Polish President Lech Walesa arrived in Israel Monday on a historic visit aimed at erasing charges against him of fostering anti-Semitism and at establishing trade ties between the newly reconciled countries.
Walesa landed shortly after noon at Ben Gurion International Airport outside of Tel Aviv and was escorted directly to a formal welcoming ceremony at the Rose Garden outside the Knesset, Israel's parliament.The first Polish head of state to visit Israel, Walesa was greeted with great fanfare - Polish and Israeli national anthems, flags and by soldiers and politicians.
"For the first time in history, a president of Poland has stepped foot on Israeli soil," Walesa told a welcoming crowd as he arrived for his four-day visit. "This is a very special experience for me.
"I also hope that my visit to this beautiful country will lead to a deeper understanding between our two peoples."
The highlight of Walesa's first day was to be an afternoon address to the Knesset before holding private meetings with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other top officials. The evening was reserved for a reception and dinner hosted by President Chaim Herzog.
The former Solidarity leader, who was accused of fostering anti-Semitism during his campaign, will spend Tuesday making amends.
He was to visit Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, attend a ceremony recognizing 22 Polish "righteous gentiles" who assisted Jews during World War II, and tour the museum of Polish Ghetto fighters.
Walesa, a devout Catholic, also planned to visit several Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, Nazareth and Bethlehem.