Palestinians in Jerusalem Have a New Enemy: Donald Trump

Anger on the streets around the Old City after Friday prayers as Arabs express their disgust at the U.S. president's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

Palestinian protesters hold a poster bearing an image of Trump and the Palestinian flag during a demonstration at Damascus Gate in the Jerusalem's Old City on December 8, 2017.
AFP PHOTO / Gali TIBBON

Mousa Resheq says he felt physically ill when he heard U.S. President Donald Trump announce that the United States was recognizing the city Mousa was born and grew up in as the capital of Israel.

Trump is a crazy man. How is he even president? I still don’t understand,” said Resheq, 42, a Palestinian from East Jerusalem. “This is a holy land for all Muslims, not just Palestinians. We are here. We live here and we will die here,” added Resheq, who works at a cellphone shop across the street from Damascus Gate – the main entrance to the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City.

As he spoke, crowds of protesters thronged nearby, along the steps that lead down to the gate and the road that borders it. Occasionally, protesters scuffled with Israeli security forces in riot gear. Israeli forces on horseback pushed some of the protesters back, galloping a few times right by the shop where Resheq works.

Clashes turned violent a few miles away in Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank. About 60 people were wounded in the West Bank and Gaza, where one protester was killed.

The anger that is heard in conversations and seen in skirmishes between Israeli security forces and Arab protesters in the streets and alleyways of East Jerusalem is nothing new, after 50 years of Israeli occupation. But for Palestinian East Jerusalemites, Trump is a new target for that anger.

Until word emerged this week that Trump would be recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital – breaking with decades of U.S. presidential policy not to make an official call on what is considered one of the most sensitive issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – he was seen more as a distant curiosity.

There was even an early flicker of hope among some in the Palestinian Authority leadership that maybe, just maybe, Trump’s “deal of the century” boasts of a peace deal in the works might bear fruit. But if that sentiment still held sway, it has swiftly been washed away in recent days.

Squeezing halves of oranges and pomegranates to make purple-colored juice in clear plastic cups for passing tourists, Hani, 57, used an expletive to describe his thoughts on Trump.

Israeli policemen detaining a Palestinian protester at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on December 8, 2017.
Gali Tibbon/AFP

“Who is he? Because he is president of America does he think he can control and decide things for other people? He knows nothing about anything, so what does he know about Jerusalem? He knows nothing about the city. He is a follower, not a leader,” said Hani, who owns a small falafel shop in the Old City and asked that his last name not be published.

“Let him take care of America’s problems,” added Hani, who spent 12 years in California until the September 11 attacks of 2001, after which he couldn’t get his visa renewed, he said. He suspects it was because he was Palestinian.

After Friday prayers, the streets and alleyways of the Old City’s Muslim Quarter were filled with worshippers streaming out of Al-Aqsa Mosque – the mosque that sits on the most highly contested piece of real estate in the region, known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as Temple Mount.

Hussein Abed, 48, was among those returning from afternoon prayers. He comes here to pray every week from his home in a nearby East Jerusalem neighborhood, he said. For him, Trump’s Jerusalem announcement just confirmed all of the bad feelings he’d harbored about him.

“Trump is bad for everyone. He’s bad for America, for those of us here and for the entire world,” Abed said, before heading for home.