“After Trump, it is difficult,” she said. “No one knows” what will happen. She’s hoping that the uproar over his announcements will pass: There will be disruptions in Jerusalem “maybe for a few days, and then they’ll forget,” she said.
“So many people are just living their life, and would be disinterested in politics,” said Omar Yousef, a Palestinian architect who has tracked the political developments in the city, on Thursday night. “Not like they support the government … It’s more, ‘I’m retreating from following all of the political details, because I don’t believe in the players.’” The same frustrations have led a lot of people to resignation and grief, he said, rather than violent anger. “Somebody told me, ‘Why are you outraged? What were you expecting from the States or Trump?’”
Back at the Damascus Gate, 22-year-old Wissam Abu Madhi watched the protests from the sidelines with a group of friends. He had been protesting, he told me, but stepped out to finish his cigarette. “This is not angry days. These are normal days,” he said. He came out to protest because he has “a lot of negative energy,” but he wasn’t surprised that the crowd was small. “For me, I can scream, I can shout, but I’m going to be safe.”
One reason why Palestinians in Jerusalem may be less eager to turn out for protests is the threat of being policed by Israeli forces, as opposed to Arab police forces in other countries that might be more friendly to the cause.
About two hours after the protest started, as minor scuffles with police began to break out, dozens of soldiers streamed into the area and started breaking up groups of protesters. Soldiers on horseback chased down groups of boys on the streets above. The feeling turned from staged to serious; the cameras had backed away by this point. A few people were injured, and a couple were dragged away to be arrested. But aside from occasional bursts of yelling and pushing and a few thrown bottles and rocks, things stayed relatively calm.
For his part, Abu Madhi says he wishes the Israeli government would make East Jerusalem a little nicer. “You’ve been to Tel Aviv sometimes?” he asked me. “Clean country, high-speed world, green trees.” He pointed to the Damascus Gate area. “Why shouldn’t we have here a garden, and here a basketball court? This thing that I prefer, the government could do.” Even though he came out for the protest, he’s more focused on finishing his degree at Hebrew University and keeping his job in Beersheba, where he works on air conditioners, than pushing for political change. “I know it’s selfish,” he said. “But that’s okay.”
Eventually, a man brought a tarp out to the area near the Damascus Gate for the next round of prayers. More than 60 men lined up before the Old City, facing a row of cameras, a line of Israeli soldiers just behind them. This was the most peaceful form of protest—and the most normal thing in the world.
“Just one hour, and you’re going to see everything’s okay,” Abu Madhi said. “You’re going to see an Arabic man and a Jewish man sitting here.”