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Rally for Palestinian prisoners in Bethlehem develops into anti-Trump protest

May 23, 2017 1:32 P.M. (Updated: May 23, 2017 3:45 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Palestinian activists set up an effigy representing Palestinian prisoners in front of the Nativity Church in Bethlehem on Tuesday, as US President Donald Trump arrived to the occupied West Bank city for a brief meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Protesters and journalists had gathered in Manger Square in an anticipation of a possible visit to the church, believed to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, as former US heads of state have traditionally visited the site during trips to the city.

However, after a short meeting with Abbas at the presidential palace in southern Bethlehem, and two press conferences delivered by the two, Trump promptly returned to Jerusalem, where he is expected to visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and the Israel Museum, concluding his two-day visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory before departing for the Vatican.

On Monday, Trump visited the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Western Wall in occupied East Jerusalem.

Trump’s arrival to the territory coincided with a mass hunger strike launched by more than 1,300 Palestinians prisoners in Israeli jails in protest of their conditions, which entered its 37th day on Tuesday.

Solidarity demonstrations centered around sit-in tents across the occupied Palestinian territory, which have been organized daily since the strike began, developed into fierce anti-Trump rallies during the presidential visit. At least 20 Palestinians were shot and injured during rallies that were violently suppressed by Israeli forces on Monday, and Palestinians have also called for further confrontations on Tuesday for a "Day of Rage."

Activists at the sit-in tent in Manger square established the effigy ahead of Trump’s visit, to symbolize a Palestinian prisoner wearing an Israel Prison Service (IPS) uniform inside of cage.

Protesters shouted slogans in Arabic, saying “Trump, listen! The prisoners will not kneel!” and “We have a message to the Americans: Prisoners are our priority.”

One activists took the mic at the sit-in on Saturday night, saying: “We came to tell you that the one who decides the fate of Palestinian people are the Palestinian refugee camps and not the Americans, the cause of the camps is the cause of all Palestinians.”

“The fate of Jerusalem can't be decided by Trump, for Jerusalem is Arab; Jerusalem is Palestinian, and we decide its fate, not the Americans. The only ones who supported Palestinian people are the heroic prisoners, they are strugglers, fighting with only their bodies,” the man said.

Unconfirmed reports that circulated Monday night suggested the effigy and the demonstration would be a deterrent for a possible visit to the church by the Trumps, though the itinerary of Trump’s visit has been marred by chaotic planning, last minute changes, and controversy from the start.

Secretary-General of the Fatah movement in Bethlehem Muhammad al-Masri denied rumors that Palestinian security were planning to remove the sit-in tent or deny activists access to the area during the visit, he told Ma'an.

Anti-Trump protests had also erupted across the occupied Palestinian territory after he was instated as president in January, denouncing the leader as divisive and racist.
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