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In Jerusalem’s Old City, residents brush off brash Trump rhetoric

Proposed Muslim ban to US ‘a joke,’ just election talk, say Palestinians; Jews, Christians divided on outcome

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Nidal and his son (unnamed) in his shop on Christian Quarter Road in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 9, 2016 (Tamar Pileggi/Times of Israel)
Nidal and his son (unnamed) in his shop on Christian Quarter Road in the Old City of Jerusalem on November 9, 2016 (Tamar Pileggi/Times of Israel)

As Donald Trump’s US election victory sent shockwaves across the world on Wednesday, reactions to the president-elect in Jerusalem’s Old City were as diverse as the communities who live and work in the capital’s historic district.

Muslims living in the Old City largely reacted to Trump’s victory and its potential impact on the region with indifference. Citing previous US failures to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement and what some described as Washington’s inherent pro-Israel bias, local Muslims appeared equally unimpressed and disinterested by either candidate.

“I don’t like Trump or Clinton, they both belong to Israel,” a man who identified himself as Nidal said outside his t-shirt store on Christian Quarter Road. “I’d say they’re bad and even worse.”

“History has shown us that no US president has been fair in his Middle East policy in the last 70 years or so,” he said. “Americans are always on Israel’s side,” Nidal S. said, shrugging. “What would either of them have done for us anyway?”

Shaban R in his souvenir shop on Christian Quarter road on November 9, 2016 (Tamar Pileggi/Times of Israel)
Shaban in his souvenir shop on Christian Quarter Road on November 9, 2016 (Tamar Pileggi/Times of Israel)

The owner of a neighboring souvenir shop on the bustling tourist thoroughfare agreed.

“Previous American presidents have always talked about peace, but we’ve seen nothing,” Samer, who also declined to give his last name, told The Times of Israel. Palestinians, he said, for the most part were uninterested in American politics.

“But at least if Trump doesn’t like you, he’ll say it to your face,” he conceded with a half-smile.

Local Muslims seemed equally unfazed by Trump’s controversial proposal to ban Muslims from the US over security concerns.

“It’s just election talk, almost all candidates become extremists when they want to get elected,” said Hebron resident Shaban, who asked not to use his last name. “When someone new comes on to the scene and says something shocking, people like it.”

“We as Palestinians didn’t care about [the proposed ban], other Arabs probably did care about it, but we didn’t.”

Walid, a West Bank Palestinian who boasts a century-long family lineage to a Palestinian village in the West Bank, also brushed off the proposed ban as a campaign tactic.

Muslim worshipers visit the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 07, 2016. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)
Muslim worshipers visit the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on November 7, 2016. (Sebi Berens/Flash90)

“Everyone knows this is a joke,” he said. “Trust me, when he gets to office, he won’t say these things.

Walid pointed to other controversial remarks Trump made during his campaign. “That [Mexico border] wall he was talking about? That makes no logical sense.”

“But we do need to wait and see whether he will actually back up those words with actions,” he said. “Inshallah, he’ll do something good for his people, but only God knows.”

Marc Zell, the head of Republicans Overseas Israel branch, visits at the Western Wall in Jerusalem Old City on November 9, 2016, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Marc Zell, left, head of Republicans Overseas Israel branch, visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on November 9, 2016, (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Really glad that Hillary didn’t get in,” an Old City tour guide who identified himself as Roddy told The Times of Israel. “I woke up this morning feeling hopeful and relieved. I’m hopeful because he’s the only hope we have, the alternative was horrendous.”

A recent immigrant from the US to Israel, Roddy hailed Trump’s campaign for “taking on the whole world and the entire American media establishment.”

“Now, Americans have put him in a place where he can fix problems,” he said. “His promises to back Israel will come true because when he says something, he does it.”

Israeli cab driver Barak Hananiyeh also hailed Trump’s win as a positive sign for the Jewish state.

“It’s a new world today,” he told The Times of Israel excitedly at Jaffa Gate’s taxi stand. “Everything has changed.”

“He’s no friar [sucker] — going from a man who’s never been in politics before to becoming the most powerful man in the world — he knows what he’s doing.”

“He’s going to be good for Israel,” he said. “Plus, that’s what America gets for humiliating him in the media for all those months.”

President-elect Donald Trump speaks, in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
President-elect Donald Trump speaks, in the early hours of Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

A rare exception to the weary reaction to President-elect Trump among Old City Arabs was a Christian storeowner who hailed Tuesday’s election result as a sign of hope for renewed US-Israel relations.

“We are with Trump,” said the storeowner who asked to remain anonymous for fears of reprisals over his remarks.

“Under Clinton, nothing would have changed in America’s policy towards Israel, but now we have reason to be hopeful for a new beginning in America’s relations with Israel,” he said. “I’m sure that there will be change in America now, not like under Mr. Obama who promised change for years, but did nothing.”

“We are just so happy that this war of hatred is finally over,” he said. “They shouldn’t have attacked each other so much, the whole campaign was vicious, such a mess.”

While he couldn’t vote, the 60-something storeowner said he stayed up all night to watch the election results. “When you start a really good movie, you have to finish it,” he said with a twinkle in his eye.

Not everyone in Jerusalem had an opinion on the surprise results of the election.

Samer, the owner of a tiny falafel shop in the on the Old City’s historic Via Dolorosa, only vaguely recognized the name of President-elect Trump.

“Oh yes, you mean Trumpet,” he said as he prepared Arabic coffee over a stovetop in the back of his shop.

“I don’t know anything about Trumpet or what he will do. Only God knows what will happen,” he said. “But for us, it doesn’t really matter, because here the situation will probably stay the same.”

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