‘Zionists not welcome’: Palestinians reject Biden’s Bethlehem visit

(Yuma Patel - MW)

Yumna Patel

Mondoweiss  /  July 15, 2022

Signs reading “This is Apartheid,” “Justice for Shireen Abu Akleh,” and “our exiled sons must return to their motherland” greeted US President Joe Biden as his motorcade passed along the main road of Bethlehem in the southern occupied West Bank on Friday. 

Biden arrived in the city to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the last stop in his four day trip to Israel, during which he renewed firm US support for Israel, and expressed his own pride in being a Zionist.

Despite heavy restrictions on movement, and a wider ban on protests and photography on the main roads of the city enforced by the Palestinian Authority (PA), Palestinians took to the streets in Bethlehem to express their discontentment with Biden’s visit. 

At least two separate protests took place in the city, including near the Aida Refugee Camp, where Palestinians chanted “America is a terrorist state,” and held signs saying “Zionists not welcome,” along with photos of slain Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. 

The protesters released balloons into the air carrying photos of Abu Akleh, along with a large banner that read: “Biden, you’re a part of Israel’s Apartheid,” and “‘Zionist’ Biden ‘shares values’ with Apartheid Israel.”

 “We wanted to send a message to Biden that he, and America’s imperialist foreign policy, is not welcome in Palestine and our city,” Muhannad Abu Srour, a resident of Aida Camp, told Mondoweiss

“Our message to the American president was that for more than 70 years, we have been under occupation, forcible displacement, and ethnic cleansing, and nothing has changed. Our land is still occupied, and there is still no just solution for the Palestinian people,” Abu Srour said. 

Lora Abu Aita, a resident of Bethlehem, said that the current political situation in Palestine is a “disaster,” and that the American president isn’t welcome.

“Today his visit means a lot for the Palestinians, in a negative way,” she said. “I do not believe he is coming here to actually give justice for the Palestinians.”

Aseel al-Bajeh, 27, an activist in Ramallah said “the protests on the street in Bethlehem today show us that there is frustration among Palestinians, that they want to lead and decide their own future as they want.”

“[Our future] should not be mediated according to peace negotiations or according to any compromise from our end on our rights, freedom, and liberation,” she said. 

‘An Insult to Palestinians’

A main feature of the protests, and of the reactions of Palestinians to Biden’s visit, had to do with Biden being a self-declared Zionist, which he made earlier in the week upon landing in Israel, and earlier in his career as a politician. 

“All his visit does is legitimize the Zionist state,” Abu Aita said. “Biden is never welcome here, so long as he is a proud Zionist, and so long as he helps the Zionist state to violate the basic human rights of Palestinians.”

In Gaza City, Ali Ahmed, 35, told Mondoweiss that he believed Biden was only here to show his loyalty to Israel. “Didn’t you see?” he asked indignantly. “Biden acts like a proud Zionist, as if he was an Israeli politician, not the president of a different country.” 

Others expressed frustrations over the fact that after three days in Israel, Biden spent only a couple of hours in Bethlehem, only to see the Church of Nativity and meet with Abbas, whose government has grown increasingly unpopular amongst the Palestinian people in recent years, as he continues to cling onto his 15-year-reign and block free democratic elections.

“Biden didn’t even stay here for more than a couple of hours to understand the situation we are living in,” Abu Aita said. 

“He’s calling it a visit to the ‘Middle East’, but he’s spending most of his time with Israel, and meeting with the PA, who doesn’t even represent the Palestinian people,” she continued. 

“There are many steps that should be done, but first we need a leadership that really represents the Palestinian people,” al-Bajeh told Mondoweiss. “The current leadership is not only not democratic and is corrupt, but it also does not reflect the will of the people.”

Palestinians want ‘real justice,’ not platitudes

Following the meeting with Abbas, many Palestinians expressed frustrations over what they viewed as more lip service and platitudes from the American government, who promised millions of dollars in financial aid to Palestinian hospitals and other institutions. 

‘They think that if they make the Palestinians’ lives economically better, then Palestinians will forego their main demands as people’

Aseel al-Bajeh

Responding to Biden’s promises of financial aid, al-Bajeh said she viewed the policy as “a continuation of what Trump started with the so-called peace plan, where he turned the struggle of liberation for the Palestinian people into basically a humanitarian issue.”

“These steps Biden and the US government are talking about is a continuation of that, which is not only harming Palestinians but also reflects how they dehumanize Palestinians as an administration,” she said. 

“They think that if they make the Palestinians’ lives economically better, then Palestinians will forego their main demands as people.”

Ali Ahmed told Mondoweiss: “We have witnessed many visits for US presidents to Israel and Palestine, none of them have put the actual justice of Palestinians on his agenda. They want more for Israel, less for Palestinians.”

“Israel would not dare to commit all this violence against Palestinians if it did not have the full support of the US,” Ahmed said. 

Olfat Monzer, from Gaza City, said that she wished Biden would live one day as a Palestinian under occupation, so he could “get a real feeling of the country he is supporting.”

Olfat Monzer, 26, also from Gaza City, said that she wished Biden would live one day as a Palestinian under occupation, so he could “get a real feeling of the country he is supporting.”

“The truth is not hiding anywhere, it is clear like the sun in the sky. But the US president comes here to legitimize all Israel’s acts against the Palestinians,” Monzer said, adding “they are equal partners in killing Palestinians and stealing their homes.” 

“I never think that the US will justify the Palestinians and help them get justice,” she said. 

In Bethlehem, Muhannad Abu Srour criticized Biden and past US presidents for “making lots of promises, but taking no real steps towards justice.”

Abu Srour said that he holds out no hope that US diplomacy would bring any real solutions for Palestinians. “If the US won’t even seek real justice for Shireen Abu Akleh, one of their own citizens, how can we expect them to achieve justice for the Palestinian people?”

Lora Abu Aita agreed, saying, “until we have our own basic human rights and freedoms,” Biden and other US officials will not be welcomed in Palestine. 

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss

Mariam Barghouti and Tareq Hajjaj contributed to this report from Ramallah and Gaza City