JERUSALEM (JTA) — The United States dedicated its newly established embassy in Jerusalem in a high-profile ceremony attended by prominent Trump administration officials.
Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin pronounced the “Shehechyanu” prayer during the Monday afternoon ceremony, which is said when one is thankful for a new or unusual experience.
“Today we officially open the United States embassy in Jerusalem. Congratulations it’s been a long time coming,” President Donald Trump said in a video greeting.
“Israel,” the president added, “is a sovereign nation with the right like any other nation to determine its own capital.”
“Today we follow through on this recognition and open our embassy in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem,” Trump said. Its opening, he said, was “many, many years ahead of schedule.”
The dedication came as Gaza’s Health Ministry reported that Israeli defense forces had killed at least 50 Palestinians during protests by tens of thousands of Palestinians who were massed on the territory’s border with Israel. Thousands of Palestinians also marched in protest in the West Bank.
A large stage with an American flag motif was erected in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, where the existing U.S. consular headquarters will take on many of the embassy functions. Previous administrations declined to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, preferring not to buck the international consensus that the city’s status was disputed until resolved by negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
Among the administration members attending Monday’s ceremony were Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Assistant to the President Jason Greenblatt, who serves as Trump’s special envoy to Middle East negotiations. Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was also in attendance, along with his wife, Ivanka Trump, who also serves her father as a top presidential advisor.
The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which passed both houses of Congress by overwhelming votes, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and called for relocating the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. A presidential waiver signed every six months until now has allowed successive administrations to suspend moving the embassy on the grounds that this was “necessary to protect the national security interests of the United States.”
The U.S. president asserted that the United States continues to “support the status quo at Jerusalem’s holy sites, including the Temple Mount also known as Haram al Sharif.”
Jared Kushner told the crowd, “I am so proud to be here today in Jerusalem, the eternal heart of the Jewish people,” adding that he was “especially honored to be here today as a representative of the 45th president of the United States Donald J. Trump.”
Kushner asserted that the embassy move shows that the United States can be trusted and that: “When President Trump makes a promise, he keeps it.”
Trump, he added to applause, also kept his promise in exiting the “dangerous, flawed and one-sided Iran deal.” He added: Iran’s aggression threatens the many peace-loving citizens throughout the region and the entire the world,” and that “in confronting modern threats and pursuing common interests previously unimaginable alliances are emerging.”
Netanyahu thanked Trump “for having the courage to keep your promises,” and called the opening of the embassy a “great day for peace.”
“You can only build peace on truth. And the truth is that Jerusalem has been, and always will be, the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state,” he said.
Netanyahu praised the Israeli soldiers protecting the country’s borders “even as we speak,” an acknowledgment of the day’s unrest.
The White House wholly backed Israel’s measures, which were drawing sharp criticism from human rights groups and a number of U.S. lawmakers. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas,” White House spokesman Raj Shah said at the daily briefing for reporters. “Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response and as the secretary of state,” Mike Pompeo, “said, Israel has the right to defend itself.”
Several of the speakers, including U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and Rivlin, reminded the audience that exactly 70 years ago, nearly to the moment of the ceremony, the United States under President Harry Truman became the first country to recognize the new state of Israel.
The ceremony opened with a prayer by controversial Baptist Pastor Robert Jeffress, who praised Trump’s “tremendous leadership,” and ended with a benediction by Pastor John Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel. Ivanka Trump and Mnuchin, the highest-ranking White House official, unveiled the official U.S. seal on the building.
During the ceremony, Trump tweeted his congratulations, calling it a “big day for Israel.”
During the ceremony, Israeli fighter jets struck five Hamas targets in a military training facility in northern Gaza. “The strike was conducted in response to the violent acts carried out by Hamas over last few hours along the security fence,” the IDF said.