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Hebrew media review

Apocalypse some other time

Despite predictions of the region exploding over Trump's Jerusalem recognition, papers note the weekend protests were pretty weak — though nothing is over yet

Palestinian children look at graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump and slogans against US Vice President Mike Pence painted on Israel's security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian protesters near an Israeli checkpoint on December 7, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)
Palestinian children look at graffiti depicting US President Donald Trump and slogans against US Vice President Mike Pence painted on Israel's security barrier in the West Bank city of Bethlehem during clashes with Palestinian protesters near an Israeli checkpoint on December 7, 2017. (AFP/Thomas Coex)

On Sunday morning, the front pages of Israeli papers are filled with pictures of violent protests over the weekend against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but the pictures seem to tell a different story than the text.

As headlines and stories faithfully tally the number of killed and maimed, the rockets fired and rocks thrown, a general picture emerges that things were actually calmer than the doomsday scenarios that had been predicted, with the biggest news coming out of two places that hadn’t even entered people’s consciousness before the weekend: Wadi Ara and Sderot.

Haaretz describes the clashes all over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem as “serious,” but the most serious thing Yedioth Ahronoth can come up with is in the one place not mentioned in that list, the Wadi Ara region in north-central Israel abutting the West Bank, where protests “surprised even the police,” according to the tabloid.

The paper’s focus on that spot is seemingly due to the fact that its own photographer found himself becoming the news, allowing the paper to crank the drama way past 11 on the dial.

“In the heart of the country, against masked rioters pelting me with stones,” reads the headline of the paper, over a picture of said protesters throwing rocks at photographer Gil Nehushtan’s motorcycle, abandoned as he escaped the mob.

Israeli security forces at the scene in Wadi Ara following clashes between Palestinians and police, as Palestinians demonstrated against US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on December 9, 2017. (Flash90)

“In all my years as a photographer for Yedioth Ahronoth, I’ve covered an untold number of protests. But none of them prepared me for what happened yesterday in the heart of the country,” Nehushtan writes, though it seems as if his main complaint is with the police, who he says abandoned him and others to the madding crowd.

“After I was left alone with the masked people, I decided to run to the highway and get away. I saw that they were busy destroying my bike and I understood: by escaping I apparently was saved from a lynching,” he writes.

Things looking much worse than they are also bleeds into an analysis by Haaretz’s Amos Harel, who writes that both sides managed to keep a lid on things, right underneath pictures that one might think show the lid flying off.

“The exacting open-fire directives issued to Israeli army forces led to clashes of relatively low intensity, and a considerable portion of those injured on the Palestinian side suffered from tear gas inhalation. The Palestinian Authority had an interest in demonstrating a broad show of force, while at the same time keeping a lid on things and not harming security cooperation with Israel,” he writes. “The limited number of demonstrators was not convincing enough to show that the American declaration on Jerusalem had angered the Palestinian grassroots to the same extent that it concerned their leadership. But in a highly unusual development — and perhaps as a result of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah — the two groups organized a joint protest in Hebron in which the Hamas flag was publicly displayed in the West Bank for the first time in years.”

In Israel Hayom, columnist Oded Granot writes that the relative paucity of violence points to a Palestinian public not itching for another intifada.

“The piddling answer to the Palestinian call to go out into the streets and fight the IDF is reminiscent of the population’s same controlled response during the wave of knife attacks in the wake of events on Al-Aqsa,” he writes. “In both cases, the overwhelming majority in the territories proved that they are not looking at the moment for a Third Intifada, which will bring much death and destruction.”

Yedioth takes it a step further, nearly trolling the Palestinians with a headline reading “Thousands of likes online, a few dozen protesters,” referring to demonstrations near Jerusalem’s Old City.

A Palestinian protester hurls a rock at Israeli forces “during clashes near the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City on December 9, 2017, following US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Yet in the same paper, defense columnist Alex Fishman advises that nothing is over yet and an intensification of the fighting may still be in the offing, pointing to the spread of fighting across the Green Line to Wadi Ara.

“The violent joining of hands by Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line is a recipe for the fire to grow,” he writes. “Only by next weekend will we be able to assess if the train that started to roll with Trump’s speech on Wednesday will be hitting the brakes.”

Of course, the impact of Trump’s proclamation goes beyond just sparking protests. Israel Hayom’s front page is focused on the diplomatic fallout as well, with its main headline being US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s comments that the international community’s obstinacy is not helping peace.

Yet even the tabloid has trouble coming up with any tangible effect Trump’s move will have on the ground in the short term, though bless its soul for trying.

“It’s still not clear what effects the presidential proclamation on Jerusalem will have, but it’s safe to say some difference will be felt in official government paperwork. Everyone remembers that at the funeral for Shimon Peres, the White House emphasized that then-president Barack Obama was going to “Jerusalem” and not Israel in official statements (and even erased An official statement that called it “Jerusalem, Israel” by mistake.) An indication of the change may be felt during the visit of Mike Pence. A senior State Department official said in a briefing to reporters that the government was in the process of studying changing its official maps and will look at how to show that change on them,” the paper notes in a full page Q&A.

Haaretz’s Jacky Khoury meanwhile sees in the pronouncement an opening for the Palestinians to make a move toward getting East Jerusalem recognized as their capital.

“From the standpoint of the Palestinians, it is becoming clear over the last few days that the consequences of Trump’s declaration have not been so bad. The countries of the world are not flocking to follow in Trump’s footsteps,” he writes. “On the contrary, most have rushed to condemn the declaration and state that their own stance has not changed. They are actually adopting the Palestinian narrative that West Jerusalem is Israel’s and East Jerusalem is the Palestinians’. Even countries such as Britain and Germany have quickly disassociated themselves from the American position.”

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