By Victor Ochieng
President Donald Trump is a polarizing figure, no doubt. Every time he opens his mouth, he says something that creates division between different groups of people; whether between African-Americans and whites, liberals and conservatives, Christians and Muslims, Americans and other countries, there is always something divisive. Yes, that’s Trump and no one can dispute that.
In fact, Trump’s win in the 2016 presidential elections was aided by his whipping the already heated religious, racial, and political temperatures.
When he announced in December 2017 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital city and would, in essence, move the U.S. Embassy in the country there, he was widely supported by American evangelicals. The decision was consultative and involved his unofficial evangelical advisory board that comprises of people drawn from such groups as Christians United for Israel among other conservative Christians leaders. Jack Graham, one such leader, was quick to support Trump on the move.
While many American evangelicals sang praises at the decision, they failed to put a very important fact into consideration – the kind of tension the choice would create between Middle Eastern Christians and Muslims in the region, more specifically those living in occupied Palestinian lands. Evangelical Americans were only basing their applause on their blind hard-line support for their fellow faithfuls in Israel without dissecting the issue to ascertain the possible consequences.
To be specific, the decision is already making things very difficult for Palestinian Christians, who make less than 1% of the Gaza Strip and just 2% of the West Bank, according to CIA’s Factbook numbers.
Palestinians believe Jerusalem is their capital city and want the United Nations to recognize that. That’s why they can’t welcome the decision by Trump’s administration to alter the American policy, which initially said the status of Jerusalem can only be determined through peace negotiations bringing together Palestinians and Israel.
Despite the Jerusalem announcement receiving support from many Christians and Israelis, including the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinians and many Muslim leaders condemned it.
It wasn’t just Muslims who contested the decision. Even Pope Francis expressed concerns with the timing of the announcement, terming it a hindrance to ongoing peace efforts between Palestinians and Israel. Some Christians in the Middle East also expressed their reservation on the declaration. In a letter written before the declaration, a group of Jerusalem churches said they were concerned that such a move would result in “irreparable harm.” Shortly after Trump made the announcement, the Palestinian Christian mayor of Bethlehem, a city sitting in the occupied West Bank, which is also believed to be where Jesus was born, ordered that Christian lights be turned off for a couple of days as a protest to the declaration.
In fact, even the Mayor of Nazareth, the city where Jesus grew up, threatened to ban all Christmas activities in the area over security concerns. According to Public Radio International, however, the celebrations were allowed to continue.
Clearly, the Jerusalem declaration has caused rifts between Christians and Muslims in the Middle East, but that was expected after role. The fact that it’s also causing a rift between American and Middle Eastern Christians appears not to have been put into perspective by the Trump administration.