Witness in Palestine: Trump Recognizes of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

From the January/February 2018 PNL #858

by Julia Ganson

The first impact of the announcement on me directly happened even before it was officially made on December 7. The US Consulate in Jerusalem that monitors the safety of US citizens in the West Bank contacted me 24 hours beforehand and directed me to stay away from the campus where I work, warning that “Birzeit University students are known to be highly politicized.” The consulate officer told me to cancel my appointments the next afternoon in Ramallah, and ideally to stay home for at least the next few days. I reminded them that I planned to travel to Nazareth in the Galilee, Israel the following day to attend the annual conference on the Legal Status of the Arab Community in Israel. They said we would have to see about that. It took me a few hours to realize that these US Department of State workers were afraid that US citizens would be targeted.

By early the next day, things remained quiet, and I got the go-ahead for the trip to Nazareth. This involved a taxi ride into the center of Ramallah, a short walk, the 1.5 hour bus ride from Ramallah to Jerusalem (less than 10 miles, but through a checkpoint at the Wall), another walk, and finally, the bus ride to Nazareth.

My wake-up call was the group taxi driver’s loud, angry rant in Arabic during our 10-minute ride. I turned to the person sitting next to me and asked, “He’s talking about Trump?” He simply nodded. I felt the emotion conveyed, but I did not feel afraid or that it was directed at me. The walk through the center of Ramallah revealed a general strike in progress (all shops were closed) and a large peaceful demonstration with Palestinian flags, banners, and music.

I was the only non-Palestinian aboard a half-full bus to Jerusalem. When we got to the southern edge of Ramallah and were nearing a checkpoint, I could see a large group of teenage boys in the street, building a barricade with a dumpster and piles of construction materials and burning tires. It took the bus about 10 minutes to slowly maneuver around the obstacles. I moved away from the window into an aisle seat when stones were thrown at the bus. That made no sense to me since the bus was full of Palestinians, but it could have been in protest of public transportation in operation when a general strike had been called.

The queue was longer than usual at the checkpoint, and Israeli soldiers boarded the bus to check identity papers and passports, but this is often done. After arriving in East Jerusalem, I walked past Damascus Gate towards Central Bus Station. Hundreds of Palestinian men were gathered outside the gate; a little further were Israeli police and soldiers with full military gear. But no confrontation had taken place and no violence as yet.

In Nazareth, an “Arab city” in Israel, the responses to Trump’s announcement were not encoded in public protests or demonstrations. The conference was meant to focus on the current Jewish Nation-State bill in the Knesset and its implications for democracy, human rights, and the Middle East Peace Process. Emotions ran high during the panel discussions, as speakers expressed frustration over Arab political party differences and lack of influence of Palestinian representation. The underlying tension was clearly the Trump announcement two days before; on occasion this was specifically referred to as the latest setback.

All around Nazareth appeared political posters by the local youth movement of a photo of Jerusalem along with some Arabic script. The photo is from an unusual angle that includes the most important mosque and the most significant church in the city. The message that it means to convey is that Palestinians will not be divided by religion over Jerusalem; Muslims and Christians agree that it is a holy city for everyone. And, the writing below was translated as “The US Empire will soon end.”

Julia is a member of SPC’s Justice for Palestine Committee and the joint Beyond War and Militarism Committee. She is currently teaching at Birzeit University in the West Bank.