Embassy is a ‘new shrine’ in ancient Jerusalem, US envoy says on 1st anniversary
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'All the predictions about violence and gloom' proved empty

Embassy is a ‘new shrine’ in ancient Jerusalem, US envoy says on 1st anniversary

Israel’s secret weapon is that it’s on God’s side, David Friedman declares at event marking year since embassy came to capital; PM thanks Trump for ‘politically incorrect’ decision

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel is on God’s side, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said Tuesday at an event celebrating the one-year anniversary of the US embassy’s opening in Jerusalem, which he described as a “new shrine” that deeply moved tourists to flock to en masse.

“Israel has one secret weapon that not too many countries have: Israel is on the side of God. And we don’t underestimate that,” Friedman said at the gala event in the capital attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have done something that has not been in quite some time: We have created a new shrine in the ancient city of Jerusalem, and we’re extremely proud of it,” he told a capacity crowd in the ballroom of the David Citadel hotel.

“What I get perhaps the greatest satisfaction from is not watching people coming in to change their passports or get their visas or engage in diplomatic or commercial issues. But what I really get a kick out of are the tourists who come to visit the embassy,” Friedman said.

Tour buses routinely pull up in front of the new embassy compound, which is in Jerusalem’s quiet Arnona neighborhood, he went on.

“People get out of the bus and people just stare and they look at the beautiful plaque and the seal — that magnificent seal made out of marble weighs about 2-3,000 pounds — and sometimes I just get out of my office and I walk up to them,” the envoy said.

“I kid you not. People got on their knees and they prayed to God that they have seen this day, that this day had arose. They took pictures. There were people in tears, there were people in deep moments of prayer. The reactions were frankly stunning and moving. And I can’t get enough of that. It’s extraordinary.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman stand next to the dedication plaque at the US embassy in Jerusalem on March 21, 2019. (Jim Young/Pool/AFP)

Friedman also noted that doomsday predictions surrounding the May 14, 2018 opening date of the US embassy in Jerusalem failed to materialize.

“All the predictions, even some of our own predictions about what could happen, about the risks, about the violence, about the gloom, the doom — the reality is that in the entire city of Jerusalem that day I don’t think more than 20 people got up to protest,” he said. “I think more people were unhappy about the food they were eating at various restaurants than they were about the move of the embassy to Jerusalem.”

Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces near the Gaza-Israel border in Rafah, Gaza on May 14, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The US ambassador did mention the violence at the Gaza border, which erupted on the day of the opening, saying it was unrelated to the embassy, but rather had to do with intra-Palestinian disagreements. “The violence in Gaza had nothing to do with the opening of the embassy, it had to do with relations between the PA [Palestinian Authority] and Hamas,” he claimed.

“But the embassy opened, the sun rose the next morning and off we were under this new beautiful paradigm of an American embassy in Jerusalem.”

The May 14 opening ceremony fell on the deadliest day of the so-called Great March of Return, with Palestinians rioting, and in at least one incident, opening fire at the border at the behest of the Gaza-ruling Hamas terrorist organization. The army responded with live fire, killing 62 Palestinians that day and the next.

According to a Hamas official, 50 of the 62 were its members, and three others were from the Islamic Jihad terror group. Among the dead, the military said, were all eight members of a cell of armed Hamas operatives who were killed in a gun battle as they sought to breach the fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

A UN Human Rights Council probe published earlier this year said seven of the dead were children. Israel rejected the report as a “pro Hamas, pro terror” document.

PM Netanyahu, left, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman look at a replica of the plaque placed at the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the US Embassy in Jerusalem, at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, May 14, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At Tuesday’s event, hosted by Jerusalem’s Friends of Zion museum, Friedman did not mention the administration’s much-anticipated proposal for Israeli-Palestinian peace, but hinted that the White House wants to continue to strengthen relations with Jerusalem.

“We’re able to project clarity, purpose and strength like never before. Now, is that enough? Should we be resting on our laurels?” he asked. “I think the answer is no. With this administration… we just have to keep moving. We have to keep our foot on the gas. There’s much more to do to strengthen the relationship with Israel.”

Speaking after Friedman, Netanyahu said Israel, in the 71 years since its founding, has had “no better friend in the White House than President Donald J Trump,” thanking him for his “politically incorrect decision” to relocate the embassy to Jerusalem.

For many years, the nations of the world refused to recognize the city as Israel’s capital, until, “one day, out of the blue,” Trump decided that Jerusalem is indeed Israel’s capital, and formally recognized it, Netanyahu said.

“It’s politically incorrect, in a sophisticated way,” he said to a standing ovation from the audience.

The prime minister also thanked the US administration for merging its consulate on Jerusalem’s Agron Street — which historically served the Palestinians — with the embassy earlier this year.

“It’s so clear, so obvious. But it takes leadership,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at an event marking one year since the transfer of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The event was led by American Christian evangelist Mike Evans, the founder of the Friends of Zion museum, which highlights non-Jewish supporters of Zionism. It was attended by former and current right-wing MKs, including Immigration Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant, and representatives from Jewish and Evangelicals organizations close to the Republican party.

Entitled “Annual Night of Heroes,” the event opened with Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, handing an award to Guatemala’s First Lady Patricia Marroquín de Morales in recognition of the Central American country’s relocation of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May 2018.

The US and Guatemala are currently the only two countries who operate embassies in the capital.

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