When Donald Trump decided to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, he wasn’t just looking to upgrade to some prime real estate. He was sending a message to the world. Not only is Israel a country, but Jerusalem is its capital despite what claims others may have to it.
This has sparked outrage among Palestinians, who argue that Jerusalem belongs to them. Protests have broken out across Palestine, and it’s believed that over 50 Palestinians have died in clashes with Israel Defense Forces. Protesters are burning tires to obfuscate the vision of IDF soldiers, and crowds have been rushing the fences and checkpoints that separate Israel from Palestine.
However, the protests are part of a weeks-long campaign in which thousands of Palestinians have descended upon the border to protest their right to return to their ancestral homes. The marches are in protest of the exile of many Palestinians from lands now controlled by Israel. On Tuesday, the marches will culminate with the “Day of Catastrophe,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were exiled.
At least two thousand people are believed to have been injured in the early waves of the protests, with dozens of them being in critical condition. Footage from the scene suggests that the protests are violent, with individuals using large slingshots to lob stones. It’s believed that 40,000 or more people are participating in the protests.
Apparently, the Israelis had already dropped leaflets warning Palestinians that their lives would be at risk if they participated in mass protests near the borders and checkpoints this week. Now, Israeli drones are dropping tear gas in an effort to get the crowds to disburse.
So what’s the big deal? The United States has become the first external country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. In an effort not to set off the Palestinians, most countries have placed their embassies outside of Jerusalem, primarily in and around Tel Aviv.
Why does this matter? When Israel was first founded, the United Nations quickly recognized the existence of a Jewish state. However, the UN initially envisioned peaceful Arab and Jewish communities living together, side by side. Instead of giving Jerusalem to the Israelis outright, the UN established Jerusalem as a separate entity to be inhabited and governed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians.
The Arabs, however, refused to recognize Israel as a state, instead declaring war. A few wars would be fought in the years ahead, and Israel triumphed each time. As Israel did so, it tightened its grip over Jerusalem and other territories. To this day, Jerusalem is claimed as the capital of Palestine, which clearly complicates things. Israelites have long viewed Jerusalem as their own capital, but the lack of international recognition has helped to keep tensions in check.
When Trump decided to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, thereby seeming to recognize the city as rightfully Israel’s, it enraged Palestinians. Hence the protests. Trump had previously called the move, “A long-overdue step to advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement.”
Many have criticized Trump’s decision, arguing that it will only destabilize the region. Israel and Palestine have lived in a relative peace over the past few years, with violence being historically low. For 2016, the UN reported that casualties were down 37 percent for Palestinians and nearly 50 percent for Israelis. However, today’s mass protests and accompanying violence alone are sure to cause a spike in casualties this year.
Others, however, claim that Trump’s move could expedite the peace process. Writing for CNN, Daniel B. Shapiro argues: “When President Trump announced that the embassy would be relocated, he was—as he put it—recognizing a reality, and, in a sense, correcting a long-held historical anachronism.”
More or less, Trump is recognizing that Jerusalem is already the capital of Israel and that the Israelis will not be surrendering it. The only way Israel will be removed from Jerusalem is if the nation is removed from the map entirely. With so many casualties mounting, however, it’s fair to wonder if that “reality” is worth the cost.