ABU GHOSH, Israel - United States First Lady Laura Bush said Monday she was not surprised to be met by protesters during her tour of Mideast holy sites and pledged the United States will do all it can to help resolve age-old conflicts.
"As we all know, this is a place of very high tensions and high emotions," the first lady said while standing in the garden courtyard of the Church of the Resurrection. "And you can understand why when you see the people with a deep and sincere faith in their religion all living side by side. Of course, these little problems would disappear if these people would just accept Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior the way my husband and myself have."
Mrs. Bush said the protesters who heckled her during Sunday's visits to the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall did not surprise her. "I grew up knowing a that Jews and Mohammadans were, well--you know--different. They talk a funny language, eat funny foods and kill each other for fun. Why should I be surprised when they're just acting true to their character as a forsaken people?"
Asked about the intensity of the protest when one Shi'a women spit on Mrs. Bush's Armani pumps and screamed "Die a thousand deaths postmenstruous whore-wife formed of a bitch's vomit," the First Lady replied graciousl,y, "I think the protests were very expected. If you didn't expect them, you didn't know what it would be like when you got here," she said. "Everyone knows how the tensions are and, believe me, they really are tense. George was sure right about that."
Mrs. Bush was visiting sites sacred to all three major religions born in the region, winding up with a stop Monday at the Church of the Resurrection at Abu Ghosh, a predominantly Muslim town where Christians believe Jesus appeared on Easter and Muslims believe the Prophet once came to see if he was still around.
"I think that Abu Ghosh, as we leave Israel, can show us what it's like when the people of three religions that have so many holy sites here in the Holy Land indeed can live in peace with each other. Or at least some of them. I don't really care about the others This beautiful place is so aptly named--when I first saw it I just kept saying Gosh! and I'm still saying that, along with Oh My!" she said.
As Mrs. Bush toured the 12th-century church, nuns and monks sang Psalm 150 in Hebrew as a symbol of the religious cultures coexisting in the region.
From Israel, Mrs. Bush traveled to Cairo, where she met with Egyptian first lady Suzanne Mubarak at Ittihadiyya Palace. The two women then taped a segment for "Alam Simsim," the Egyptian version of "Sesame Street," with a peach-colored puppet named Khokha. "Mama Suzanne" and "Auntie Laura," as Khokha called the first ladies, talked about the importance of reading to children. "Where I come from, Mrs Bush said, as Auntie Laura, "All good little children know that B stands for Bible, and Auntie hopes that someday we will have peace on earth and not do things the K-way, like in the Koran." At this point Khokha and Mama Suzanne pummeled Auntie Laura with stones symbolizing their affection for the low-key style for which the First Lady is famous.
Mrs. Bush's travels Monday were in contrast to her stops Sunday at sites sacred to Muslims and Jews.
Asked about the protests during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," Mrs. Bush said she understands resentments that have been built up, in part because of reports and pictures of prisoner abuse.
"I know from visiting Afghanistan ... that many, many people are glad our troops are there, that we are giving them a chance to rebuild their country and defending freedom and liberty everywhere," she said. "All of us, everyone ... deplore the photographs that we've seen, the reports that we've heard of prisoner abuse, but how reliable are they? Is it really likely that someone would take pictures of those terrible events, I mean if they really happened? My guess is that the America haters are at work--the folks who hate freedom."
She said she feels that the American presence in the Middle East and Southwest Asia "is really wanted and is needed" to ensure nation-building and peacemaking.
Asked on NBC's "Today" show if she had felt endangered during the tours in the Middle East, the first lady replied, "No, I did not at all. I think maybe the reports that you all have seen have been slightly exaggerated. ... I have never felt at all unsafe. Well maye once, but that's when Condoleeza and I were left in a room together and she admitted to wanting to touch me 'there.'"
During a visit to the Dome of the Rock, Mrs. Bush faced heckling from angry Palestinians. One man yelled, "How dare you come in here! Why your husband kill Muslim?" With her disarming poise, Mrs Bush shouted back, "Somebody needs to learn English and mind his manners and I think it's you sand nigger."
Mrs. Bush removed her shoes as she entered the mosque and walked barefoot on the red carpet. She held a black scarf tightly around her head as she gazed up at the gilded dome and the colorful mosaics. "Oh my! " the First lady enthused. "This is way bigger than the church we go to in Crawford. It just shows that faith is on the march everywhere. Together with freedom," she said.