Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Ivanka Trump, adviser to and daughter of President Donald Trump, revealing a dedication plaque at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)
Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, and Ivanka Trump, adviser to and daughter of President Donald Trump, revealing a dedication plaque at the official opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018. (Photo/JTA-Yonatan Sindel-Flash90)

US dedicates embassy in Jerusalem as violence rages on Gaza border

The United States dedicated its new embassy today in Jerusalem, reversing decades of American policy as tensions flared on Israel’s Gaza border.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin during the Monday afternoon ceremony pronounced Shehechyanu, a prayer said when one is thankful for a new or unusual experience.

“Today we officially open the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations, it’s been a long time coming,” President Donald Trump said in a video greeting. He added: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right like any other nation to determine its own capital.”

“Today we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem,” Trump said. He added that it is opening “many, many years ahead of schedule.”

Tens of thousands of Gazan Palestinians massed on the border with Israel, sparking reaction from Israeli soldiers posted there. At least 41 Palestinians were killed on Monday and hundreds injured, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Thousands of Palestinians also marched in protest in the West Bank.

A large stage with an American flag motif was erected in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, where the existing U.S. consular headquarters will take on many of the Embassy functions. Previous administrations declined to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, preferring not to buck the international consensus that the city’s status was disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which passed by an overwhelming vote of both houses of Congress, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for the relocation of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A waiver signed every six months has allowed the president to suspend moving the embassy if it is deemed “necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”

Among the Trump administration officials in attendance were U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump.

The U.S. president asserted that the United States continues to “support the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount also known as Haram al Sharif.”

Jared Kushner told the crowd, “I am so proud to be here today in Jerusalem, the eternal heart of the Jewish people,” adding that he was “especially honored to be here today as a representative of the 45th president of the United States Donald J. Trump.”

Kushner asserted that the embassy move shows that the United States can be trusted. “When President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it,” Kushner said.

Trump, he added to applause, also kept his promise in exiting the “dangerous, flawed and one-sided Iran deal.” He added: “Iran’s aggression threatens the many peace-loving citizens throughout the region and the entire the world,” and that “in confronting modern threats and pursuing common interests, previously unimaginable alliances are emerging.”

Netanyahu thanked Trump “for having the courage to keep your promises,” and called the opening of the embassy a “great day for peace.”

“You can only build peace on truth. And the truth is that Jerusalem has been, and always will be, the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state,” he said.

He praised the Israeli soldiers protecting the country’s borders “even as we speak,” an acknowledgement of the day’s unrest.

Several of the speakers, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Rivlin, reminded the audience that exactly 70 years ago, nearly to the moment of the ceremony, the United States under President Harry Truman became the first country to recognize the new state of Israel.

The ceremony opened with a prayer by controversial Baptist Pastor Richard Jeffress, who praised Trump’s “tremendous leadership,” and ended with a benediction by Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel. Ivanka Trump and Mnuchin, the highest ranking White House official present, unveiled the official U.S. seal on the building.

During the ceremony, Trump tweeted his congratulations, calling it a “big day for Israel.”

During the ceremony, Israeli fighter jets struck five Hamas targets in a military training facility in northern Gaza. “The strike was conducted in response to the violent acts carried out by Hamas over last few hours along the security fence,” the IDF said.

Marcy Oster
Marcy Oster

Israel-based JTA correspondent