Jerusalem and Trump’s Inconsistency on Indigenous Rights
On December 6, 2017, US President Donald Trump announced that the United States would recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capitaland begin the process of moving the embassy there from Tel Aviv. The step was controversial, and led to the United Nations voting last week to condemn it in the General Assembly. The Palestinians have called for “days of rage” that, despite experts repeatedly saying it could set the region ablaze, seem to be more of a quiet whimper. Hamas has fired rockets into Israel, only for Israel to militarily respond against Hamas targets. The Arab countries of the Gulf, along with Egypt and Jordan, condemned the move and then focused on other priorities. Protests with chants of “death to Jews” have erupted on the streets of Amman and Berlin. Turkey vociferously condemned the move and organized a meeting with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to declare a symbolic condemnation of the move. The UN votes to condemn it–one of which was vetoed by the US, predictably, in the Security Council–were little more than rehearsed expressions to placate Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. In other words, the declaration has changed little regarding the Islamic World’s approach to Israel, Jewish people, and the United States. For many in Israel and the Jewish community, however, there have been mixed reactions. While some believe that the Jerusalem decision harms the peace process, others celebrate joyfully, while more still view it as common sense and not a huge deal. International law and consensus states that a sovereign country may decide on which city is its capital, and sovereign countries may choose where to place their embassies in another.
The fact of the matter is that Trump’s move wasn’t necessarily for the Jews or for Israel. It was simply his was of pandering to evangelical voters who were dismayed at his decision to delay the move of the US embassy in Israel back in the spring. It was also due to his desire to distract from his constant failures and the investigation of his Russia scandal. For Jews, the move is important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it dispels the illusion for Palestinians and their supporters that Israel will ever withdraw from its historic and religious rights to Jerusalem. The Holy City has been the capital only of the Jewish nation, and has only been the capital of one country: Israel. By ending the myth that Jewish-majority Jerusalem would ever be anything but the seat of Israel’s government–which many countries, including pro-Palestinian ones, acknowledge–is folly that postpones peace and a two-state solution. Secondly, it acknowledges our aboriginal rights to the city. While Muslims and Christians have claims to the city, as well as the rights to visit their holy sites there, archaeology proves that it is the Jewish people who have had the longest presence in Jerusalem. Our struggle for Jerusalem has been based merely on our right to pray there and live in the center of our civilization. During the era of the British Mandate, Jews made up the majority of the population in the entire city. This ended with ethnic cleansing of Jewish neighborhoods in 1948 and the Jordanian capture of the eastern portion. The Jordanians limited Christian access to the city and outright banned Jewish presence there. Our holy sites were disrespected if not totally destroyed. Only under Israeli rule has equal access to the holy sites for all three Abrahamic faiths existed–with the exception of the Temple Mount, where Jews can visit but not pray on our holiest site so as not to provoke Muslim ire. The true threat to regional stability and peace is the refusal of the Palestinians and their supporters to accept our legitimacy in the city and our rights to Jewish holy sitessuch as the Western Wall.
The Jewish & Israeli struggle for Jerusalem (indeed, all of Eretz Yisrael) against denial of our rights and history is an aboriginal struggle. Arabs have rights to live in the land, the same way they would have a right to live in a Western country if they chose to immigrate there. That being said, they must not be allowed to continue to push peace away by pushing a colonial narrative of Jewish erasure from our holiest sites, the way that European settlers in North America did to the Lakota people in the Black Hills, or that Iraqi Arabs did with Kirkuk in Kurdistan. The recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and the start of the process to move the embassy there is a most welcome development for the Jewish indigenous struggle over Jerusalem and the rest of our land. Still, we must recognize that Donald Trump didn’t make this move because he feels a particular affinity for indigenous rights. One only need look at his administration’s failure to support Kurdish independence this past fall. His constant disrespect towards Native Americans and shrinking of our ancestral lands is even more evidence of his contempt for native peoples. While we can and should celebrate the recognition of Jerusalem, we also have to hold Trump accountable and ensure that the embassy does indeed move–empty rhetoric merely emboldens terror and delegitimization and needlessly puts Jews and Americans at risk of harm. But we must also hold Trump accountable for his actions that have sidelined, marginalized, and harmed Kurdish and Native American aboriginal rights and aspirations. After all, our struggle is one struggle. Jerusalem, and the Jewish people, can only be liberated when Kurds, Native Americans, and other indigenous peoples are also liberated.
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