News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Some Israelis Say Moving The U.S. Embassy To Jerusalem Is Not What The City Needs


Next week, the new U.S. Embassy to Israel opens in Jerusalem. It's a controversial move because the city's status is disputed. Palestinians also have claims there. President Trump says his administration is recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people, and Israeli leaders are celebrating the move. But Israeli citizens actually have mixed feelings about the city and its religious character, as NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: A short walk from what will be the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem is an apartment building on a leafy street. On the first floor, a religious Jewish Israeli man has moved in with his family. On the second floor, a secular Jewish Israeli woman has moved out.

DAFNA ALLON: I always said I was born in Jerusalem; I'll die in Jerusalem, and I'll be buried in Jerusalem. This was the saying I used to say always. I don't see myself now going back.

ESTRIN: Dafna Allon (ph) lights a cigarette in her new apartment in the coastal city of Tel Aviv. She was the sixth generation of her family to live in Jerusalem, and she's nostalgic for the old Jerusalem of the '90s when her son would play with a Palestinian kid from a nearby neighborhood.

ALLON: He was riding on the donkey, and my kid was on his bike. And they switched. And my kid went on the donkey, and he took his bike. And they were friends, and everything was nice. And you wouldn't see that anymore. There's no communication. There's no relationship. I don't know. Everything went to an extreme. And I don't like the tension, so I ran away.

ESTRIN: She lived through waves of Palestinian suicide bombings. And she felt alienated by the growth of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which closes off some public roads on the Sabbath.

ALLON: If I want to go to my mother's on Shabbat, I cannot take the same route I take during the week 'cause half the roads are closed on Shabbat.

ESTRIN: Her son and more than a dozen of his friends growing up have moved to Tel Aviv, Israel's business hub. Today, more than half of Israeli Jews in Jerusalem identify as religiously observant or ultra-orthodox, and about 40 percent of the city is Palestinian.

ALLON: So we have the Arabs, and we have the religious. And we are being somehow pushed out. Slowly but surely, we feel unwanted, unwelcome on everything.

SHAIKH ELAMI: (Humming).

ESTRIN: On the bottom floor of the old Jerusalem apartment building she left, Shaikh Elami (ph) hums a Sabbath tune and prepares Sabbath dinner.

ELAMI: OK, enough for the oven.

ESTRIN: He's part of a small community of progressive Orthodox synagogues. He's in love with Jerusalem, a city that's central in Jewish tradition, that his great-great-grandparents in Eastern Europe prayed about.

ELAMI: The old dream of Jerusalem. I have the ability to be part of Jerusalem, building the community in Jerusalem.

ESTRIN: You're living the dream.

ELAMI: I'm living the dream. I have a mission. It's not just a dream. It's a mission.

ESTRIN: He directs community centers in Jerusalem and is involved in projects to encourage Palestinians and Israelis to mingle. He also tries to create common ground between Orthodox and non-religious Jews. Both Elami and Allon see Jerusalem as the capital of Israel even though Palestinians disagree. But they say President Trump's endorsement of the Israeli view isn't what the city needs most.

ELAMI: You know, it's - not really bother me. I can live without his declaration of reconciled - that we have any ability today to make any process with the Palestinians.

ALLON: Trump is one way to change the reality of Jerusalem. The reality of Jerusalem will be changed by its people. And if it is not being changed intentionally, it will not change for the better.

ESTRIN: What they long for is a more livable city where everyone feels welcome. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.