Palestinians in Ramallah protest U.S. announcement on Jerusalem because city 'is like our second mother'

Hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated on Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of a general strike in response to the U.S. declaration on Jerusalem, writes Derek Stoffel.

Jerusalem is 'the heart of Palestine,' said one protester

Tala Anati, right, with checkered scarf, was among those who demonstrated in Ramallah on Thursday against the recent U.S. announcement declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Tala Anati has visited Jerusalem only twice, but she is very much opposed to the recent U.S. announcement declaring it the capital of Israel.

"Jerusalem is like our second mother, and it's the heart of Palestine," Anati said while clutching a Palestinian flag. "It's the capital, it's the one and only capital for Palestine."

Anati, 16, was one of hundreds of Palestinians who demonstrated on Thursday in the West Bank city of Ramallah as part of a general strike by Palestinians that saw schools, universities, government offices and many shops shuttered for the day.

In a speech on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump called Jerusalem the capital of Israel and announced plans to move the American embassy there from Tel Aviv.

"I've judged this course of action to be in the best interests of the United States of America and the pursuit of peace between Israel and the Palestinians," Trump said.

In a speech responding to Trump's announcement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the decision was "an important step towards peace, for there is no peace that doesn't include Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel."

Netanyahu also called on other nations "that seek peace to join the United States in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital and to move their embassies here."

While the move was not a surprise, it still landed like a body blow for many Palestinians, who are now wondering whether there will be U.S. recognition of East Jerusalem as the capital of a potential future Palestinian state.

"We're so angry today and we, all of the Palestinians, stopped their work and didn't go to school, just to prove to the world that we are here and we will keep going and we will not stop," Anati said.

'Our message to the world'

Demonstrators in Ramallah chanted "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine."

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Palestinian militant group Hamas, called for a "day of rage" on Friday, which he said should "be the first day of the intifada," which was essentially a call for a new uprising against Israel.

In a speech on Wednesday, Haniyeh called Trump's statement a "declaration of war."

Basel Razzaq brought his young son to the demonstration in Ramallah. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)

Fatah, the faction led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is looking to the United Nations Security Council and the Arab League to launch diplomatic protests against the U.S. policy shift.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces broke out in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron and other centres.

Basel Razzaq brought his young son to the demonstration in Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital. They watched as Israeli police officers fired tear gas and rubber bullets, to try to deter young Palestinian men from hurling rocks.

"You have to come out [to the streets], because this is how you get the message across," said Razzaq, a Palestinian-Canadian who spent four years studying in Windsor, Ont.

Razzaq said because the Palestinian Authority is "too weak," Palestinians must resort to demonstrations to "send our message to the world."

'It's not going to be calm'

Like most Palestinians, Razzaq can only enter Jerusalem with special permission from the Israeli authorities. He last visited the city earlier this year to celebrate the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

"Jerusalem is very important, not only as a [place for] religion… but we all have family there, and we are not free to visit them," he said.

In some of the demonstrations, people could be seen burning U.S. and Israeli flags as well as photographs of President Trump.

According to Palestinian medics in the West Bank, more than two dozen Palestinians were injured by Israeli gunfire, which were a combination of rubber bullets and live fire.

A spokesperson for the Israeli military said "riot-dispersal gear" was deployed against hundreds of Palestinians throwing rocks during demonstrations.

Israel's army has sent additional soldiers into the West Bank to deal with the unrest, which is expected to last over the coming days.

Palestinians vowed not to let up the pressure.

"You can see what the message of the street is," Razzaq said, pointing to billowing smoke from tires that had been set on fire. "It's not going to be calm."

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.