Woodmere resident Charles Miller was among a group of people working on a project to upgrade the Mount of Olives Cemetery — the oldest burial ground in Jerusalem — that happened to have scheduled meetings with Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, while history was unfolding.
“The reality that really exists is that since 1948, the seat of government sits here, all of the government is here in the capital city, and in the hearts and minds of Jews for thousands years,” Miller said. “It’s a reflection of reality in the past and that exists today.” He added that President Trump’s announcement on Dec. 6 recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital made this a “unique time to be here on a historic occasion.”
In the same year that Israel and Jews across the world celebrated the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, Trump became the first American president to make such a declaration. In an address from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, he noted that Jerusalem was the ancient and is now the modern capital of the country, where the prime minister and president have their official homes, and is the “heart of three great religions” — Christianity, Judaism and Islam — “and the heart of a great country.”
“Today I am … telling the State Department to start the process of moving from Tel Aviv,” Trump said, adding that he was recognizing what had existed for many years, that Jerusalem is the seat of Israel’s government.
He noted that he would continue to sign the required waivers until an embassy opens in Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 required the U.S Embassy to move to Jerusalem by May 31, 1999. Every six months since, the president has been required to sign a waiver to avoid massive cuts in State Department funding, including for such things as security for embassies.
Jerusalem is claimed by Christians, Jews and Muslims to be vital to their religious heritage.
“[The president] displayed the ultimate test of leadership and courage by standing up [for] what’s just and true, even in the face of stiff opposition,” the U.S.’s ambassador to Israel, David Friedman — a Woodsburgh resident —tweeted. “Jerusalem is Israel’s capital today as it was three thousand years ago.”
In the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel’s army captured the Old City of Jerusalem from Jordan, including the iconic Western Wall — the last vestige of the Second Temple — and more than doubled the territory under Israel’s control. The Jewish state then unified Jerusalem, which came under Jewish governance for the first time in 2,000 years.
Martin Oliner, a Lawrence resident and a co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, said that even after Trump’s recognition, more needs to be done. “This is not the time for making concessions in Israel’s capital,” Oliner said. “It is the time to grow and solidify the city for its residents of all religions and ethnicities and sectors, and to call for people around the world to come and pray.”
Rachael Schindler, of Woodmere, said that Trump’s declaration was important to Israel and many Jews because of the historic and religious ties. “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel historically in our homeland for thousands of years,” she said. “All Jews prayed toward Jerusalem for centuries. The Arabs still pray toward Mecca.”
Trump sought to assuage the Palestinians and Arab countries as well, saying that he expected peace negotiations to continue, and that only an agreement that satisfied both sides would be acceptable.
“This is a consensus issue in Israel,” said Dov Lipman, a former member of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and the author of seven books on Judaism and Israel. “From the Right to the Left, we expect our closest ally” — the U.S. — “to respect that Jerusalem is our capital.”
Many Palestinians and leaders of Arab countries, however, said the move undermined the peace process and weakened the U.S.’s role as a moderator of the talks. In a news release issued by the Petra News Agency, Mohammad al-Momani, Jordan’s state minister for media affairs and the Jordanian government’s spokesman, called the decision a “violation of international legitimacy resolutions and the U.N. Charter, which clearly stipulate that Jerusalem’s status is decided through negotiations and deem all unilateral actions aimed at imposing new facts on the ground null and void.”
Al-Momani stressed that Jordan would “continue its intensive diplomatic efforts [in the] regional and international arenas.” Since the announcement, there has been an uptick in Arab protests, and a few military incidents have been reported.
U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat who represents the 4th Congressional District, which includes the Five Towns — which has one of the largest Jewish populations in the metropolitan area — supported Trump’s decision, and said she also supported the two-state solution, which would create an independent Palestinian homeland.
“Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and Jerusalem should be the home of our embassy,” she said. “That’s my belief, it’s consistent with U.S. law, and I support the decision to recognize it as official U.S. policy.”
Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, spiritual leader of Temple Israel of Lawrence, said the message of Trump’s statement is more important than actually moving the embassy, and Rosenbaum hopes the decision reduces Middle East tensions. “It is my deepest hope and prayer,” he said, “that the statement from President Trump leads to cooperation rather than divisiveness, understanding rather than rancor and in God’s name, peace rather than violence.”
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