The U.S. re-stirs up the fire in Jerusalem

A Palestinian woman walks through black smoke from burning tires during a protest on the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, Monday, May 14, 2018. Thousands of Palestinians are protesting near Gaza's border with Israel, as Israel prepared for the festive inauguration of a new U.S. Embassy in contested Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

The Israeli-Palestine conflict, an ongoing struggle that has plagued the two entities since 1948, has made headlines again recently with some extra help from the U.S.  With the transition of the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, intense conflict broke out on the Israel-Palestine border in Gaza, just 50 miles from this new location.  At least 58 Palestinian lives were lost during the disputed protests, with many more injured – Palestine says the gathering was peaceful, and thus this use of force was deplorable and unlawful; Israel claims the protests were violent and threatened the integrity of their national border, meriting the harsh repercussions.  

What exactly about this move has sparked such outrage and violence? The intensity surrounding the conflict lies with the holy city itself – Jerusalem.

It goes without saying that Jerusalem has a complex and deeply significant history, for various religions and ethnic groups.  This ancient city holds a place of potent religious significance in all of the three major Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  It features in each respective religious text and plays a role in many traditional legends.

Palestinian women make their way to attend the first Friday prayers in Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, at the Qalandia checkpoint, between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem, Friday, May 18, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

For Christianity, Jerusalem is the location of Jesus Christ’s adult life – where he preached, was condemned to death by the Romans, ate the Last Supper, was crucified, and then was resurrected.  Jerusalem is a major focus of pilgrimage for followers of the Christian faith, with what is believed to be the empty grave of Jesus preserved in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Judaism describes Jerusalem as the spot where the prophet Abraham almost sacrificed his own son Isaac in the name of faith; later, this would be the spot chosen by the first Israelite King, David, as the location for their kingdom’s capital.  Even today, all synagogues are positioned facing towards Jerusalem. For believers of the Islamic faith,

Muslims, Jerusalem marks a significant place in the journey of their principal prophet, Muhammad. In Arabic the word for Jerusalem translates directly to “holy city,” and it is one of the most important places for this faith, along with Mecca and Medina. The rule of Jerusalem has changed hands many times throughout human history, but it was Islamic rule over the city that lasted the longest out of any.  Within the last 50 years the city itself has also become a symbol of resistance to Israeli occupation of disputed land for those of Islamic faith. All of these intricacies make a complex situation even more delicate and impactful to those involved.

The United States has supported Israel for many years, and this Embassy relocation shows how far the current administration is willing to go to express this support.  Although President Trump himself was not present for the opening of the new Embassy (his daughter Ivanka Trump was on site) he made a video statement saying that Israel “ is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital, yet for many years we failed to acknowledge the obvious, the plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.”  

Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner listen to U.S. President Donald Trump at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. President Donald Trump on Tuesday pushed for elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past.” (Debbie Hill, Pool via AP)
U.S. President Donald Trump gives a speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. President Donald Trump on Tuesday pushed for elusive peace between Israel and the Palestinians, calling on both sides to put aside the “pain and disagreements of the past.” (Debbie Hill, Pool via AP)

Since the establishment of Israel as a state in 1948 and the United States’ subsequent recognition of it, America has been a powerful friend to the the small and controversial country.  But because ownership of the city between Jewish Israel and Muslim Palestine is in dispute, in order to avoid controversy the American embassy (and other countries’)  had been maintained in Tel Aviv; that is, until this month.  

The United States does not recognize Palestine as a sovereign state like it does Israel. As can be clearly seen by the activism of these protesters, Palestine is staunchly against this move by the United States.  This day of violence caused the highest civilian casualty rate for Palestine in some years, with Israeli forces using live ammunition gunfire and tear gas on the crowds.  Palestine itself is not the only international entity opposing these actions, with even some U.S. allies making their voices heard. Saudi Arabian and Jordanian leaders expressed their disapproval, with the Queen of Jordan tweeting, “When will the world’s conscience mobilize to give Palestinians the rights so many of us take for granted?  May God have mercy on those who lost their lives defending Jerusalem’s proud Arab identity.” Yet even as this is a severe loss for Palestine, it is a big win for Israel.

A Palestinian woman walks next to a wall with graffiti showing U.S. President Donald Trump with a footprint on his face and Arabic that reads, “For al-Quds (Jerusalem) and the right of return we resist,” in Gaza City, Sunday, May 20, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

With Palestine now even more opposed to diplomatic talks, extreme political moves like this one seem to make the chance to achieve true peace between Israel and Palestine smaller, and only bring further alienation between the two religiously and geographically intertwined territories.

TOPSHOT – Palestinians run for cover from tear gas during clashes with Israeli security forces near the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabalia on May 14, 2018, as Palestinians protest over the inauguration of the US embassy following its controversial move to Jerusalem. (Photo by MOHAMMED ABED / AFP) (Photo credit should read MOHAMMED ABED/AFP/Getty Images)