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington on Mr. Rabin’s grave, highlighting the slain leader’s work to bring peace to the region.”

“Next up was a tour of Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Complex, where President Obama honored the memory of Holocaust victims by laying a wreath and rekindling the eternal flame in the Hall of Remembrance. He also joined Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Netanyahu on a tour that included the Hall of Names, a circular chamber that houses the original testimony documenting every Holocaust victim ever identified, and the art museum where the President heard the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Holocaust victim who was murdered in 1944 in Auschwitz, but whose memory is preserved in the autobiographical artwork she painted while in hiding from the Nazis.  The President ended the poignant visit with a walk through the Children’s Memorial, which memorializes the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished during the Holocaust with candles reflected in a series of mirrors.

Speaking in the Hall of Children, President Obama remarked that while surrounded by evidence of man’s capacity for evil, ‘we also are reminded of man’s capacity for good.’

For here we learn that we are never powerless. In our lives we always have choices. To succumb to our worst instincts or to summon the better angels of our nature. To be indifferent to suffering to wherever it may be, whoever it may be visited upon, or to display the empathy that is at the core of our humanity. We have the choice to acquiesce to evil or make real our solemn vow — “never again.” We have the choice to ignore what happens to others, or to act on behalf of others and to continually examine in ourselves whatever dark places there may be that might lead to such actions or inactions. This is our obligation — not simply to bear witness, but to act.

For us, in our time, this means confronting bigotry and hatred in all of its forms, racism, especially anti-Semitism. None of that has a place in the civilized world — not in the classrooms of children; not in the corridors of power. And let us never forget the link between the two. For our sons and daughters are not born to hate, they are taught to hate. So let us fill their young hearts with the same understanding and compassion that we hope others have for them.

“President Obama then joined Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which is built on the spot where Jesus is said to have been born. The President also stopped by the Roman Catholic Church o St. Catherine, which adjoins the Church of the Nativity, where he met with Palestinian children, as well as religious leaders and local officials.”

The Washington Post reported that “before leaving Israel, Obama honored a pair of historic figures whose lives traced the arc of the Zionist movement — Theodor Herzl, its chief theoretician who didn’t live to see the Jewish state he envisioned, and former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who died trying to secure the Jewish state through a fateful peace effort with the Palestinians. Obama made his way on a clear spring morning to Mount Herzl, where, with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres by his side, he stepped toward the granite tomb, marked simply ‘Herzl’ in Hebrew, on which he placed a stone in the Jewish custom. The visit, which other foreign leaders have avoided, was meant to underscore Obama’s understanding that the modern state of Israel traces its roots to the Bible, not to the Holocaust. Then Obama walked to Rabin’s grave, where he laid a stone that administration officials said was taken from the grounds of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington. Rabin fought for Israel’s independence in 1948, and as a prime minister forged the 1993 Oslo Accords with then-Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The two, along with Peres, shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. The following year a Jewish extremist assassinated Rabin, and his grave has been a common stop for U.S. presidents since. Obama declined to visit Arafat’s tomb during a visit Thursday to Ramallah, another customary stop for many visiting dignitaries. ‘A remarkable man,’ Obama said as he shook hands with Dalia Rabin-Pelossof, Rabin’s daughter, one of several family members who joined the president at the gravesite. After visiting the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem, Obama set off to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, built on the purported birthplace of Jesus.”