Uncertainty in Jerusalem

8 December 2017

I write to you in a moment of uncertainty in Israel and the occupied territories. There are reports of demonstrations and of violence.

This follows President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he was changing U.S. policy on Jerusalem and beginning a process to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

We all know that the U.S. embassy belongs, one day, in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, the decision to make the announcement outside of the context of a peace process and over the objections of the Palestinians was reckless. It risks igniting the tinderbox of anger, frustration, and hopelessness that already exists among Palestinians.

And, of course, it will be Palestinians and Israelis who pay the price for such ham-fisted actions with respect to Jerusalem.

That’s what happened this summer after Israeli police attempted to install metal detectors outside of the Al Aqsa Mosque. That was the case sixteen years ago, when then-Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon went up to the Temple Mount. And that was the case when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the Hasmonian Tunnels under the Old City of Jerusalem in 1996.

The Parents Circle Bereaved Families Forum sent a letter to President Trump, before he took this action, on behalf of 600 Israeli and Palestinian families who have lost a loved one to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They urged him not to do this. They quoted Rami Elhanan, an Israeli man who lost his daughter, Smadar, in a suicide bombing in Jerusalem who said that “not one Jerusalem stone is worth even one drop of blood of one little girl.”

It is frustrating — and scary — to see President Trump ignore the voices of these families, ignore the lessons of history and plow ahead recklessly.

Whether or not this incident will pass without more extensive violence — I do not yet know. What I do know is that the impact of a moment like this is not limited to Israel’s relationships with its neighbors. It can also be a tremendous strain on society, with tensions rising between Jewish and Palestinian Israelis and between Jewish and Palestinian Jerusalemites.

NIF has been investing in fostering stronger relations between these communities. We bring Jews and Arabs together to advocate for a shared society. We advocate for access to education and for other rights of the Palestinians who live in Jerusalem. We bring both Jews and Arabs to stand in solidarity with the victims of terrorism and hate crimes to make sure they know that they are not alone.

On days like today, when the threat of violence is palpable, I know that the work that we have done is the glue that will help Israeli society come together, whatever happens, and carry forward.