Americans for Peace Now (APN) joins its Israeli sister organization, Shalom Achshav (Peace Now) in strongly condemning yesterday's participation by senior Trump administration officials in the opening of a tunnel dug in East Jerusalem by the extremist settler organization Elad. The tunnel is under the Palestinian village of Silwan, located on the slope of the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif, one of the most religiously volatile places in the world.
Peace Now demonstrated at the site against the opening of the tunnel. Protesters highlighted and condemned the participation of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and President Trump's Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt.
Incredibly, Ambassador Friedman was not merely an observer at the event staged by Elad, whose stated mission is to "Judaize" occupied East Jerusalem. Given longstanding, bipartisan US policy, that in itself would have been extraordinarily pernicious. Instead, Friedman went so far as to wield a hammer, busting a hole in a prop wall to signal the Trump administration's approval of perpetual Israeli control of East Jerusalem. Notably, Sheldon Adelson, a mega-donor to both Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was present to poke his own hole in the fake wall.
Making matters worse, Friedman gave an interview to Fox News that appeared designed to appeal to Trump's evangelical supporters, glorifying the religious significance for Christians of the "Path of the Pilgrims." It is impossible to overstate the dangerous game the Trump administration is playing in attempting to turn the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a difficult, but solvable, political dispute into a zero-sum, combustible religious conflict.
Ignorant of the history of the conflict, the Trump "peace" team ought to recall that the East Jerusalem tunnels have previously led to violent conflict. In 1996, during Netanyahu's first term as prime minister, his order to open a tunnel exit in the Muslim Quarter led to fighting across the West Bank and Gaza that left 100 Palestinians and 17 Israelis dead. Though tunnels have not been dug under the Temple Mount / Haram al-Sharif, many Palestinians believe excavations take place under Al-Aqsa mosque with the goal of endangering its foundations and subsequently precipitating its collapse.
APN urges fellow US Jewish organizations to repudiate the Trump administration's irresponsible actions in Jerusalem and in support of West Bank settlement. Further, we call upon Congress to investigate Ambassador Friedman's conduct. Since the Senate (narrowly) confirmed Friedman, it has a responsibility to conduct oversight. Disturbingly, Senator Lindsey Graham, a senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was present at the Elad event. Unlike Friedman and Greenblatt, Graham claims to support a two-state solution.
By now, it is clear that Trump's envoys to the region, Friedman and Greenblatt, are intentionally taking incendiary measures to provoke Palestinians, as well as Arabs and Muslims worldwide. They are damaging US national security interests, as well as Israel's chief national security interest: peace with its neighbors.
Without peace with the Palestinians, Israel will not be able to live up to the vision of its founders: a secure, egalitarian, and democratic homeland for the Jewish people.
For more on the Silwan tunnel, see here.