Pridgen was a witness to embassy strife in Tel Aviv
Pastor remained in hotel as protests escalated
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.”
Pastor Darius Pridgen visited Israel to study how people of different religions and nationalities can work together.