Tuesday, November 24, 2020

“Our problem is occupation”: reactions to Trump’s declaration in Jerusalem

By The Palestine Monitor - December 21, 2017
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [US foreign policy]

A few days after US President Donald Trump's speech recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, life in the Old City of Jerusalem seemingly carried on as normal. Tourists and pilgrims wandered around the shops selling local artisanal products and religious souvenirs in the souk's winding and damp alleys.

This part of the city is located in East Jerusalem, internationally recognised as under Israeli occupation. The green line, which marks Israel's borders prior to the 1967 war, runs not far from here.

UN resolutions and the international community do no recognise Israel's unilateral annexation and declaration of Jerusalem as its “unified capital” in 1980. No state has its embassy in the city, although some have diplomatic representations in East Jerusalem. Under pressure from part of his constituency, Trump announced the US will also begin the process of moving its embassy there from Tel Aviv, making it the first state to do so.

For Palestinians, who claim the eastern part as the capital of their future state, the move amounts to a de-facto legitimisation of Israel's annexation. The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest points in the conflict. It was left unresolved in the interim Oslo Accords signed in 1993 and 1995, and its fate was to be determined in peace negotiations. Negotiations which have been going nowhere since.

The Palestinian leadership reacted with strong words to the announcement, saying it would signal the end of any possibility for a two-state solution and disqualify the US, which has been leading the peace process, as an “honest broker”. Both Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian political parties, called on people to take to the streets in protest. But demonstrations have been rather top-down and so far failed to draw the masses out onto the streets.

Despite that, clashes between Palestinian youth and Israeli forces continue across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem neighborhoods almost on a daily basis. Last weekend only, four Palestinians died in Gaza and the West Bank. Hundreds have been injured and arrested since protests began.

Rami, 29, who owns a flower shop near Damascus Gate, said he didn't think the declaration would dramatically change things for Palestinians in East Jerusalem.

“We are under occupation,” Rami said. “The problem with the declaration is that it says we are not,” he said.

Deeper into the Old City, Mumtaz, who owns a souvenir shop, like many others was initially reluctant to talk about Trump's declaration.

“Trump had a problem inside his government and with Russia, that's why he decided to do this,” he began.

“For us Palestinians, we cannot build, work or earn money under occupation. If we work, we get paid less,” he argued. The Israeli government rarely issues building permits to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, who are sometimes forced to demolish their own homes to avoid incurring huge fines to take down what the municipality considers illegal construction.

“Our problem is occupation, not religion. But they want to make it that,” he added.

On talking to Jewish Israelis on the streets of Jerusalem, it appears to be almost evenly split when asked if they support US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Jewish Israeli reactions range from; “Israel was God given, a gift to the Jewish, [so] Jerusalem is only for the Israeli government,” as 39 year old Orthodox Jew, Avi Samat expressed, to: “I don’t think America’s recognition should mean anything to us, it’s only added tension,” as 32-year-old Smadar Regev said, worried about potential clashes near her home.

Sixty- five year old Nehenia Ashkenzy agrees with the White House, but somewhat contradicts himself in also believing the east side is for Palestinians. “Maybe the Wailing Wall, it belongs us (the Jews), after the wall it’s theirs,” Ashkenzy said. “All the people talk about Jerusalem like it’s this side and this side, not together,” he continued, motioning with his hands. “But when we have peace, Jerusalem is Jewish, besides the Palestinians,” Ashkenzy emphasised the East side is for Palestinians, though not completely realising the Wailing Wall falls on the eastern side.

The majority of Jewish Israeli citizens Palestine Monitor spoke to do not seem to support the US statement. Most would prefer the capital split, the West for Israelis and the East for Palestinians, including the old city.

24-year-old Eden feels like she doesn’t have a connection to the East Jerusalem. “A big part of Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, we don’t really know, it’s two cities in one city, that’s how it feels. I believe they [the Palestinians, can have that side] and we can live together in harmony and peace,” Eden said.

Others stressed the possibility of living in a unified capital. “East Jerusalem, I don’t feel like it’s my capital. The capital is here,” industrial design student Yarin Ariv said as he stood in Mahane Yehuda Market in West Jerusalem. “But because we aren’t just Jewish in our country, maybe [the capital] should be the whole city,” Ariv concluded.

Batsheva Shamama, a history teacher born in Jerusalem, said she knew the facts; “Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. It could be divided, but only if the Palestinians really want real peace. They could have had part of Israel and part of Jerusalem, but they don’t want us (the Jews) here at all,” Shamama said, referring to the 1947 UN Partition Plan the Arab world rejected.

Back in East Jerusalem, 40-year-old Samer from Beit Hanina, who owns a store selling beauty products near Damascus Gate, responds to the well-known mantra:

“They are making a fool out of everyone in the world [with the declaration]. The peace process is also not good. Not that I am not with the peace. I'm with peace but not in this way,” Samer said.

He points out that while negotiations stalled, Israel has been building more settlements, including in East Jerusalem, while Palestinians continue to live under a system of discrimination.

“The ID card we have, has an expiry date,” he said referring to the blue ID most East Jerusalemites hold. They are not citizens of Israel but became “permanent residents” after annexation. This status, however, is dependent on Palestinians continually proving their connection to the city. More than 14,000 East Jerusalemites have seen their residency revoked since 1967.

“If foreigners take a permission to come here, they have a permission to stay for some time. For us it's the same. Maybe when we go renew it, they tell us no, we will not give you your ID. We are the Palestinian people not from today, from a long time ago,” Samer said.



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