Prid­gen was a wit­ness to em­bassy strife in Tel Aviv

Pas­tor re­mained in ho­tel as protests es­ca­lated

The Buffalo News - - LOCAL NEWS - By Robert J. McCarthy NEWS STAFF RE­PORTER

Dar­ius G. Prid­gen could feel the ten­sion ev­ery­where on his last day in Tel Aviv.

The Buffalo Com­mon Coun­cil pres­i­dent, part of a lo­cal in­ter­faith group tour­ing Is­rael this week, found him­self at ground zero of both cel­e­bra­tion and out­rage Thurs­day over Pres­i­dent Trump’s de­ci­sion a day ear­lier to rec­og­nize Jerusalem – and not Tel Aviv – as the Jewish state’s cap­i­tal.

In Jerusalem a few days ago, the pas­tor of Buffalo’s True Bethel Bap­tist Church said he en­coun­tered noth­ing but praise from Is­raelis who rec­og­nized him as an Amer­i­can.

“Ev­ery­one was yelling: ‘We love your pres­i­dent,’ ” he said. “But to­day, there is a dif­fer­ence.”

Just a few blocks from his Tel Aviv ho­tel where he was stay­ing with his wife, Monique, Prid­gen said Pales­tini­ans were vi­o­lently protest­ing Trump’s de­ci­sion. He said he would not leave his ho­tel, es­pe­cially af­ter news­pa­per and tele­vi­sion re­ports showed what was tran­spir­ing out­side.

He was anx­ious to board his re­turn flight home, and hoped to spend seven hours in the air­port’s rel­a­tive safety.

“We con­tem­plated go­ing out­side our ho­tel, but de­cided against it,” he said. “Just 11 blocks away, the protests are go­ing on, and you don’t want to be any­where near it.”

Pales­tinian res­i­dents of Is­rael were out­raged over Trump’s de­ci­sion on Wed­nes­day and burned pho­tos of him in Jerusalem.

Au­thor­i­ties were brac­ing for even stronger protests to­day, the Mus­lim sab­bath. Prid­gen said he was hear­ing re­ports of a “na­tional day of rage” to­day, and pre­dicted the day “will not be easy.”

“You can al­ready feel the ten­sion,” he said.

Is­raeli cit­i­zens, mean­while, cel­e­brated Trump’s move, set­ting up the pos­si­bil­ity of vi­o­lent clashes be­tween the two groups.

Prid­gen spent the past sev­eral days with Chris­tian and Jewish com­pan­ions from Buffalo at var­i­ous holy sites and in dis­cus­sions with lo­cal of­fi­cials. He was also in­ter­viewed by an in­de­pen­dent Is­raeli re­porter anx­ious for the views of an Amer­i­can elected of­fi­cial.

The Coun­cil pres­i­dent said the trip was de­signed to show how peo­ple of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and na­tion­al­i­ties can live to­gether.

“Then in the midst of this tour, our pres­i­dent makes this an­nounce­ment to make Jerusalem the head­quar­ters [for the U.S. em­bassy],” he said, duck­ing any sub­stan­tive com­ment on the sit­u­a­tion ex­cept to say he was glad to wit­ness the his­toric mo­ment first­hand.

Prid­gen noted the U.S. de­ci­sion to rec­og­nize the cap­i­tal as Jerusalem – home to Jewish, Chris­tian and Mus­lim holy sites and the cen­ter of Is­raeli-Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­rial dis­putes – sparks Pales­tinian protests and Is­raeli con­cern.

“I was in two sem­i­nars with Jewish peo­ple over the past few days, and I don’t know whether they want to cry or cel­e­brate,” Prid­gen said. “On the one hand, they’re say­ing they’re re­ally glad the cap­i­tal has been rec­og­nized as Jerusalem. But they also think this is not the best tim­ing.”

De­spite the chaos, Prid­gen said he is “thank­ful to be here at this hour.”

“This is a his­toric time, and I come home with new knowl­edge about the con­flict over re­li­gion and land,” he said, adding that he hopes it can help him ad­dress Buffalo’s con­flicts and dis­par­i­ties be­tween its wealth and its poverty.

“I’m not try­ing to politi­cize this, but it’s the same thing in Western New York and our need to re­spect each other,” he said. “I come home with a new out­look on so much. I am here at a time of a great deal of vi­o­lence, and get­ting out of here by the hair of my chin.

“I believe this will only get worse,” he added. “And I will be leav­ing it. They won’t.”

Buffalo News file photo

Pas­tor Dar­ius Prid­gen vis­ited Is­rael to study how peo­ple of dif­fer­ent re­li­gions and na­tion­al­i­ties can work to­gether.

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