The angry Friday protests triggered by the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel died down in recent weeks, falling from a peak of thousands to a couple of hundred. However, in the wake of President Trump’s latest announcement that the US embassy will officially open in Jerusalem on May 14, many in the Gaza Strip are gearing up for another eruption.
The day chosen by Trump for the next move in this high-stakes chess game is just one day before the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (catastrophe, or the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians to create Israel).
“Trump could have saved us from this if he had declared the eastern part of Jerusalem as Palestine’s capital,” Mahmoud al-Majdalani, member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Executive Committee, said in an interview with Media Line.
However, the United States’ Jerusalem move is just one factor contributing to the current sense of crisis. Earlier this month, an explosion wounded several security guards of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah shortly after his convoy entered the Strip from Israel, perhaps mortally wounding the already-shaky reconciliation between his Fatah party and Hamas. Add to that, the increasingly dire conditions within Gaza due to a decade of blockade and the result is a recipe for disaster.
“Everyone realises today that Gaza has become a volcano ready for eruption, but no one knows the consequences of this explosion as well as its impacts on the region in general,” Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas political bureau, told journalists.
During the height of this winter season, the average home in Gaza received only three to four hours of electricity daily; unemployment has reached 43 percent overall, and 60 percent among youth, specifically; and as of the end of last year, only seven percent of the construction materials needed to rebuild after the destruction of the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza had made it into the Strip.
“People will go to border [in protest] in May not only because of the move of the US embassy, but also because people are desperate for change,” says Ahmed Samhan, a 22-year-old Gazan student.
Basel Abu Askar, an unemployed university graduate, agrees. “Yes, Jerusalem is a top priority and we should fight for it, but we also need jobs and opportunities. We can’t be a shield for our capital otherwise.”
Tahani Mohammed, a Palestinian Authority (Fatah) worker in Gaza whose salary was recently cut by 30 percent as part of the political dispute, adds that when she protests, it will not only be for Jerusalem, but also for “our rights as PA employees.”
Clearly, Gazan Palestinians have many reasons to protest.
Huda Abu Nema, a young Gazan activist, worries something “big and dangerous will happen, like another Intifada.”
Some Palestinians are laying plans for what they hope will be the largest demonstration in Gaza’s history. Although Hamas officials have been quoted as “owning” the plans, Gaza youth Ahmed Abu Ayesh insists it is independent and has formed an informal coordinating committee to plan a six-week-long “tent city” protest near the border starting March 30, Land Day, to demand Palestinian refugees be allowed to return to their ancestral homeland and what is now Israel.
When asked if such protests are effective, given the lack of international action to date, response on the street is mixed.
Samhan is optimistic. “Demonstrations are watched globally and give us a chance for our voices to be heard,” he says.
Abu Nema considers protests to be ineffective, but inevitable. “We can’t do anything to change the [Jerusalem] decision. We are losing our beloved ones for nothing. But protesting is our only way to express our feelings and reactions.”
The key, says Qadura Fares, a former Palestinian Authority minister and current head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club, is non-violence.
“We need to show we are not only capable of violent protest. I think that the Palestinian nation needs to protest intensely, but not violently, and we need to stop behaviours that are not helping our cause.”
On the other hand, some Palestinians say they are too busy surviving to protest and call on other Arab countries to take more responsibility, at least for Jerusalem.
Mohammed Abu Amsha, a taxi driver in Gaza, says his family is his main priority. “Jerusalem is not only for Palestinians; it is also every Muslim and Christian, for that matter. I have to have a suitable life before I can fight and protest for Jerusalem.”