Christian supporter defies protestors to pray outside Israel embassy

Israel Nehemiah Musonda on his way to the Embassy of Israel to pray for the country. Photo by Lauren Markoe

by Lauren Markoe

(The Forward) — Israel Nehemiah Musonda, an Israeli flag draped over his shoulders, headed into the protest outside the Israeli Embassy on April 2, to pray.

The protesters, who day and night for more than a month have demonstrated against Israel, shouted toward him through bullhorns as he walked past Palestinian flags and posters of burned children in Gaza: “Shame! Shame! Shame!”

He asked a protester if she would like to pray with him, or if there’s something she would like him to pray for. She ignored his questions, and continued to lambast Israel and its supporters through a bullhorn. “Shame on you! Blood is on your hands,” she said. “May the faces of Gaza haunt you forever.”

This is Musonda’s second day in a row praying at the embassy, which sits on a well-trafficked corner in a residential neighborhood of Washington. Prayer is his full-time job. The Pentacostal said he is inspired by Jesus and the late Revs. Billy Graham and Martin Luther King Jr. Like them, he said, he wants to “unify people in prayer.”

The Bible also tells him to pray for Israel, he said, noting that his name is Israel. On other days, he picks different places to pray.

Musonda, 37, spends time at the Supreme Court and the White House — where he has also wrapped himself in the Israeli flag. On Capitol Hill he prays at committee meetings on a multitude of topics, including finance, agriculture and Africa, he said, because he is African.

He passed four demonstrators and turned the corner where there are several more near the embassy’s front gate. He knelt in the wet grass next to a Palestinian flag and tinier Israeli ones planted in the soil. The faces of hostages abducted to Gaza by Hamas on Oct. 7 were secured to the embassy’s gate in front of him.

Standing just a few feet away, it is hard to tell if his prayers are silent because the protesters’ sirens blare as they have all day since their 24/7 protests began in February, just after U.S. Airman Aaron Bushnell set himself on fire in the embassy’s driveway while shouting “Free Palestine.” The protesters say they are honoring his memory and trying to stop a war in which Israel has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, which does not delineate between combatants and civilians.

‘I don’t take it personally’

Musonda’s eyes are misty as he emerges from prayer. “The tears tell you you’re on the right path,” he told me.

He got much more pushback from protesters — there were nine this morning — than he did the day before, but said he respects them for voicing their beliefs.

“I’m not here to say what they’re doing is wrong,” he said. “I don’t take it personally.”

But he also said that Israel was attacked by Hamas on Oct. 7 and must defeat the terror group.

Musonda attends Antioch Church, near the National Cathedral, a few miles away. His prayer ministry, called “If I Be Lifted Up,” is a personal project started by his father which Musonda now runs with his sister. She, like him, lives a few blocks from the embassy. They also support an orphanage in Zambia, where he immigrated from in 1990.

Musonda has since become a permanent resident of the U.S., and lived in Colorado and Washington state, where he studied finance at Gonzaga University.

This is not his last visit to the embassy, he said. “Lord willing, I might come tomorrow.”