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Masoud Khayyat, a coordinator for Dallas Palestine Coalition, chants, "Free, free Palestine!" with the crowd at the Rally for Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine in Dealey Plaza.EXPAND
Masoud Khayyat, a coordinator for Dallas Palestine Coalition, chants, "Free, free Palestine!" with the crowd at the Rally for Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine in Dealey Plaza.
Jacob Vaughn

Jerusalem Embassy Opening Stirs Dallas Advocates on Both Sides of Israel-Palestine Divide

More than 300 people lined the sidewalk of Dealey Plaza on Dec. 9. Honking car horns and chants from the crowd filled the air as protesters wielded Palestinian flags and signs that read, “Hands off Jerusalem.”

The Rally for Jerusalem, Capital of Palestine was organized by the Dallas Palestine Coalition, a group of organizations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that advocate for the human and national rights of the Palestinian people. Masoud Khayyat, a coordinator of the coalition, shouted in his megaphone, “Free, free Palestine!” as the rest of the crowd’s voices echoed behind.

The rally came in response to President Donald Trump’s declaration of U.S. support for Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the proposed relocation of the U.S. Embassy. Six months later, the new embassy opened in Jerusalem on May 14. Khayyat’s worries and predictions about the move have come to life.

Fifty-eight Palestinians have been killed and another 2,700 wounded since the embassy’s opening ceremony, which included a speech by Robert Jeffress, the controversial pastor of First Baptist Dallas. In a statement released by the Dallas Palestine Coalition to WFAA-TV, the group condemned Jeffress for his participation in the opening ceremony. It believes Jeffress and his extremism are responsible for the recent bloodshed in Gaza, according to the statement.

Other news reporting on the embassy opening — a Trump campaign promise fulfilled — did not leave Jeffress untouched. Several stories fixated on Jeffress' past comment that Jewish people cannot be saved from hell. In a tweet, former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney called attention to the irony that Jeffress led the opening prayer in Jerusalem.

The mixture of outspoken religious personalities like Jeffress with world leaders is disturbing to some because it gives the appearance that the president endorses some of the positions these evangelists take. Also at the embassy opening was San Antonio-based megachurch pastor John Hagee, who once told Trump he’d get “political immortality” for the embassy move to Jerusalem. A Brookings Institute poll found that a little more than half of people who are deemed evangelists in America support the embassy move.

“This is a decision based on flattering some of the president’s advisers and donors and advancing their agendas,” says Logan Bayroff, a spokesman for the liberal pro-Israel group J-Street. “These folks clearly are having a big influence over U.S. policy.”

Religion aside, more pressing for some supporters of the embassy's move is the threat of anti-Semitism in this country and abroad. No matter what Jeffress believes about the next world, some who wanted the embassy moved are happy to have evangelicals' support in this one.

“I respect people for their beliefs as long as they are not seeking my death,” says Charles Pulman, an attorney at a Dallas-based law firm who writes about matters pertaining to Jewish people. For him, the theological and political reasons for Jeffress’ support are no matter.

“I don’t really delve into the reasons for their support. I’m more interested in their support,” Pulman says.

Why are American evangelists concerned with what happens to Israel? Some believe the Jews' return to Israel is a harbinger of Jesus Christ's second coming.

The Trump administration’s official position is that the new embassy will promote peace and stability in the region. But the press is calling the embassy's opening day the deadliest in Israel and Palestine since the 2014 Gaza war.

That conflict left 2,251 Palestinians and 73 Israelis dead, according to bbc.com, and spurred the creation of the Dallas Palestine Coalition. In the beginning, Khayyat says, the 2014 conflict boosted momentum for the North Texas Palestinian-American groups. The coalition served as a coordinating committee for the many activists who were stirred by the violence.

Pro-Palestinian protesters march on Dealey Plaza.EXPAND
Pro-Palestinian protesters march on Dealey Plaza.
Jacob Vaughn

After a while, the coalition's member groups started trying to get more organized around mutual points of agreement on how to support Palestine, Khayyat says. Although the groups did not agree on everything, they all stood for the Palestinian national rights of liberty, freedom, self-determination and statehood, he says. But Khayyat says the activity seemed to come and go.

“So we had a few weeks of activities, but honestly it did not continue with the great momentum, unless something big is happening,” Khayyat says.

Khayyat says that in the last couple of years, the coalition has started engaging in more activities, such as movies, films and poetry. The aim is to further inform the group’s American friends that standing up for Palestinian rights is American, he says. This effort includes a dinner and screening of The Great Book Robbery at  7 p.m. Friday at the Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2200 N. Bell Ave. in Denton.  The film explores the looting of 70,000 Palestinian books during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Asad Shalami, a member of the coalition, says the U.S. turns a blind eye to the violent response taking place in Gaza because of Israel’s involvement.

“Can you imagine any other country firing live bullets at unarmed protesters?” Shalami asks. “If that happened in any other country, the United States of America would take it upon itself to go and invade that country, no matter what the cost.”

Khayyat says it was like adding insult to injury having the move take place on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, or “The Day of the Catastrophe,” when thousands of Palestinians were forced or fled from their homes during the birth of the state of Israel.

Now that the embassy is open, longtime coalition member Dan Sullivan says the time has come to spread more awareness about the Palestinian cause and history.

“The right move going forward is to do everything that we can to spread awareness, to organize people, and to put pressure on our elected officials and on the Israeli government and on anyone who does business with Israel to put mends to the atrocities we’re seeing on the news now and that, frankly, has been an ongoing feature of Palestinian life for the past 70 years,” he says.

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