A speech by Donald Trump could trigger a new wave of Palestinian resistance—and protests in solidarity across the Middle East.
Trump made a speech on Wedmesday describing the Palestinian city of Jerusalem as the “capital of Israel”. Trump didn't declare immediate plans to move the embassy, saying that relocation could take years. But his speech gives open support to Israel’s claim to rightfully own the city—and encourages Israelis who want to grab even more Palestinian land.
Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, warned that the move would end the peace talks that have helped to stifle resistance to Israel. Palestinian resistance group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has called for a new Intifada—or uprising.
Mainstream commentators fretted that Trump’s speech would “inflame tensions” in the Middle East, as if the region is a mass of volatile people who need careful management.
They characterise the conflict over Jerusalem as essentially a religious one between Muslims and Jews. The city is hugely important to both religions.
But Palestinians’ anger over Jerusalem is so deep because for decades it has been a major site of their struggle against oppression and imperialism. Israel’s occupation of Jerusalem—and its relentless drive to push Palestinians out of the city—is a direct cause of Palestinian suffering today.
Israel has occupied the western part of Jerusalem since the city was divided in 1949. The division came after tens of thousands of Arabs were forced to flee Palestine when the state of Israel was established.
The Six Day War in 1967 saw Israel invade the rest of Jerusalem, later declaring it part of Israel in 1980.
The occupation of East Jerusalem has been a symbol of Israeli domination over Palestinians ever since.
Every year Israel celebrates Jerusalem Day—a national holiday rejoicing in the anniversary of East Jerusalem’s invasion. Tens of thousands of flag-waving Israelis march through Arab neighbourhoods, taunting, abusing and attacking Palestinians.
Today Palestinians in East Jerusalem live under a military occupation that dominates their lives and restricts their freedom in the city. They face a struggle to even be allowed to continue living there.
Israel demolishes Palestinian homes if they’ve been built without permits that are notoriously difficult to get. Israeli law also allows for Palestinians to be evicted to make way for Israeli settlers.
Israeli settlements and government offices in Jerusalem are designed to cement Israel’s grip on the city and deny hope to Palestinians of ever getting it back.
That’s why Jerusalem has been the focus of fierce Palestinian resistance to the Israeli occupation.
Struggles have centred on Israeli attempts to take further control of East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound—a major part of Palestinian’s lives.
When former Israeli president Ariel Sharon made an incursion into the compound, surrounded by Israeli riot police, in 2000 he sparked the Second Intifada—an uprising that lasted five years.
And just this year huge protests erupted across Palestine and the Middle East after Israeli soldiers invaded the compound and shut it completely.
It was the largest wave of protests since 2014. Trump’s speech could provoke resistance on an even bigger scale.