I went with the fam and some of my in-laws to the protest organized by Pantsuit Nation Israel outside of the US Embassy here in Tel Aviv to coincide with the Women's March on Washington. I even got my picture taken a few times, one of which wound up in the news.
All politics are really local here.
I've visited the embassy a few times this year. I had been there, not too long before that protest against Trump, to vote. I also had been to the embassy in the last few months to get my passport renewed. I'm now in the possession of two completely unused passports: my American one, and my brand new Israeli one.
Israelis might react to me becoming a citizen the way many Trump voters might look at new immigrants to America from Latin America, or the Middle East, or even Europe and say that those immigrants aren't Real Americans®. In some ways I feel more alienated now because now I'm a citizen, before I was just a guest. I could excuse my horrible handle of the Hebrew language, my lack of national service, and not being Jewish by saying I am here, but not of here. Things are different now. I'm also more culpable for all of those things I could distance myself from easier when I was just living here. Now it's my Occupation, not just theirs.
And yet, the biggest anti-racism, anti-Occupation protest in years can take place just a few blocks away from my house and I can only find out about it after the fact.
The scene from Allenby Street Saturday evening February 4, 2016.
There are still huge gaps between how I function as an Israeli and how I function as an American. I missed the protest this weekend because, even after seven years, my headspace is still in the US. The embassy is American ground though, so there was no way I wouldn't know about a protest in front of it. Living in Tel Aviv, I am always that much closer to home, but that situation may change very quickly. The embassy is in Tel Aviv today, but Trump has made it clear he plans to move it to Jerusalem. It is tremendously important for that not to happen.
To really appreciate just how blindingly stupid the idea is, you have to go all the way back to the 1948 UN partition plan. In that plan, which Israel voted on and accepted, Jerusalem was going to be an international city—not part of Israel or Palestine. It was envisioned as a sort of city-state, like the Vatican. The immediate war and the 1949 Armistice which defined much wider borders for Israel than the partition lead to a split Jerusalem. The Israelis claimed the western half of the city, and the eastern half (where the Old City is located) was taken over by the Jordanians. In 1950 western Jerusalem was named Israel's capital. Now most countries have more or less accepted Israel's borders post-war, the Green Line border. Jerusalem is recognized as the capital. But nobody has their embassy there. All the embassies are in Tel Aviv. The war in 1967, when Israel took over all of Jerusalem, complicates things even more. Technically they annexed East Jerusalem so the city doesn't function like the rest of the occupied West Bank. One big difference is that they aren't tried under military law. Legally its Arab citizens are permanent residents of Israel but not citizens. In effect, the people of East Jerusalem, and the surrounding villages caught up in the annex's expanded definition of the city's border, became immigrants. Even though they never moved, the border did. That means they can't vote nationally. They can't vote for the Palestinian Authority (should the PA ever hold elections again). They basically have no representation unless they apply for citizenship, which is an option, but not easy to get, or always desired. The city is not two cities, just one, yet it has two sets of rights for its citizens based more-or-less on race. Only one of them is privileged. To be plain, it's apartheid-esque. I add the "-esque" because this situation—which around here we call The Situation—might be infinitely more complicated and worse because of it. Now, the PA wants to claim East Jerusalem as their future capital. That's been a negotiating point since 1988 and it is firm. Moving the embassy shoots that to hell and also endorses the annexation and basically collapses the two-state goal. It means a new violent uprising in the territories and probably in Israel proper, probably the worst we've ever seen. That may ignite a cross-border war with other neighbors as well, even Jordan. And it could be very bad given the missile capabilities of Lebanon to the north. Israel would have to act with a scorched earth strategy or else risk the bombardment of every city in the North to the Center, including Tel Aviv. It would mean destroying countries that are also hosting millions of refugees from Syria, and who knows, maybe draw in Syria itself too, or the worst elements who are fighting there. And so this war could even draw in Iran, and/or serve as a pretext to make an attack run on them.
So, short answer for why is moving the embassy bad: World War III?
Oh wait! There’s this too: in the 90s the Newt Gingrich Republican Revolution congress passed a law that says the US has to move the embassy there. Every six months since 1998 the president has signed a waiver putting that move off because of security concerns. Unlike all the executive orders he’s been passing lately, all DT has to do to make this particular hell a reality is to avoid signing a piece of paper: the current waiver expires in June.
I don't want that to happen to the world. And even if by some strange chance, this vindictive and short-sighted move doesn't bring about a local apocalypse, I really don't want to have to drive all the way to Jerusalem whenever I need US citizen services. And on another level, I don't want America to be that much farther away from where I am now. I'm far away as it is.
[Top image: Crowds outside of the embassy in Tel Aviv on January 21, 2017. Photo by author. UN Partition Plan Map by Zero0000A/RES/181(II) [Public domain or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.]