Protests erupted throughout the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and cities across the Middle East on Thursday in what was dubbed a “day of rage” after President Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.
Trump announced on Wednesday that he would “officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” sparking worldwide condemnation, including from Washington’s closest allies in the region. Some Palestinian leaders called for a new intifada, or uprising, in response to the move.
In the wake of his speech, Palestinian factions called for a general strike on Thursday, and the Palestinian Education Ministry canceled classes so that students and teachers could participate in the demonstrations.
Thousands of residents poured into major thoroughfares in Ramallah, Jericho, Hebron and Bethlehem in the West Bank as well as East Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.
Although both sides have long claimed their right to Jerusalem, recent iterations of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process have designated East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
“How can the president of the United States flout international resolutions and ignore the feelings of millions of Arabs and Muslims?” asked Suha Arrar, a 43-year-old employee at the Palestinian Ministry of Health. She said she had come out to protest “the unprecedented arrogance of the U.S. administration.”
Ahmed Ghneim, a leader with the Palestinian faction Fatah, expressed his rejection of the Trump decision, adding that the “honeymoon” between Trump and Netanyahu would not come without costs.
“For 30 years, the Palestinian leadership thought the U.S. was the key to the solution,” he said. “Trump’s decision proved this key is not suitable for any solution.”
Mustafa Barghouthi, a Palestinian politician in the West Bank, insisted that Trump's decision “forbids Palestinians from having any contact with the U.S.,” which, he said, “has completely lost its role as a broker of the peace process."
“We must now unite behind an uprising that is based on nonviolence as Palestinian protests succeeded in removing the electronic gates at the entrance to the Aqsa Mosque in the summer.”
Clashes flared between the protesters and Israeli troops, who deployed water cannons and fired what appeared to be rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
At Qalandiya, the checkpoint for Palestinians crossing between the West Bank and East Jerusalem, young Palestinian men hunkered behind garbage containers before hurling rocks at nearby Israeli soldiers firing tear gas.
Video uploaded to social media showed a throng of Israeli soldiers racing through a deserted thoroughfare in Hebron while others grabbed a number of demonstrators and led them away.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society said in a statement on Thursday it had treated more than 108 wounded in Gaza and the West Bank, adding that a number had been shot with live ammunition.
In the largely Christian town of Beit Jala, a man was taken into custody after he rammed a truck into several vehicles, injuring at least seven people and damaging at least 22 vehicles, witnesses said. In protest, residents blocked a main road, demanding that Palestinian police provide them with proper protection. Some speculated that the unidentified driver, who fled the scene and was later captured by Israeli forces and turned over to Palestinian authorities, targeted Christians because of Trump, but that could not be confirmed.
Ismail Haniyah, head of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, said Trump’s announcement marked “a new equation” in the “Satanic alliance” between the U.S and Israel that could “only be confronted by launching the spark of a new intifada.” He added that Jerusalem was “unified,” and was Palestinian.
“There is no existence for Israel on the land of Palestine. It has no presence on the land of Palestine for it to have a capital,” he said. “We declare… that what is called the peace process has been buried… and forever.”
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority president and head of Fatah Mahmoud Abbass began a round of diplomatic maneuvering by meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Thursday, where police had cut off roads leading to the U.S. Embassy in the West Amman neighborhood of Abdoun to prevent protesters from reaching its grounds.
Both leaders, according to a statement issued by Jordanian state Petra, “affirmed that any measure to tamper with the historical and legal status of Jerusalem is null and void and will only lead to more tension and violence in the region and the world.”
Other regional governments echoed the sentiment, with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying on Thursday it was a “step that would throw… this region into a ring of fire.”
“What would you like to do [with this step], Mr. Trump? What kind of stance is it?” said Erdogan in a press conference in Ankara, according to Turkish state news operator Anadolu.
The Iraqi foreign ministry also summoned U.S. ambassador to Iraq Douglas Silliman to register its displeasure.
Even arch-rivals Tehran and Riyadh, in a rare moment of unity, described the decision as a bad one, with Tehran saying it would incite Muslims, spark an uprising and encourage extremism, and Riyadh calling it an “irresponsible and unwarranted” step.
Still, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif couldn’t resist taking a jab at the Saudis on Wednesday, tweeting that “if half the money spent by some of the rulers of the area to encourage terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and incitement against neighbors had been spent to liberate Palestine, we would not today be facing this American advance.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Trump for his “historic announcement,” insisting that other countries would soon follow suit and move their embassies to Jerusalem.
The Czech Republic, indeed, declared West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel shortly after Trump’s statement.
“Good morning and welcome to Jerusalem, the capital of the Jewish state of Israel,” said Netanyahu to a group of diplomats on Thursday in Jerusalem, according to the local daily newspaper Times of Israel. “If you weren’t aware of that until yesterday, you are now. But we’ve been aware of it for 3,000 years.”
In his speech, Trump said it was “time for the many [in the region] who desire peace to expel the extremists from their midst.” Yet the move appeared to have emboldened the very forces Trump seeks to undermine.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terrorist group’s Yemeni branch, said in a statement on Wednesday that Trump’s decision “was nothing more than the result of the steps toward normalization between a number of governments in the region, especially those in the [Persian] Gulf, and the Jewish occupation.”
Another Al Qaeda arm, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb — which operates in Algeria, Mali and Mauritania — also blamed the “traitorous apostate [Arab] rulers.”
Despite the escalation in rhetoric from Palestinian factions, some believed the announcement represented nothing new.
“People just woke up now and realized Jerusalem is occupied? It’s been under full Israeli control for decades,” said Manal Abboud, a 39-year-old schoolteacher and resident of of East Jerusalem standing near the Damascus Gate.
The U.S. Congress had passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, which stipulated the embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Since then, presidents have utilized a six-month waiver to postpone the move.
But others saw Trump’s decision as proof that, despite recent overtures from Arab leaders to the president, Arab nations have become a nonissue for the U.S.
“Look at all the things the U.S. has done in the last 40 years, the only conclusion in the way they treat us is that we are dispensable: The oil is flowing, the arms sales are continuing, the terrorists are pretty much contained, and so we just don’t matter,” said Rami Khouri, a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Middle East Initiative.
Khouri said Trump’s actions told him and other Palestinians that “I’m a piece of dirt, I have no rights, no voice, no meaning, no relevance, no strategic value … nothing.”