Any talk of Israel/Palestine, Jerusalem, and the future of the Middle East peace process can kick open a hornets nest of unhelpful debate. It is for this reason I’m extremely careful about when, what, and why I communicate about the region. Having been deeply invested not only in Israel/Palestine, but in relationships with those who inhabit it over the past decade (through my organization Global Immersion), I realize this is a moment when silence is not an option.
Peacemaking isn’t a passive withdrawal from conflict — it’s an intentional movement toward it with tools to understand, heal, and transform. It’s time for Christians across the U.S. to engage in this conflict in a helpful, curious way.
I know there is a lot of confusion and complexity around this and, for the sake of my friends (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) in the region, as well as our collective wellbeing, I feel compelled to offer a few brief observations on today’s announcement by President Donald Trump on the U.S. embassy and the status of Jerusalem as the capital.
1. This action virtually ends the U.S.’s role in a diplomatic peace process between Israel/Palestine.
Even if only symbolic, moving the embassy to Jerusalem makes the statement that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital. One of the primary hurdles toward a lasting (political) peace is the final status of Jerusalem in the case of a two-state solution or other solution. This needs to be negotiated and agreed upon by Israelis and Palestinians, not unilaterally announced (again, symbolically) by the U.S. president. There is a reason for the decades of U.S. bipartisan support of staying out of Jerusalem's final status. In this act, the U.S. has lost trust with the Palestinian leadership (and virtually the whole world that disagrees with this act) and won’t be an objective broker of a lasting political peace.
2. We need a diplomacy of de-escalation.
This is the opposite. Diplomacy can be used as a tool to move us away from violence or a tool to send us more directly into it. This decision further destabilizes the region, grows distrust in U.S. leadership, and provokes generations of past hurt, trauma, and pain in one of the most sacred pieces of land in the world.
3. The status of Jerusalem is central to international relationships between Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Jerusalem is the most holy site in all of Judaism (Western Wall), the third most holy site in all of Islam (Al-Aqsa Mosque), and deeply significant within Christianity. Jerusalem can be a model of constructive, mutually beneficial relationships (which it has a long history of) or it can be the epicenter of religious war. This decision contributes to the potential of the latter.
4. Finally, and most importantly, decisions like these distract us from the real pain and plight of the people on the ground.
My friend and Israeli peace builder, Liel, lives in Jerusalem and just texted me this reflection on the situation:
The world should care more about the voices of the people living in Jerusalem than those who live in Washington D.C. … We are asking the wrong questions and are focusing on the wrong issues. Instead of talking about the fact that 40% of the population of Jerusalem (Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem known as “Jerusalemites”) is stateless with no official passport or a functioning embassy to approach when they are abroad, we are focusing only on the implications of the declaration on international diplomacy. Instead of talking about the reality of Jerusalem today, which is considered one of the poorest in the country and one of the highest in economic inequality, we are talking about the historical right of specific people to live in this city. Furthermore, instead of discussing the over 120,000 residents [that] do not receive basic municipal services and are totally marginalized and walled off, we are debating the location of the new American embassy. It's about time that we will care more about the voices of the people who are effected directly by the political reality than the voice of the American president.
I’d never say I understand all the complexities of this conflict, but I’m extremely aware of the ways my theology, politics, and practices can either contribute to the violence or grow hope for healing. More than that, I love and stand by my friends who are tirelessly living and working for peace in some of the most compelling, subversive, and costly ways I’ve ever seen. Jesus talked about our call to be salt and light and to take seriously our vocation to peacemaking in a world in need of restoration. These friends are on the front lines, and I hope we can learn from them, weep with them, and follow their lead in our life and practice at home and abroad.