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New Embassy In Jerusalem Attracts Devout Christians From The U.S.


Jerusalem is, of course, home to important historical and religious sites. And now there is a new pilgrimage site in the city - the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. It is attracting some devout American visitors who see it as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. NPR's Daniel Estrin paid a visit.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Stand up straight and smile.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: One, two, three.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: No, I want the picture of the thing - the name.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I've been standing here for about an hour, and already, three groups of people - tourists - have come here to take pictures with the plaque in stone that says Embassy United States of America, Jerusalem, Israel, Donald J. Trump, President.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Donald Trump - yeah.

ESTRIN: In May, a U.S. consulate building in the residential outskirts of Jerusalem was renamed as the embassy as the U.S. recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Most of the world rejects that because Palestinians seek part of the city for their capital. But the embassy has become a tourist site for people who are elated by Trump's move, like Linda Carter from Florida.

LINDA CARTER: This is the capital, right. This is the center of the Earth right here - or not the Earth but the center of our universe - ours.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing in Hebrew).

ESTRIN: Her church group filed out of their tour bus to take pictures and sing the Israeli and U.S. national anthems.

UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light.

ESTRIN: One visitor from Texas, Jason Reyes, walked an hour from the walled Old City wearing a Trump-Pence T-shirt to take his picture in front of the embassy.

JASON REYES: This is a prophetic moment. This is definitely a prophetic moment.

ESTRIN: There were a few Jewish visitors, including an Israeli family who liked Trump's gesture but thought Palestinians also deserved a capital in the city. Most of the visitors I met eschewed traditional religious labels, like Christian or evangelical, but said they believe in Jesus, and they saw the U.S. Embassy as representing something biblical.

DEBRA HOLM: I feel like it's the Bible being fulfilled. So, you know, you look at Scripture. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, so we're seeing the word of God being fulfilled, so you want to come look at it with your own eyes.

DIANE WEBER: Yep, yep.

ESTRIN: Debra Holm (ph) and Diane Weber from Minnesota say they're with a worship group visiting Israel to reach out to the Jewish people. They support Trump's decision to move the embassy here.

WEBER: Well because it says in Scripture that those that bless Israel will themselves be blessed. Those that curse Israel will be cursed.

ESTRIN: Look at what happened since the U.S. moved its embassy, she says. The U.S. economy has improved.

WEBER: We're blessing Israel. We're being blessed.

ESTRIN: Several people I met at the embassy mentioned the Israeli-Palestinian peace plan Trump says he'll present in a few months. Recently, Trump said he thinks the two-state solution would work best - a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Holm and Weber and other visitors I met had this message for Trump.

WEBER: Don't give up any land. Do not negotiate to give up any land.

HOLM: That's what we're hoping for.

ESTRIN: They think Palestinians won't stop at a Palestinian state and will want Israel for themselves, too. Melissa Brunner was visiting from Georgia.

MELISSA BRUNNER: It doesn't mean that you discriminate against the Palestinians. You know, you love them, and they should be taken care of and things like that. But Israel is sovereign, and they should have their own sovereignty. This is their land.

ESTRIN: As one of the church groups sang, a Palestinian watched on. He was Palestinian-American Zakaria Hajeer at the embassy for a relative's visa interview. I asked him what he thought of the idea these visitors have, that moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem reflects God's plan.

ZAKARIA HAJEER: Everybody can say my God told me this is my land. God's plan for me is this is Palestine.

ESTRIN: The other Palestinians I met here were not interested in talking politics. They were trying to get visas to go live in the U.S.

JACQUELINE RAFIQ: (Through interpreter) There's more freedom in the U.S. In the West Bank, we can't take our kids out for fun. You need Israeli permits for everything, and I want to keep my children protected.

ESTRIN: That's Jacqueline Rafiq, who came to the embassy from her home in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. She's with her husband and six children. They happen to be Christian. For them, this embassy represents a possible escape from the realities of the life they live here. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.