Ordinary Palestinians respond with apathy to American election



Abed Market, a Palestinian-owned "strip mall" where JNS.org interviewed Palestinian civilians about the U.S. election victory of Donald Trump. Credit: Orit Arfa.

By Orit Arfa/JNS.org

Anyone reeling from the American presidential election result might want to take comfort in the laid-back attitude of some Palestinian civilians. 

At two competing Palestinian-owned "strip malls"—each housing a falafel joint, supermarket, and pet shop—located near the main junction leading into the city of Ariel in the Samaria region, most Palestinians interviewed for a man-on-the-street survey were unfazed by the election victory of Donald Trump.

"It's not so interesting," said Abed Shaqour regarding the U.S. election as he was frying eggplants at his establishment, "Abed Market." While this junction has seen its share of terrorist attacks against Israelis, the so-called "commercial center" is also a haven of coexistence where Palestinian Arabs and Israeli settlers interact on a daily basis, buying groceries and other goods. 

Shaqour lives down the road in Kifl Haris, a village located partially in Area B (which is under Palestinian civilian control and Israeli military control). Israelis periodically enter the village under army escort to visit the Tomb of Joshua. The people of Shaqour’s village, as far as he knows, hardly followed the American elections. 

"They're all the same," he said in Hebrew regarding American politicians and candidates for office. He was dismissive about questions relating to the 2016 presidential candidates’ specific policies, including the positions of Hillary Clinton and Trump on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He suggested that most Palestinians entering his shop wouldn’t make good interviewees.

"If you ask people, they probably won't know what you're talking about. It's not so important to us. If the nation chose him—la’briyut (in good health)," said Shaqour.

Shaqour is personally in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict. "Everyone has their place. Everyone has their family. But we get along in life," he said. 

Dressed businesslike in a button-down shirt, middle-aged Ahmed Abed Al Mageed Azem, an employee for the Coca-Cola Company in Ramallah, stopped by "Abed Market" and confirmed Shaqour’s assessment.

"Really, Trump, Clinton, they’re both the same," he said in Hebrew, adding that since 1996, including under President Barack Obama—whose views and policies he described as "just talk"—conditions on the ground haven't changed for Palestinians. He proceeded to articulate a pro-Trump position, in jest.

"I prefer that Trump over Clinton," he said. "Trump's a little crazy and might make a world war. That's my opinion. Let the whole world suffer the way the Palestinians do."

While gainfully employed, Azem believes Jewish settlements create hardship for Palestinians, necessitating checkpoints.

"I want [the settlers] to be expelled," he said. "They took the land of the people. They took my land."

True to Shaqour’s prediction, Jaser Al-Kak, 23, working at the pet shop next door, didn't follow the American election. "No time," he said, explaining his reasoning. He favors a one-state solution—an Arab state—and doesn't seem bothered by the election of Trump, whose Israel adviser, Jason Greenblatt, has proclaimed that Jewish settlements are not "obstacles to peace."

"All is okay," Al-Kak said.

Across the street at the competing "Abu-Ali Restaurant," 28-year-old Hassan (who asked that his last name not be published), whose father owns the joint, contradicted his compatriots. He said many of the residents from his town of Salfit, which neighbors Ariel, indeed followed the election.

"Who isn't interested in the American elections? It's not only the president of the United States, but the entire world," he said in Hebrew. Having received his master’s degree in political science from a Palestinian university in Nablus, he follows world politics closely. During the Israeli election of May 2015, he favored the re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He’s glad Trump won, supporting what he views as Trump's hands-off approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

"Firstly, [Trump] says, 'peace without force'—not through outside forces,” he said. “Let Bibi (Netanyahu) and Abu Mazen (Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas) sit together and see what happens. He's 100 percent right."

Hassan also believes most Palestinians would rather live under Israeli rule, and he blames their poor living conditions on corruption in the Palestinian leadership.

Across the street, an elderly Palestinian man selling knick-knacks such as toys and car accessories at a makeshift street-side vendor booth looked dumbfounded when asked for his opinion on American election. 

"What do we care?" he said in Hebrew, revealing just a handful of teeth as he opened his mouth. Then he thought about it further and emerged with what may be a pro-Clinton position. How could she have lost? She seemed so confident. Did Trump, he wondered, pay people to vote for him?

"My heart is with Hillary Clinton," he said. "Miseknah (poor girl). I feel bad for her."

Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under Features, Israel.