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Israel

‘Trump pulled the trigger’: scenes of outrage and joy follow US declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital

An hour before the US president delivered his speech, municipal authorities lit up the ancient walls of the Old City with images of the Israeli and American flags

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 December, 2017, 8:18pm

President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday that he would upend decades of US policy and recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was received with both celebration and fury in the divided city.

Israelis and Palestinians gathered around television sets to hear Trump lay out his plan to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, a step that would make it the only country to have its mission headquartered here.

An hour before Trump delivered his speech, municipal authorities lit up the ancient walls of the Old City with images of the Israeli and American flags “as a token of appreciation” to Trump for his anticipated recognition of Jerusalem.

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Incessant rain dampened reaction on both sides, with a planned celebration in one of the city’s main squares cancelled and Palestinian protests remaining limited, although a demonstration took place in the Gaza Strip.

Islamic Jihad, the second-largest militant group in Gaza, called the US decision a declaration of war. A police spokesman in Jerusalem said the force was preparing for the possibility of large demonstrations Friday.

This is an unprecedented, very dangerous escalation from the president of the United States. It will explode a third intifada
Hamdi Diab

Trump’s announcement came despite statements of protest from Arab and Muslim countries, Europe and church leaders including the pope.

Successive US administrations have held off moving the embassy from Tel Aviv for two decades, in line with an international consensus that Jerusalem’s status should be decided in a final peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

In Shufat camp in East Jerusalem, home to Palestinians displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, young men played snooker and cards as they waited for Trump to speak.

“Jerusalem is a time bomb,” said Hamdi Diab, a camp leader. “This is an unprecedented, very dangerous escalation from the president of the United States. It will explode a third intifada.”

“It’s heresy, nonsense,” said Majdi Busaileh, 43, as he watched. “He pulled the trigger, Trump pulled the trigger.”

Others uttered profanities. One man held up a picture on his phone of the American and Israeli flags projected onto the Old City walls.

“This means another intifada,” he said. A youth buried his head in his hands as Trump displayed the signed declaration.

Speaking in a televised address immediately after Trump’s speech, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the US decision rewarded Israel for its occupation and that the “reprehensible” act undermined all peace efforts. He described Jerusalem as the “eternal capital” of the Palestinian people, and said that would not change.

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Many Israelis interpreted the president’s decision on Jerusalem as a long-overdue acknowledgement of the status quo.

“This is a historic day,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “It’s been the capital of Israel for nearly 70 years. Jerusalem has been the focus of our hopes, our dreams, our prayers for three millennia. Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years.”

Some were more guarded in their satisfaction.

“I think that this announcement could be monumental but at the same time could be very anticlimactic,” said Yoni Katz, a Jerusalem resident.

Ruth Lieberman, a political consultant, said she has been busy organising groups to celebrate on social media.

“It’s a joyous occasion,” she said. “People want to express how they feel out loud and with others, but rain has put a damper on things. We were hoping to dance in the street, but we are dancing in our hearts.”

Lieberman said she and others want to make sure Americans know how they feel about the step Trump took.

“We welcome it,” she said. “It is not something new, but it is an important but understandable step by the administration. We would like to say thank you in a big way.”