The Prodigal Son is Ry Cooder’s first solo album in six years. On it, Cooder makes more traditional American gospel music his own.
Beth Gwinn/Getty Images for Americana Music
Beth Gwinn/Getty Images for Americana Music
Ry Cooder has been described as a singer-songwriter, slide guitar hero, session musician to so many other artists, producer, musicologist and historian, a man beholden to no single style, a champion of Cuban and international roots music, and a composer of film soundtracks.
Now, six years since he revived protest music with Election Special, Cooder has a new solo album out. The Prodigal Son features a mix of original compositions as well as some beautiful obscurities unearthed from the American country, gospel and blues catalogs.
It was Cooder’s son Joachim who planted the idea that his father turn his passion for gospel music into a full album.
“We had been singing a lot of gospel music together and that’s something that I love so much, always have,” Cooder says. “I’d never considered doing a whole record of it though because … if you’re going to sing it, you gotta nail it. You gotta really bring it when you come.”
But after that talk, Cooder says he found himself going back and looking for songs that he thought he could sing and then looking at how best to make the songs his own.
That’s evident on the album’s title track, “The Prodigal Son.”
While it comes right from the New Testament, the song also name checks the great pedal steel guitar player Ralph Mooney.
Cooder says Joachim had the underlying track from years before and when he found it said, “Here’s a good one. It grooves nice. You can play and sing over it.”
“The Prodigal Son,” Cooder agreed, would fit well on top of the track’s rhythm, but there was one problem: The song was too short.
“The original was a song The Heavenly Gospel Singers recorded … and the prodigal son left home and then he came back — and end of song,” Cooder says. “But what happened in the meantime when he was out there searching and traveling around? I didn’t know — the Bible doesn’t say.”
The answer to that missing chapter came, Cooder says, as he sat in the studio.
“He wanders into the Hub Cafe in Bakersfield, say 1960, and up on stage he’s going to see Wynn Stewart and Ralph Mooney, which you would’ve seen if you’d have been there then,” he says. “And that’s it. He says ‘Here I shall stand. Here I shall stay. I’ll become a servant. Let me empty your ash tray Mr. Mooney. Let me help you if I can.’ “
While many of the songs on The Prodigal Son are gospel, others like “Gentrification” put listeners in the middle of a hotbed political issue.
“We live in Los Angeles, you see, and this is something we see all around us all the time,” Cooder says. “This kind of unbridled, unchecked insanity of building and development and so forth — and so you hear about this and these situations with the rollback of rent control and affordable housing disappearing every minute.”
Throughout the song, he references some of the issues that arise as tech giants come into markets, often pushing others in the community from their homes.
As “Gentrification” and “The Prodigal Son” offer multidimensional and layered tracks, others including “You Must Unload,” are strikingly simple.
Cooder says he has always loved songs by Blind Alfred Reed, and that this one by the hillbilly fiddler and singer-songwriter is a “sensational song” that still holds up today.
Many of the songs on The Prodigal Son speak to religion and spirituality, but Cooder has said before that he isn’t a religious person.
“There’s something about these songs, however you see the world, you can feel the depth of them,” Cooder says. “The thing I always found about the gospel music was that it reached further into your being if you like, your mind. It takes hold of you — especially if you sing it and play it.”
Janaya Williams and Natalie Winston produced and edited this story for broadcast. Wynne Davis adapted it for Web.
Saudi activist Aziza al-Yousef was arrested this week, along with other women’s activists. In this March 29, 2014 photo, she drives a car on a highway in Riyadh as part of a campaign to defy Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving.
At least six prominent defenders of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia were detained this week, six weeks before the kingdom’s ban on women from driving is due to be lifted June 24.
Activist Loujain al-Hathloul was arrested at her home on Tuesday evening, according to Amnesty International. She campaigned against the decades-old driving ban and ranked No. 3 in a list of the most powerful Arab women for her work.
Amnesty International named three other women who were detained as Eman al-Nafjan, who became widely known for her activism; Aziza al-Yousef, a fellow leader in the campaign to drive; and Aisha al-Manea, who campaigned for women’s right to drive since the early ’90s. She is a 70-year-old who survived a heart attack last year, according to Australian-based Saudi activist Manal al-Sharif.
It is unclear why the activists were arrested.
As part of their fervent advocacy, some of them also signed a September 2016 petition calling upon King Salman to abolish the male guardianship system, which prohibits women from traveling overseas, marrying and making basic decisions without permission of a male relative.
Two men were also taken into custody by Saudi authorities in their apparent sweep: Ibrahim al-Modeimigh, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate, and Mohammad al-Rabea, a youth activist who started a literary salon for young men and women in Riyadh.
At midnight on Saturday, a “smear campaign” began, said Amnesty. Six activists, believed to be the same ones that were arrested, and another individual, were accused in state media of forming a “cell” that threatened Saudi security. Activists were alleged to have “contact with foreign entities with the aim of undermining the country’s stability and social fabric,” according to the organization. A hashtag, “Agents of Embassies,” and a graphic featuring the activists’ faces, spread on social media.
Samah Hadid, Amnesty International’s Middle East director of campaigns, said in a written statement, “This chilling smear campaign is an extremely worrying development for women human rights defenders and activists in Saudi Arabia. Such blatant intimidation tactics are entirely unjustifiable.”
Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman‘s “reform campaign” is “a frenzy of fear.” She added, “The message is clear that anyone expressing skepticism about the crown prince’s rights agenda faces time in jail.”
Other activists are “feared to be detained” and some have been banned by the government from traveling oveseas, the Associated Press reported.
The Saudi Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Being able to drive as a woman has practical and symbolic implications in Saudi Arabia. Now-detained activist al-Nafjan, wrote in 2013 that the ban perpetuated government patriarchy because in the absence of public transit, women were forced to constantly ask permission or pay for a male driver to get around.
“This day-to-day obstacle has proven to be a demoralizing deterrent for many women from pursuing an education, a career and even maintaining their own healthcare,” she wrote.
The king signed a royal decree to end the ban in September 2017. It was hailed as proof of a progressive reform, in line with the crown prince’s Vision 2030 which includes a goal of bringing more women into the workforce. King Salman also ordered a review of rules on male guardianship earlier in May.
But in the past seven years, the courts have convicted nearly 30 prominent activists and dissidents, Human Rights Watch said. Some received prison sentences of at least 10 years under charges that included “breaking allegiance with the ruler” and “inciting public opinion.”
President Donald Trump speaks during an event on prison reform in the East Room of the White House, Friday, May 18, 2018.
When targeting his message to white evangelical voters, President Trump has often focused on traditional priorities for social conservatives, such as abortion and religious freedom. But in recent months another issue – criminal justice – has become a priority for Trump’s influential group of evangelical advisers.
Several of them attended a prison reform summit at the White House on Friday, where President Trump told the audience, “America is a nation that believes in the power of redemption.”
That idea – that redemption is possible, even in prison – is a central part of the Christian belief system, said Johnnie Moore, an evangelical leader and informal adviser to President Trump who attended the summit.
“I’m not sure that for a number of years it was sort of considered a political issue,” he said in an interview with NPR. “It was more just an issue of justice.”
Moore is among leading evangelicals who are supporting the FIRST STEP Act, which focuses on improving prison conditions for pregnant inmates, and offers a path to possible early release for prisoners who earn credits for good behavior. The plan does not tackle many of the larger goals of criminal justice reform advocates, such as reducing or eliminating mandatory minimums for non-violent drug crimes.
The bill recently cleared the House Judiciary Committee and is expected to receive a vote in the full House soon, but faces tough odds in the Senate. It’s being promoted by Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, who has been instrumental in marshaling evangelical support for the plan.
Moore noted that evangelical churches have long been involved in prison ministries. But as the prison system has expanded, he said, they’ve seen the impact on the people they serve.
“The incarceration rate in this country is just insane,” Moore said. “And because of that, most evangelicals, myself included, have a connection to the issue…we’ve seen it with our own eyes. And now’s the time to speak up.”
Another big factor that has brought more white evangelical congregations face to face with the prison system is the opioid epidemic, said Craig DeRoche, senior vice president for advocacy and public policy with the evangelical group Prison Fellowship. The group has been involved in discussions with the White House.
“It stopped becoming an issue of the people who have criminal justice involvement as being ‘those people,’ to, ‘wait a second, I know these people,'” DeRoche said in an interview.
For decades, the most prominent evangelical voice calling for prison reform was the group’s founder, the late Chuck Colson, a former Nixon administration official who served time after Watergate. DeRoche said the evangelical movement has evolved on the issue since Colson’s time.
“A lot of people in the church didn’t feel called as strongly to actually enter the debate over [criminal justice reform] like they did with as issues like abortion,” he said.
Ralph Reed, a longtime leader of the Christian right, also supports the bill.
“This is really signaling something that’s a fascinating and very little-noted phenomenon in American politics,” Reed said, “…which is that the evangelical movement…sort of came into the process talking primarily about sexual morality, and now they’re speaking to a much broader set of issues.”
Some other religious groups and other prison reform advocates, including the National Council of Churches and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, are opposing the measure, which they say doesn’t go far enough.
Jesselyn McCurdy of the American Civil Liberties Union said she welcomes evangelical support for prison reform in principles, but worries the push for this legislation could squander an opportunity for more substantial reform. Among other concerns, she said the plan relies too heavily on releasing prisoners into halfway houses, which are underfunded.
Jesselyn McCurdy of the American Civil Liberties Union said she welcomes evangelical support for prison reform – but not for this bill. She worries about squandering what could be the only chance for awhile for significant change.
“Our concern is if we support this…we’re leaving thousands of thousands of people behind in the name of a very quick, empty promise type of reform that won’t result in many people actually coming home,” McCurdy said.
Ken Blackwell, a longtime Republican activist who advised Trump’s transition team and is among those advocating for prison reform, told NPR there are also disagreements within the conservative movement about how far to take criminal justice reform.
“It’s the extent to which you look for a balance between the punishing dimension of a prison system for acts of wrongdoing, with the hope for rehabilitation and reform,” he said.
Blackwell said he’s optimistic that the President’s involvement in the issue will help to overcome reticence from “law and order” conservatives about the prison reform proposal.
Lifelike clay soldiers at the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses in Xi’an, northwestern China. The first figures were reconstructed by archaeologist Zhao Kangmin, who died Wednesday.
Ludovic Marin /AFP/Getty Images
Ludovic Marin /AFP/Getty Images
A Chinese archaeologist who identified a long-lost clay army consisting of 8,000 soldiers died Wednesday, according to China’s state media.
Zhao Kangmin first laid eyes on fragments of terra cotta warriors in 1974. Farmers some 20 miles from China’s central city of Xi’an were digging a well and struck into the pieces.
They had no idea what they had found — an army that had been interred for more than 2,000 years to guard China’s first emperor.
The farmers contacted Chinese authorities, who sent out government archaeologists, reported National Geographic.
“Because we were so excited, we rode on our bicycles so fast it felt as if we were flying,” Zhao reportedly stated.
The archaeologist found heads, torsos and limbs. He began to reconstruct a figure, piece by piece. Each warrior was life-sized, with a different face and expression, and details that were realistic down to the fingernails. Eventually more archaeologists would uncover standing and kneeling archers, infantrymen, armored officers and chariots with horses.
At the time, Zhao grew nervous about the warrior he was restoring, according to historian John Man who wrote The Terra Cotta Army. He was “nervous that he might be swept up again by the madness of the Cultural Revolution, whose teenage Red Guards had forced him to criticize himself for being involved with old things and therefore encouraging the revival of feudalism.”
The emperor who united China in the third century B.C., Qin Shi Huang, had commissioned the army to protect his tomb. More than 700,000 people built his soldiers and burial site, archaeologists estimate.
In more recent times, the terra cotta forces have allowed archaeologists to learn more about the Qin Empire. Based on the damage of the clay, they believe that the dynasty collapsed suddenly, Smithsonian reported. Rebellious forces may have raided the pits where clay soldiers stood sentry, setting fires, striking down warriors and stealing their real weapons.
Nearly 600 sites within some 22-miles have been identified, amounting to the largest tomb in Chinese history, according to UNESCO.
Farmers have since sued the government for recognition of the discovery. But Zhao didn’t think they necessarily deserved credit.
“The farmers saw the terracotta fragments, but they didn’t know they were cultural relics, and they even broke them,” he told China Daily in 2009. “It was me who stopped the damage, collected the fragments and reconstructed the first terracotta warrior.”
The publication reported that even after he retired from his role as curator at a museum in Xi’an, Zhao would go the museum every day and sit beside four terra cotta soldiers and a horse that he had reconstructed in the ’70s.
In that display room, he would write autographs that read, “Zhao Kangmin, the first discoverer, restorer, appreciator, name-giver and excavator of the terracotta warriors.”
He died at age 82.
Bishop Michael Bruce Curry delivering the sermon during the wedding ceremony of Britain’s Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex and US actress Meghan Markle in St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
OWEN HUMPHREYS/AFP/Getty Images
OWEN HUMPHREYS/AFP/Getty Images
In a message, which took to church not only those in attendance at the royal wedding of Britain’s Prince Harry, 33, and American actress Meghan Markle, 36, on Saturday — but millions watching from across the world — Bishop Michael Bruce Curry preached on the “redemptive power of love.”
Curry, the first African-American presiding bishop of the American Episcopal Church encouraged all receiving his message to discover the power of love to make of “this old world a new world.”
For many, his impassioned sermon — punctuated with themes of politics, social justice, civil rights and quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. and the controversial Catholic theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin — was a highlight of the historic matrimonial ceremony.
There’s much to be said about the message delivered at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle, but we’ll let you read it for yourself.
Here’s the full transcript of Curry’s “The Power of Love” sermon:
And now in the name of our loving, liberating and life-giving God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
From the Song of Solomon in the Bible: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.
The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr once said, and I quote: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”
There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There’s power, power in love.
If you don’t believe me, think about a time when you first fell in love. The whole world seemed to center around you and your beloved.
Oh there’s power, power in love. Not just in its romantic forms, but any form, any shape of love. There’s a certain sense in which when you are loved, and you know it, when someone cares for you, and you know it, when you love and you show it – it actually feels right.
There is something right about it. And there’s a reason for it. The reason has to do with the source. We were made by a power of love, and our lives were meant – and are meant – to be lived in that love. That’s why we are here.
Ultimately, the source of love is God himself: the source of all of our lives. There’s an old medieval poem that says: ‘Where true love is found, God himself is there.
The New Testament says it this way: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, and those who love are born of God and know God. Those who do not love do not know God. Why? For God is love.”
There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
There’s power in love to show us the way to live.
Set me as a seal on your heart… a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death.
But love is not only about a young couple. Now the power of love is demonstrated by the fact that we’re all here. Two young people fell in love, and we all showed up.
But it’s not just for and about a young couple, who we rejoice with. It’s more than that.
Jesus of Nazareth on one occasion was asked by a lawyer to sum up the essence of the teachings of Moses, and he went back and he reached back into the Hebrew scriptures, to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, and Jesus said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
And then in Matthew’s version, he added, he said: “On these two, love of God and love of neighbor, hang all the law, all the prophets, everything that Moses wrote, everything in the holy prophets, everything in the scriptures, everything that God has been trying to tell the world … love God, love your neighbors, and while you’re at it, love yourself.”
Someone once said that Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in human history.
A movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world – and a movement mandating people to live that love, and in so doing to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.
I’m talking about power. Real power. Power to change the world.
If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s Antebellum South who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform.
“They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity. It’s one that says ‘There is a balm in Gilead…’ a healing balm, something that can make things right.
“‘There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole, there is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul.’
“And one of the stanzas actually explains why. They said: ‘If you cannot preach like Peter, and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all.”‘
“Oh, that’s the balm in Gilead! This way of love, it is the way of life. They got it. He died to save us all.
“He didn’t die for anything he could get out of it. Jesus did not get an honorary doctorate for dying. He didn’t… he wasn’t getting anything out of it. He gave up his life, he sacrificed his life, for the good of others, for the good of the other, for the wellbeing of the world… for us.
That’s what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
“If you don’t believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.”
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way. When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room – plenty good room – for all of God’s children.
“Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well… like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.
And let me tell you something, old Solomon was right in the Old Testament: that’s fire.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin – and with this I will sit down, we gotta get you all married – French Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin was arguably one of the great minds, great spirits of the 20th century.
Jesuit, Roman Catholic priest, scientist, a scholar, a mystic.
In some of his writings, he said, from his scientific background as well as his theological one, in some of his writings he said – as others have – that the discovery, or invention, or harnessing of fire was one of the great scientific and technological discoveries in all of human history.
Fire to a great extent made human civilization possible. Fire made it possible to cook food and to provide sanitary ways of eating which reduced the spread of disease in its time.
Fire made it possible to heat warm environments and thereby made human migration around the world a possibility, even into colder climates.
Fire made it possible – there was no Bronze Age without fire, no Iron Age without fire, no Industrial Revolution without fire.
The advances of fire and technology are greatly dependent on the human ability and capacity to take fire and use it for human good.
Anybody get here in a car today? An automobile? Nod your heads if you did – I know there were some carriages. But those of us who came in cars, fire – the controlled, harnessed fire – made that possible.
I know that the Bible says, and I believe it, that Jesus walked on the water. But I have to tell you, I did not walk across the Atlantic Ocean to get here.
Controlled fire in that plane got me here. Fire makes it possible for us to text and tweet and email and Instagram and Facebook and socially be dysfunctional with each other.
Fire makes all of that possible, and de Chardin said fire was one of the greatest discoveries in all of human history.
And he then went on to say that if humanity ever harnesses the energy of fire again, if humanity ever captures the energy of love – it will be the second time in history that we have discovered fire.
Dr King was right: we must discover love – the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.
My brother, my sister, God love you, God bless you, and may God hold us all in those almighty hands of love.
Roger Stone, a longtime ally of President Trump, speaks to the media after appearing before the House Intelligence Committee during a closed door hearing last September. On Sunday, Stone bemoaned the “excesses and partisanship” of Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Mark Wilson/Getty Images
Roger Stone, a longtime adviser of President Trump, complained of partisan behavior by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on Sunday, but also speculated that he could be under investigation by Mueller for a crime unrelated to coordinating with Russia leading up to the 2016 presidential election.
“It is not inconceivable now that Mr. Mueller and his team may seek to conjure up some extraneous crime, pertaining to my business, or maybe not even pertaining to the 2016 election,” Stone said, in an appearance on NBC’s Meet The Press.
Sunday’s television appearance came two days after Mueller reportedly subpoenaed one of Stone’s assistants, John Kakanis. The development seems to indicate that Stone is increasingly becoming a focus for the Mueller probe.
Kakanis worked as a driver, accountant and operative for Stone, according to Reuters.
On Sunday, Stone said “at least eight” of his assistants or associates have been interviewed, or as he put it — “terrorized” — by Mueller’s investigators.
“[The Mueller investigation] was supposed to be about Russian collusion,” Stone said. “And it appears to be an effort to silence or punish the president’s supporters and his advocates.”
Stone has been at the center of the Russian election interference story since the summer of 2016, when he predicted, among other things, that Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta would soon “have his time in the barrel,” shortly before WikiLeaks published Podesta’s stolen emails.
Stone argues his statements were based off public statements made by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, and not off of any coordination with Assange or the Russians hackers believed to have stolen the emails.
Those in President Trump’s orbit have long been frustrated by Mueller’s investigation veering into territory they view as off limits and unrelated to Mueller’s assignment. Trump tweeted Sunday morning, “At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP!”
….At what point does this soon to be $20,000,000 Witch Hunt, composed of 13 Angry and Heavily Conflicted Democrats and two people who have worked for Obama for 8 years, STOP! They have found no Collussion with Russia, No Obstruction, but they aren’t looking at the corruption…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 20, 2018
Earlier this year, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort filed a lawsuit against the Justice Department and Mueller, alleging that Mueller had exceeded his mandate by investigating matters unrelated to the 2016 election.
When he was appointed, Mueller was authorized by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
On Sunday, Stone said neither he nor his lawyer has been in contact with Mueller’s office yet.
Palestinians set tires on fire, as Israeli soldiers attempt to prevent protesters from breaking through the Gaza-Israel border. The demonstration marked the 70th anniversary of Nakba, or catastrophe, a commemoration of the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the war surrounding Israel’s creation.
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
It has been a week of dramatic developments in striking juxtaposition for Israel and Gaza. On Monday, several hundred people gathered in Jerusalem for the opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy. Simultaneously, about 60 miles away, Gaza suffered its deadliest day in years as Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters.
But have these developments really changed anything in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Demands have stayed the same, impasses between the different sides have been highlighted and the United States’ role in future peace talks appears to be shifting.
Take a look at a map of Israel. It sits snug between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea. Sections of land carved out of its eastern and western sides mark the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, home primarily to Palestinians. Lines around those areas are etched into the ground in the form of fences and barriers that are heavily guarded by Israeli security forces. Many Palestinian areas are poor, some of them desperately so.
In Gaza, sewage spills into the sea, electricity is unreliable and unemployment is high. It’s under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt that’s had a devastating effect on the area. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, years of conflict and blockade have left 80 percent of Gaza’s population dependent on international assistance.
Farther east, the West Bank is much larger than the Gaza Strip, and perhaps an even bigger conundrum for potential peace talks. Israel captured the land in a 1967 war and has occupied it ever since. Palestinians want the West Bank to be part of a future Palestinian state. But critics say the growing number of Jewish settlements there are dividing up Palestinian populations and will make it hard to create a state with contiguity.
And then there’s the disputed city of Jerusalem. Israel claims the city as its capital. The Palestinian Authority has said it wants the eastern part of Jerusalem for the capital of a future Palestinian state. Now, the Trump administration has officially backed the Israeli claim — breaking with decades of U.S. and broad international policy — and solidified its support by moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official.
Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, is sitting in a home in an area Israel considers part of municipal Jerusalem, near a separation barrier along the West Bank. He recalls his days of teaching at the Wharton School of Finance in Pennsylvania — and a student there he believes was a young Donald Trump.
Shaath says now-President Trump has been a “catastrophe” for Palestinians.
“[Trump] is very much siding with the Israelis,” Shaath says. “Moving his embassy to Jerusalem was nothing [more] than a demonstration of his alliance with the Israelis.”
Shaath noted the United States has been close with the Israelis in the past but says this time is different. Previously, the U.S. government didn’t recognize Israel’s control of East Jerusalem and said the status of the city should be determined in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
“These were part of the deal which kept us accepting the role of the Americans,” says Shaath.
Now, he says the Trump administration has violated possible negotiated solutions for Jerusalem, including an idea to partition the city into East Jerusalem for the Palestinians and West Jerusalem for Israel.
“At the heart of any negotiation, Jerusalem was key,” says Shaath. He says President Abbas now believes the United States can no longer play a leading role in negotiations.
“What Mr. Abbas is saying is I don’t want America altogether […] to be the owner of this peace process.”
The Trump administration has cited biblical and historical reasons for its policy changes around Jerusalem. The government argues that recognizing the city as Israel’s capital will remove the issue from the negotiating table of potential peace talks. But it also says the city’s final borders are subject to negotiation.
Palestinians still want East Jerusalem
A few miles northeast from the new U.S. Embassy site, past Jerusalem’s large concrete separation barriers, is Abu Dis. There have been unconfirmed reports in Israeli and U.S. media that the Trump administration has considered the town for possible negotiations over a Palestinian capital. But residents there tell NPR they still have their sights set on East Jerusalem.
A view of the Palestinian town Abu Dis and the barrier that separates it from Jerusalem.
“[Trump] came and destroyed our dream of having East Jerusalem as our capital,” says Ali, a Palestinian man who grew up in Abu Dis. He only gave his first name out of security concerns because of ongoing Palestinian protests in the area. “I’m saying East Jerusalem because I would recognize West Jerusalem as a capital in a two-state solution.”
For decades U.S. administrations have pushed the Israelis and Palestinians to agree on establishing two neighboring states for their people to bring lasting peace to the region. But now, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says, while the U.S. would support such an agreement, it’s not something the Trump administration is calling for.
“This is a decision that Israel has to make for itself and in conjunction with its negotiations with the Palestinians,” Friedman says.
One state for all, not two
Diana Buttu, a lawyer who advised the Palestinians in past peace negotiations, does not believe a two-state formulation will ever work. Instead, Buttu supports a proposal of one state with equality for all individuals — a formulation that could end the idea of Israel as a Jewish state. “When you’re constantly privileging one group over another then it’s not a recipe for peace. It’s actually a recipe for continued conflict,” says Buttu.
Diana Buttu seen in 2005, when she served as an adviser to a Palestinian cabinet minister, accompanies then-World Bank President James Wolfensohn, during their a tour of the Gaza Strip.
Adel Hana/Associated Press
Adel Hana/Associated Press
She says the alternative to a two-state solution is “putting sanctions on Israel and telling it to get out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.”
She also questions the timing of President Trump’s Jerusalem decision.
“Why did he have to do this now when it’s not going to yield any positive benefits?” Buttu asks.
Hopes of return
In Gaza, Ahmed Abu Artema stares longingly into the distance, across the fence that walls Gaza off from Israel.
Artema describes Gaza as a prison. It’s home to nearly 2 million people on a strip of land about the size of Detroit. “We cannot go. We cannot live like other people,” says Artema. “So what if this fence was removed and we could go free?”
Ahmed Abu Artema is an organizer of the Palestinians’ weeks-long protests at the Gaza border.
Artema dreamed up the idea of the recent protests called the Great March of Return. The goal was to call for Palestinians to be able to return to the homes their ancestors lost 70 years ago with the creation of Israel. Throughout the protests, people in Gaza surged to the fence barring them from Israel — some carrying wire cutters to clip away pieces and break through.
Artema says the protests are one link in a chain in Gaza’s struggle for freedom — a struggle he says is going to take time.
“The March of Return reminded the world again that there is this extraordinary situation in Gaza; this is abnormal,” says Artema.
The Islamist group Hamas threw its weight behind the demonstrations. It has held power in Gaza since winning elections in 2006. The Israeli military accused it of using protesters to carry out acts of terror.
Monday brought a major day of protests that resulted in the deadliest day in Gaza in years. Israeli soldiers shot live rounds at protesters, killing more than 60 people, according to Gaza health officials.
As the protests raged, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the stage at the U.S. Embassy opening ceremony. He expressed gratitude to President Trump and also thanked Israeli soldiers who were “protecting the borders of Israel as we speak.”
Meanwhile in Gaza, Artema said he felt sorry for anyone who gets killed or injured, “but these people are actually knocking on the walls of their prison cells. They do not want to stay there anymore.”
NPR’s Steve Inskeep contributed to this report in Jerusalem and Gaza.