Videos by Ford Fischer
Photos and Article by Alejandro Alvarez

President Donald Trump finalized the U.S. embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Monday, fulfilling a campaign promise while sparking clashes with thousands of casualties.

Amid backlash from Palestinian protesters, human rights organizations, and international institutions, a group of young, anti-occupation American Jews voiced their opposition to the new embassy by locking down one of the Washington’s busiest intersections.

“I’m sick and tired of Donald Trump and other politicians using perceived American Jewish support for the occupation for policy that supports this endless occupation,” said Noah Schuettge, a member of IfNotNow, a youth-led group of Jewish activists opposed to Israeli policy on Palestine. “This is the tip of the iceberg, and there are many of us.”

“Embassy of Freedom”

IfNotNow led about one hundred people to the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street, which they held for over an hour while sharing stories about use of lethal force by Israeli soldiers against protesters. They carried cardboard columns, forming what they called an “Embassy of Freedom” in the middle of the street as rebuttal to the new embassy in Jerusalem.

While members of the Trump family joined diplomats for an opening ceremony in Jerusalem, the death toll mounted along the Gaza border fence in a bloodbath that could soon prove to be the worst the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has seen in years. The number of fatalities stands at 52 with over 2,400 injured as of publication. In the aftermath, independent journalist Sharif Kouddous spoke with a Palestinian doctor who remarked he had “never seen a day like this” in 17 years working at a Gaza hospital.

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“What’s newsworthy is that we could do all of this freely, and that Palestinians could not,” said Stephen Lurie, an IfNotNow member, noting that they held a Washington intersection in rush hour traffic without facing arrest while Palestinians were killed and injured overseas. “What’s newsworthy is that we could exercise our rights and our privilege like we ought to, but Palestinians could not.”

Israel has defended its response as being necessary to protect its border communities, although world leaders and activists have criticized their use of live fire as disproportionate to protesters using slingshots and burning tires. A tweet from the Israeli Defense Forces after Monday’s violence claimed its soldiers were acting “in accordance with standard operating procedures,” in order to “protect Israeli sovereignty and Israeli citizens.”

Jill Raney

IfNotNow’s contingent of young American Jews weren’t in agreement.

“I feel threatened by the Israeli government inflaming anti-Semitism by doing clearly immoral things,” said Jill Raney, an IfNotNow activist who led much of the chanting and singing on Monday. “Palestinians are not a threat to me, I don’t feel any reason to put up walls with huge machine guns between me and my neighbors.”

More protests are planned in Palestine on Tuesday, the annual commemoration of mass Palestinian displacement following the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. May 15 is remembered as “Nakba Day” among Arabs, meaning “Day of the Catastrophe.”