A Day Of Dangerous Fictions

On Sunday, the national-security adviser, John Bolton, told ABC’s “This Week” that the U.S. move of its Embassy to Jerusalem, the following day, was merely “a recognition of reality,” but it was actually a suspension of disbelief. Participants at the ceremonial opening, led by a delighted Benjamin Netanyahu and most of official Israel, advanced the fiction that Jerusalem, the “heart of the Jewish people for three thousand years,” has been an undivided, peaceful home to the great monotheistic religions for fifty years, since the city was unified under Israeli control; the fiction that Israel’s military steadfastness and sacrifice were implicitly being rewarded by the world’s superpower and Israel’s ally, the U.S.; and the fiction that Donald Trump’s transfer of the Embassy is as historically consequential as Harry Truman’s recognition of Israel at its founding. American participants in Monday’s festivities—Trump’s family and friends, many in official capacities; Republican legislators such as Lindsey Graham who pride themselves on being “pro-Israel”; assorted evangelicals; and select American Jews—came with a fiction of their own: namely, that the move “advances peace.” As the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, put it in a State Department briefing, the move forces “people” (by which he seemed to mean Palestinian leaders) to acknowledge that “circumstances are changing” and that they’d have to “get on board before events overtake them.”

Overtaking the ceremony, however, was a mounting toll of dead and injured on the border with Gaza. (As I write, hours after the ceremony, fifty-five Palestinians are reportedly dead and more than seventeen hundred are reportedly injured.) Despite the violence, the Embassy festivities continued, with red-white-and-blue laser shows on the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City, and signs proclaiming Trump a true friend of Israel. Neta Barzilai, who won the Eurovision Song Contest for Israel, on Saturday, was scheduled to perform a concert in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square later on. By the end of the day, however, the joy seemed forced. What was supposed to be a symbolic celebration of Israel’s might producing a right—to have its disputed capital recognized by the U.S., to sustain the status quo in spite of Palestinian protest—was eclipsed by a far more appalling symbol of how unsustainable the status quo is. Carmela Menashe, a veteran security correspondent for Israel’s Reshet Bet radio station, foreshadowed the bloodshed when she explained the morning before the Embassy ceremony that the Army’s mission on the Gaza border would be to prevent Palestinians from taking pictures of themselves crossing into Israel—pictures that might be used as inspirational propaganda later on. Now Israel would have to contend with a different kind of imagery.

Read on at The New Yorker