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Palestinians angry at US move, anxious to avoid violence

Amid ongoing clashes between Palestinian protestors and Israeli security forces, people on the ground from across the whole political, social, cultural and religious spectrum pray anxiously that the latest unrest does not spiral into full-blown conflict

By Christopher R. Altieri

Israel launched fresh airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, in response to rocket fire from the enclave. The Islamic Hamas group said two of its gunmen were killed in the bombings. Militants fired at least three rockets toward Israeli towns from the Hamas-controlled strip on Friday, a “day of rage” by Palestinian factions protesting U.S. President Donald Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

Palestinian protesters across the Palestinian Territories protested by the thousands earlier this week, in the wake of the controversial decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the US Embassy to that city. Protestors clashed with Israeli forces in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, while demonstrators in the Gaza Strip burned photographs of Trump along with US flags. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem – captured by Israel during the so-called Six-Day War in 1967 – as their capital, while Israel claims the entire city, including east Jerusalem.

Protests also reached the city of Bethlehem, which has been surrounded by an Israeli-built and maintained “security wall” since 2002.

Fr. Russell McDougall, C.S.C., Rector of the Tantur Ecumenical Institute of the University of Notre Dame, located between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, spoke with Vatican Media to share his observations on the unrest.

Listen to Philippa Hitchen's interview with Fr. Russell McDougall, CSC

“Bethlehem begins just down the hill from us,” he explained in a tellephon interview with Philippa Hitchen. “We’re at the top of the hill. So, we look right down into Bethlehem, and what I’ve been able to see – both [Thursday] and [Friday] are a number of rounds of tear gas that the Israeli military has fired from their vantage points on the wall – the different towers that are along the wall – down into Bethlehem, the area just across the wall from us.”

Fr. McDougall went on to say, “It’s very, very close. So, especially [Thursday], there were a lot of rounds of tear gas fired apparently into what I imagine, on the other side, were crowds – because there are often people who gather close to the wall, which is on the other side of Rachel’s Tomb, in order to protest – and so the Israelis often respond with tear gas. [Thursday], for a couple of hours, there [was] round after round, that I could both hear and see.”

Asked about the fears that this latest unrest could turn into more organized violent resistance, Fr. Russ responded that most people – the vast majority – are anxious to avoid such an eventuality.

“There is a sense of hopelessness, at the lack of progress in the so-called ‘peace process’, but I didn’t get much of a sense from people that I talked to that people really want to see a ‘Third Intifada’. There have been calls for that, and certainly, some quarters within Palestinian society would like to see that, as a way of pressuring Israel to come to the negotiating table, but most people I’ve talked to, including our own local staff here at Tantur, but also people I know in the area, is that people don’t want to see another violent intifada, because they’ve been there before.”

09 December 2017, 15:29