‘A painful week in the Promised Land’
This year in Jerusalem!
David Friedman — U.S. ambassador to Israel, former Donald Trump bankruptcy lawyer, and advocate for Jewish settlements in the West Bank — has declared the Passover promise fulfilled. It’s no longer next year in Jerusalem now that the American Embassy has been relocated.
“This year, thanks to the U.S. administration, the courage, the vision of President Donald Trump we can say ‘this year in Jerusalem.’”
This year? Really?
It’s been a painful week in the Promised Land. And Abraham’s soul must be feeling that pain. His progeny, to whom God’s Promise was originally given — before its reaffirmation to Isaac, and then to Jacob — are succumbing to unholy forces in a Holy Land, even at this time of holiness.
This year, in unusual convergence, Abraham’s three faith descendants — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — are simultaneously celebrating their origins. The holy month of Ramadan, during which Mohammed received the first revelation of the Quran from the archangel Gabriel, began Wednesday. And this Sunday is both the Jewish Shavuot and Christian Pentecost.
Shavuot, seven weeks after Passover, celebrates the birth of the Jewish people as a Torah nation through acceptance of God’s gift of Torah at Sinai. The Christian Pentecost, first celebrated at Shavuot, commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Jewish followers of Jesus seven weeks after his resurrection during Passover. No longer tied to the Jewish lunar calendar, it’s celebrated seven weeks after Easter. At the first Pentecost in Jerusalem — the spiritual birthday of the Church — Jesus’ followers experienced the call to proclaim their good news to all nations.
A more recent and secular birth marked this troubled week. Seventy years ago, on May 14, 1948, the State of Israel was born. At 4 p.m. on a hot and humid Friday afternoon, two hours before the start of the Jewish Sabbath, Israel declared its statehood, invoking the 1947 United Nations partition plan.
Surrounding Arab nations, rejecting the partition plan, attacked. The ensuing 1948 Arab-Israeli War was a hard-won battle for Israel’s right to exist. With victory, the Jewish people, eternally tied to this land, returned home to build a modern state after 2000 years in exile. A miracle.
Palestinians have a contrasting narrative. For them Israel’s birth is the Nakba, or catastrophe, when an estimated 700,000 to 750,000 refugees fled their homes and villages, displaced in the course of the war. Approximately seventy percent of the two million current residents of Gaza are refugees, or their descendants.
At 4 p.m. this past Monday afternoon, May 14, the United States officially moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, mimicking the time and date of Israel’s Declaration of Independence 70 years ago. As if the relocation itself were not enough provocation, this timing rubbed more salt into the Palestinian wound.
Nakba day is always May 15, while Israel observes its independence on the fifth of Iyar according to the Jewish calendar, which was April 19 this year. The May 14 embassy opening seemed almost an intentional slap in the face to some six million Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel proper, including an estimated 370,000 in East Jerusalem.
Projections are that by 2020 there will be more Palestinians than Jews on this land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
As an American and a Jew with a deep connection to this land and this City of God, eternal in the Jewish soul, this Jerusalem, I felt only anguish as I watched Monday’s spectacle: jubilant embassy ceremony — “a glorious day” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — contrasted with mounting Palestinian deaths and injuries in Gaza.
On this “glorious day” the U.S. abandoned any role in promoting peace. Now aligned with a right-wing Israeli government, it has reversed long-standing bi-partisan policy to waive the requirement of the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Act. Jerusalem was to be a final-status question in the service of a durable peace agreement. No longer.
“This year in Jerusalem” does not fulfill the Passover promise. Like Elijah’s Cup, “next year in Jerusalem” expresses a messianic hope for all humankind, as envisioned by the prophet Isaiah: “For My House shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
This year’s embassy in Jerusalem only makes that hope more elusive.
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is at blog.ctnews.com/rutgers/