By Isabel Kershner
December 8, 2017
Thousands of Palestinian protesters confronted Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border on Friday, and thousands more clashed at military checkpoints across the West Bank.
Protests broke out after Friday Prayers from Beirut, Lebanon, to Istanbul, from Mogadishu, Somalia, to Tehran. In Amman, Jordan, demonstrators held large posters of President Trump bearing the words, “Go to hell.”
In the West Bank, scores of protesters were said to have been wounded, many by rubber-tipped bullets.
In Gaza, Palestinian health officials reported two deaths and scores of injuries from Israeli fire along the border.
Throwing stones at Israeli forces across the Gaza border fence and masking his face with a Palestinian flag, Mohammed Kharoub, 26, said he was willing to spill his own blood. “I am here for Jerusalem,” he said.
But the enormous wave of violence that had been feared after Mr. Trump’s decision to formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did not immediately materialize. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that dominates Gaza, had demanded a “day of rage” on Friday, calling on Palestinians to confront Israeli forces wherever they could, and for the start of a new intifada, or popular uprising.
But in the holy city itself, the main Friday Prayer at Al Aqsa Mosque was held without incident, according to the Israeli police, and the crowds that gathered afterward dispersed largely peacefully. Three Palestinians were arrested at the Damascus Gate to the Old City in East Jerusalem after scuffling with the police, Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said.
Later, at least two rockets were fired out of Gaza. The Israeli military said one was intercepted and another fell in open ground. After retaliatory Israeli airstrikes against Hamas military targets in Gaza, another rocket struck a road in the Israeli border town of Sderot.
But by nightfall, the protests had died down.
One possible reason for relative calm in the city at the centre of the storm was that the Israeli police did not try to bar young Palestinian men from attending the noon prayer at Al Aqsa Mosque, which it had done during previous tense periods. Limiting entry to the Muslim holy site has inflamed passions in the past.
And though Hamas called for an intifada, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has repeatedly stated that he does not want a third intifada to break out on his watch.
Analysts said the Palestinians may not be eager to embark on a new, sustained intifada because of fatigue, because of a sense that Mr. Trump’s decision probably cannot be reversed and because two previous uprisings did not bring them closer to the goal of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“The business community is fatigued, exhausted and angry,” said Mahdi Abdul Hadi, director of PASSIA, an independent Palestinian research institute in East Jerusalem. “Institutions are fighting for survival. The youth is not organized, cannot see a plan, leadership or direction.”
Resistance in the city is “spontaneous and individualistic,” he said.
Many of East Jerusalem’s Palestinians in any case feel ambivalent toward the Palestinian Authority and are largely cut off by Israel’s separation barrier from the West Bank.
Zakaria al-Qaq, a professor at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem, said the Palestinian Authority had long neglected Jerusalem and its Palestinian inhabitants, allocating a paltry part of its budget to them. With Mr. Trump’s decision, Mr. Qaq said, the authority was “paying a price” for its lack of strategy for the city.
Hamas also noted that the Palestinians were marking the 30th anniversary this week of the start of the first intifada, an uprising against Israeli occupation that began in Gaza, quickly spread to the West Bank and led to hundreds of deaths, most of them of Palestinians.
“Trump can never change the reality of history, geography and the identity of the holy city,” Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, said on local television.
Mr. Trump’s declaration on Wednesday was widely condemned internationally. At the United Nations, the United States faced strong criticism from friends and adversaries alike on Friday.
Most of the world considers East Jerusalem, which Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, as occupied territory, its status to be resolved through peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Despite the highly symbolic recognition, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that it would probably take two years to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem because of the logistics involved.
Mr. Trump’s declaration also garnered furious responses from leaders throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
In Lebanon, thousands rallied in Beirut and residents of Palestinian refugee camps were bused in to join the protest. “I’ve only ever seen Jerusalem in pictures,” said Abdullah Mustafa, a teenager from a refugee family. “But it’s my life.”
In Cairo, a preacher at Al Azhar Mosque, an ancient bastion of Sunni Muslim scholarship, railed against what he termed Mr. Trump’s “illegal” decision, which he compared to attacks on Christian churches by the Islamic State militant group. As prayers ended, congregants stood up chanting, “We sacrifice our souls and blood for you, Aqsa,” in reference to the Jerusalem mosque revered as the third-holiest site in Islam.
Thousands demonstrated peacefully in Istanbul’s historic quarter with calls against America and Israel. Despite restrictions against gatherings and protests under the state of emergency that has been in force for 18 months, police who usually break up demonstrations with tear gas allowed this one to go ahead with speeches and music in the park.
In Tehran, state-backed rallies were held after Friday Prayer. The hard-line imam Ahmad Khatami said during his sermon that “all the world is protesting Trump’s decision,” adding, “Some of the statesmen in America believe he has a mental problem and must receive treatment from doctors.”
“We have missiles, we build missiles and will increase the range of our missiles to 1,000 or 1,500 kilometres to deprive White House residents from a comfortable sleep,” Mr. Khatami continued. “We will not seek an atomic bomb,” he added, but “if a crazy state named the Zionist regime makes any mistake we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.”