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Pridgen at center of Tel Aviv protests during tour of Israel

Darius G. Pridgen can 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 recognizing 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 is staying with his wife, Monique, Pridgen said Palestinians were violently protesting the president’s decision. He said he will not leave his hotel, especially after newspaper and television reports show what is transpiring outside.

Now he can’t wait to board his return flight home, and was hoping to spend the next 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.”

Trump recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Palestinian residents of Israel outraged over the president’s decision on Wednesday burned photos of Trump in Jerusalem and authorities were bracing for even stronger protests Friday, the Muslim sabbath. Pridgen said he is hearing reports of a “national day of rage” on Friday, and predicts the day “will not be easy.”

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

Israeli citizens, meanwhile, are celebrating the president’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 is 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 is glad to witness the historic moment first-hand.

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 – now sparks not only Palestinian protests but 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 sudden 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 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.”

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