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Divided views: U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem stirs elation, anger

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Israelis hold American and Israeli flags with the new U.S. embassy in the background in Jerusalem, Monday, May 14, 2018. Israel prepared for the festive inauguration of a new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

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By Tyler Stocks
The Daily Reflector

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

It was the best of days, it was the worst of days — depending on who was offering an opinion.

Monday marked the inauguration ceremony for the new American Embassy in Jerusalem. But as dignitaries made speeches and supporters waved flags, mass protests along the Gaza border resulted in Israeli soldiers shooting and killing at least 55 Palestinians and wounding more than 1,200 others.

President Donald Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv won praise from Israelis — who have always considered Jerusalem their capital — but infuriated the Palestinians who seek the eastern part of the city as their future capital.

That sharp division was reflected locally among supporters of Israel and those who advocate for the Palestinian people.

Rabbi Harley Karz-Wagman of Congregation Bayt Shalom in Greenville, said Monday afternoon that the deadly protests are the brainchild of Hamas, a militant Islamic group controlling Gaza.

“Hamas is trying to provoke fights and use violence, unfortunately,” Karz-Wagman said. “Israel has tried to respond with non-lethal weapons. Jerusalem was always the Israeli capital and the possibility of working out a peace agreement with Palestine has not changed.”

Karz-Wagman said that Hamas and other groups are pandering to media outlets for publicity.

“This whole thing is being blown up into a great big deal for people looking for excuses,” he said. “This is yet another excuse for people to scream and yell.”

Karz-Wagman said Hamas is the aggressor and that Israel is defending itself from a full-scale invasion.

“Hamas is trying to invade and destroy Israel. Israel is not going to let them invade us,” he said. “Protesters are sending kites with flaming rags and hurling stones and Molotov cocktails. These are violent actions. Israel would rather not have this. Hamas’ goal is to drive all the Jews out of Israel.”

Peace is possible, Karz-Wagman said.

“The various sides will need to make an effort towards building trust and working out peaceful accomodations,” he said. “In the meantime, Israel does what they have to do to protect themselves. They’re not going to let the Palestinians or anyone else destroy them.”

Samar Badwin, a spokesperson for Al-Masjid Islamic Center & Mosque, offered a sharply different perspective.

“The only thing Palestinians as a whole want is to live in peace,” Badwin said. “They don’t want any type of oppression. (Israelis) are not helping the situation by doing what they’re doing.”

Badwin said that Palestinians live under occupation by the Israeli government and that Israel has refused to allow Palestine to exist as a country.

“We’ve tried to establish our own state and it didn’t work. It’s honestly in the hands of Israel and others,” she said. “Palestinians want to go wherever they want without being persecuted. There are checkpoints. There’s a wall that was put in ‘for security’ but really was an excuse for Israel to divide families and neighbors from neighbors.”

Badwin who is a Palestinian-American said the decision to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem sends the wrong message.

“It was a decision made hastily,” she said. “However, the U.S. has the right to place an embassy. I’m Palestinian by blood but am an American as well. This is going to cause some type of hinderance. Palestinians are not happy about this and are disappointed.”

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it. The Palestinians seek the city’s eastern half as the capital of a future state.

“(Palestinians) want what was promised to them in 1967,” Badwin said. “They have built settlements in most of those places.

“The Palestinians do not want this violence and occupation against them,” she said. “They want to go to work and for their kids to be safe, like we do. Violence is not the answer.”

Dr. Alex Joffe, a renowned Middle-East historian and archaeologist, will be visiting Jerusalem today. He said that Israelis are celebrating the U.S. embassy being moved.

“In general, Israelis are proud and relieved that the U.S. has finally moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to the capital, Jerusalem,” Joffe said. “They see this correctly as the fulfillment of repeated promises from successive U.S. administrations, that the Trump administration has finally come through on.

“The fact that the U.S. had its embassy in Tel Aviv dated back to the 1948 War of Independence, when U.S. officials and other governments refused to recognize the reality of Israel’s existence and right to place its capital in Jerusalem,” Joffe said.

“All sovereign countries have the right to put their capitals wherever they want; the fact that Israel’s declaration was denied international recognition was an effort to deny that reality,” he said.

Joffe said the underlying issue is Palestinian discontent of Israel’s existence.

“For Palestinians, the fact of Israel’s existence remains unacceptable, and there is an unsubtle religious subtext to this, which is that Jews are not a nation, nor can they exist as a sovereign state on lands that have been declared Islamic,” Joffe said. “This is a fundamental driver of the Arab-Israeli conflict, although it is rarely acknowledged.”

Joffe said the movement of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is about Israel having official recognition.

“The move does not preclude the practical ‘sharing’ of Jerusalem between the three major world faiths, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, who regard the city as holy,” he said. “Nor does it preclude normal U.S. diplomatic relations with a Palestinian state.”

Bob Hudak, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, said Palestinians suffered through the loss of homes and property when Israel was formed in 1948. They have suffered from a system of institutionalised segregation and discrimination in the seven decades since, he said.

“Seventy years of simmering stuff can lead to a more powerful volcanic eruption than what we’re witnessing in Hawaii,” he said.

“I’m not sure where I would be or how I would feel (if still alive), if I lived in the world’s largest outdoor prison these past 70 years,” Hudak said.

He also expressed concern about Christian Zionism — the belief among some Christians that the return of the Jews to the Holy Land and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 were in accordance with Bible prophecy.

“Why is it that the pernicious, dangerous practice called Christian Zionism in our country — wedded to the adulterous relationship of religion and politics — blinds so many to Israel’s current practice of apartheid?” Hudak asked.

“Perhaps like South Africa, truth and justice may yet lead to recognizing the face of God in our common commitment to respect and celebrate the dignity of every human being,” Hudak said.

Contact Tyler Stocks at tstocks@reflector.com and 252-329-9566. Follow him on Twitter @TylerStocksGDR

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