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Palestinian students on campus react to President Trump’s recent declaration by Afnan nehela

Just days ago, President Donald Trump formally announced that the United States will recognize Jerusalem the official capital of Israel. Trump also stated that he will be moving the American embassy to Jerusalem.

“Today, we finally acknowledge the obvious: that Jerusalem is Israel's capital,” Trump said. “This is nothing more, or less, than a recognition of reality. It is also the right thing to do. It's something that has to be done.”

In the past, U.S. presidents have declined to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — in efforts to uphold the image of the United States as a neutral peace broker, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their political capital. Trump’s controversial move has been criticized by many as a move away from the United States’ role as a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the decision has been met with protests across the Middle East, from Lebanon to Indonesia.

Here on the University of Massachusetts campus, Trump’s announcement has stirred strong reactions among Palestinian students.

Amani Altell, a freshman public health major, was born in Palestine and currently has family living there. Altell said she was not shocked after hearing the recent statement from Trump.

“The right for him to make this decision was basically handed to him because no one stood up for Palestine enough to stop it from happening,” said Altell. “We do not do anything about it until it reaches this far. What are we able to do now?”

“Every single Palestinian should have the right to live peacefully and to be treated equally.” - Amani Altell

She added that there needs to be more proactive steps taken in order to educate the masses about Palestinian human rights.

“People have fought for civil rights in the U.S., LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights and now it’s about time that we fight for Palestinians’ human rights,” Altell said. “Every single Palestinian should have the right to live peacefully and to be treated equally.”

Altell says she hopes her voice will provide an outlet to help Palestinians who feel they are often silenced in the American political climate.

“We will gain the right for everyone to go back and live on the lands of what was and will always be ours,” she said. “Jerusalem is forever ours, and only ours.”

Saleh Aqleh, a junior civil engineering major, said he sees the recent declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel as an opportunity for others to witness, “for the 100th time the injustices the Palestinian people face.” He believes that Trump was in “no position to hand over something that clearly doesn't belong to him, to people that don't have the right to be there.”

Saleh Aqleh, dressed in all black, flaunts a Palestinian scarf to show support of those affected by Trump's decision to declare Jerusalem Israel's capital.

“I am past the anger and rage,” he continued. “All that's left is…disbelief that the world can let such horrendous things happen to people while still claiming to be humane.”

President of UMass Students for Justice in Palestine Leila Aruri said she thinks that Trump’s decision to make that statement stresses the “theft of land” that the U.S. has allowed to occur for a long time.

“As a Palestinian-American whose grandfather was born into this world in the very city of Jerusalem, Palestine, my hope is that Trump’s declaration makes crystal clear the façade of the ‘peacemaking process’ and empowers all of us in the United States to divorce complacency and start taking seriously the role of the U.S. in perpetuating an apartheid regime,” said Aruri.

The UMass SJP is a human rights and political justice group that, according to their Campus Pulse webpage, stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people for their right to not live under Israeli occupation, for Palestinian citizens of Israel to be treated equally and, for Palestinian refugees, the right to return to Palestine.

Aruri mentioned that she will be sending out an email to the organization’s members providing resources and information for those affected.

"Palestinians and most Arabs do not see the U.S. as an honest broker of peace in any case..." - David Mednicoff

David Mednicoff, an assistant professor of public policy and director of Middle Eastern studies, said that the Jerusalem move may not lead to dramatic changes in Middle Eastern politics, at least for now.

“Because little progress on Israeli-Palestinian peace has been made for many years and because Palestinians and most Arabs do not see the U.S. as an honest broker of peace in any case, the embassy move may not have the short-term dramatic consequences that some fear,” said Medincoff.

Despite the political chaos, many Palestinian students are organizing and trying to spread awareness on the issue.

“We know that Palestine is ours but the rest of the world thinks otherwise, and trying to convince people who are uneducated about the topic is hard,” said Altell.

Afnan Nehela can be reached at anehela@umass.edu.

Photos by Afnan Nehela

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