Following noon prayers on Friday, a small group of mostly young Palestinian men gathered on the far end of one of Bethlehem’s main thoroughfares adjacent to Rachel’s Tomb to protest US President Donald Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion a process to move the US Embassy there.
Standing some 200 meters away on the northern end of the road, approximately 25 armored border policemen and policewomen chatted, firmly holding onto tear gas grenade launchers, rubber-bullet guns and other weapons.
Within ten minutes, one of young men used a slingshot to lob a rock at the border police officers, who quickly responded, firing tear gas grenades at them. The young men – some of whom came prepared with gas masks – retreated, seemingly overwhelmed by the tear gas.
Some 15 minutes later, some of the protesters set a tire on fire to blur the border police officers’ vision and started hurling rocks at them again.
This time, the border police officers responded more forcefully, firing tear gas, dirty water and rubber bullets at them.
For the next three hours, the Palestinians and police officers repeated the same exchange. According to the Red Crescent, six people in Bethlehem, presumably including some of the young men, suffered injuries related to inhaling tear gas.
Samir, a resident of Bethlehem, who was participating in the clashes, said that the least Palestinians could do to reject Trump’s decisions about Jerusalem is to throw stones at Israeli forces.
“We know we don’t have weapons like them and that throwing stones won’t free Palestine or defeat them,” Samir said. “But we need to throw stones at them so the world knows that we are against Trump’s unjustifiable decisions.”
According to a local shop owner, clashes like the one on Friday in Bethlehem frequently take place in the same location and are nothing out of the ordinary. “It’s a type of routine,” he said.
In total, there were an estimated 70-80 teenagers and young men participating in the clashes, while a few hundred people observed in the distance.
Before Trump announced the new US positions on Jerusalem, many politicians, commentators and others predicted an outbreak of violence in the Middle East as a result.
“The American administration’s insistence on its decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem and recognize it as Israel’s capital will ignite conflict and lead to an increase in violence,” PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said on December 6, according to the official PA news site Wafa.
But on Friday in Bethlehem, the prediction of increased violence did not seem to come true.
Ali, an older man observing the clashes from a distance, said he was disappointed with the turnout for Friday’s protests, but added that he was confident more people would take to the streets in the coming days.
“There should have been more people protesting here today, but I know that the protests will grow tomorrow and the next day because no one can accept Trump’s assault on Jerusalem,” he said.
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