(December 8, 2017 / JNS) Jerusalemite opinions about President Donald Trump’s landmark policy changes on their city run the gamut, reflecting the diversity of the Israeli capital itself.
In an effort to take the pulse of the holy city’s mood following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as well as Trump’s announcement of plans to move the American embassy there, JNS spoke with various Jerusalemites from east to west and from natives to immigrants.
Some of the civilians interviewed in this article requested that only their first names be used due to concern of being associated with the opinions they expressed.
“Jerusalem is our capital and we shouldn’t allow any nation to have an embassy anywhere in our country other than Jerusalem,” said Yehuda. “This should have been our policy for 70 years.”
He added, “Jerusalem only seems a major point of contention between Jews and Palestinians within the context of a ‘two-state solution’—a failed Western framework for achieving peace. Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital came within this two-state context and is therefore perceived by both peoples here as an Israeli victory over Palestinians, feeding into an unhealthy ‘either/or’ approach to the conflict. At the end of the day, this feels like an American move that forces Israelis and Palestinians further into conflict while strengthening Washington’s position in the region.”
Adam Berkowitz, an author and journalist, said it is “undeniable that Jerusalem is Israel’s eternal capital, but when Trump recognized our national will, it was empowering. We are the only country in the world for which there is an international discussion about our choice in capitals. And America is finally aligned with us in that.”
Rabbi Danny Schiff, 57, the Jerusalem-based Foundation Scholar for the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, is in favor of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem “forthwith,” although Trump’s announcement represented the start of preparations for the relocation rather than an immediate move.
“Threats of violence should not prevent the United States from doing the right thing,” Schiff said. “And the right thing is to allow any country—Israel included—to determine its capital, and to have that capital recognized by the international community via the appropriate location of the embassy.”
Schiff’s support of a swift embassy move comes with a caveat—that at this time, given the international dispute regarding Israel’s control over a reunified Jerusalem since the Six-Day War, a Jerusalem embassy should be located in pre-1967 Jerusalem.
“Just as it is obvious that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, it is equally obvious that east Jerusalem and the Old City remain disputed territories,” he said. “Hence, if it were up to me, I would be recognizing the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and moving the embassy there— without delay. Plainly, the status of the rest of Jerusalem will remain uncertain until some type of peace deal becomes a possibility. But there is no reason that an embassy move should be held up until peace arrives.”
Focused on domestic issues
Despite the excitement over America’s Jerusalem announcement, some Israelis prefer to maintain their focus on domestic affairs.
“Can we all please pause for a moment and notice all the important domestic issues and news we’re not speaking about anymore?” said Rosie.
“I wasn’t at the edge of my seat waiting for a U.S. president to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. I was waiting for an alternative solution to lifting a few million people, from poverty, who are my neighbors,” said a Jerusalem resident who preferred to remain completely anonymous.
“I was waiting and waiting to hear how we can have security and let live—move freely, have rights to land, not live under military law,” added the resident. “I was waiting to hear how we could stop sending our children to the army to spend three years of their most formative years not in school like the rest of the world. I was waiting to hear about how we can decrease the cost of living here…But instead I got a statement that changed nothing in reality and brought us into a deeper despair, knowing our politicians are just playing their roles…we forgot about important domestic issues that affect our day-to-day living, quality of life, cost of living, cost of education, and healthcare.”
Concerned about security
“Rash decisions can have deadly effects, I just hope this one doesn’t inspire too much violence,” said Andrew Pico, 26, a student and peace activist.
On Friday, thousands of Palestinians rioted in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza during a “day of rage” in response to Trump’s announcement.
“We’re all on the same side here,” Pico said. “We’re all victims of leaders who seek to create division and hatred, who don’t have our success and happiness in their hearts—just their own egos and hunger for power. Words of leaders don’t reflect or alter the reality on the ground, and shouldn’t demotivate us to desire and act towards a more promising future.”
Moriyah believes Trump “is playing with our lives” by altering U.S. policy on Jerusalem.
“He’s trying to look like a tough guy without thinking of the consequences for the people who actually live in this country,” she said. “Jerusalem is such a special, complicated city. It is intensely important for so many. I feel like I’m living in a tapestry of people and cultures.”
For Naava, who spoke with JNS before Trump’s announcement was made, the Jerusalem issue is “not about what I think, it’s about what I feel.”
“I am at this point unable to think rationally about my deepest greatest love, Jerusalem,” she said. “My heart hurts and the tears well up just thinking about it. [Trump] might end up being responsible for the heart of our nation finally being recognized as such, and then there is the hope. That small spark of hope that refuses to be extinguished, the vision of my city, our heart, the center of the world, taking up its mantle as a shining beacon of peace and tolerance. All of this is very mixed up in emotions for me as a Jerusalemite, as a lover of Jerusalem, as a mother in Jerusalem.”
Naava added, “Why do we need others’ recognition, other than the fact that it has been denied for too long? Am I prepared to very possibly sacrifice my safety and that of my children for this recognition? But of course, we need it. This would be the world finally admitting, ‘You are not just another country. You have a 3,000-year-old legacy, and your capital, your heart, is your destiny.’”