Yesterday’s announcement that the United States will officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is controversial to say the least. Indeed, of all the contentious claims in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the status of Jerusalem is the ultimate landmine. Having spent quite a bit of time studying the conflict, I am well aware of how complicated the final status of Jerusalem ultimately is. And having lived for several months with a Muslim Bedouin family in the Negev, I also know how sacred Jerusalem is for the Palestinians and I long for a peace that recognized their shared claim to the holy sites of Jerusalem.
With all of that being said, I felt prompted to share my personal reaction to the decision. I frankly didn’t expect it to resonate as deeply with me as it did. Though I was born in Israel, I have not lived there for more than several months at a time since childhood. But reading about the decision nevertheless brought tears to my eyes.
As I read about Trump’s decision, I thought about the generations of my ancestors who longed to return to their ancestral homeland. Their souls hungered for home. They prayed and sang of Jerusalem. They ended their worship with the eternal hope that next year they would be in Jerusalem once more. And with the Psalmist they declared “if I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand whither.” (Jewish Study Bible). Some of my ancestors were able to fulfill their dream and make Aliyah to Israel. Others were brutally murdered because of their Jewish heritage and faith.
For the Jewish people, the land of Israel is not merely a nicety. It is a matter of spiritual and temporal salvation. It is a refuge from the storm of anti-Semitism. It is a place where the connection to the past and to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is particularly strong. It is the land promised by God. And Jerusalem is at the center of that ancestral claim.
Yet despite that ancient connection, there is a concerted effort to deny Israel’s historic claim to Israel. UNESCO, an arm of the UN that recognizes sites of historic and cultural significance, recently attempted to whitewash the Jewish history of Jerusalem completely away. And so as I read about Trump’s announcement tears unexpectedly came to my eyes. The United States was declaring that it recognized the historic claim of the Jewish people. It was pushing back against a false narrative that would wide away Jewish history from the land.
There is room to debate and discuss the necessity of such a step, given that it merely acknowledges the reality on the ground for at least 50 years. Whether the decision was wise given the inevitable backlash remains an open question. And whether this will help or injure peace efforts is yet to be seen. But what seem undeniable to me is that the Trump administration has acted in solidarity with the eternal longing of the Jewish people. Although the “nations rage” and the “peoples plot in vain” (Psalms 2:1 NIV), the call of the Jewish soul to Jerusalem will remain forever. No peace deal, no settlement, and no negotiation can proceed that undermines that basic fact.
(Although it is somewhat secondary to the point of this post, as a Latter-day Saint I also see the return of the Jewish people to the Holy Land as a fulfillment of many great and marvelous prophecies from Isaiah to Joseph Smith).
Edit: I want to link to this post by Sahar Qumisiyeh who is a Palestinian Latter-day Saint to offer a counter perspective.