Along Israel’s border fence with Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces shot dead dozens of Palestinian protesters on Monday, during the latest in a series of clashes marking the seventieth anniversary of Israel’s founding, which uprooted seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians. The Israeli soldiers fired tear gas, live ammunition, and, according to some reports, artillery shells at the protesters.
As the conflict continued, the I.D.F. sought to put the blame on the demonstrators, who numbered in the tens of thousands, saying in a statement posted on Twitter: “The rioters are hurling firebombs and explosive devices at the security fence and at IDF troops and are burning tires, throwing rocks and launching flaming objects with the intention of igniting fires in Israeli territory and harming IDF troops. IDF troops are responding with riot dispersal means and fire, and are operating according to standard operating procedures.”
Footage from sites on the Gaza side of the fence confirmed that some of the protesters were hurling rocks and burning sticks at the fence, which serves as a border barrier separating Israel and the Gaza Strip. But the Palestinians, unlike the Israelis, were mostly unarmed, and none of them have successfully crossed the border. Indeed, some of the shooting victims appear to have been a good distance away from it.
“I was at the biggest protest site, which is just east of Gaza City,” Sharif Abdel Kouddous, an independent journalist and fellow at the Nation Institute, reported on Democracy Now, the PBS radio show. “There are thousands of people converging on the site-men women and children. It is a really surreal scene. There are people gathering, most young men and boys, up near the border where there is barbed wire, three sets of barbed wire. And you can see just a couple of hundred yards away, Israeli soldiers under these canopies, on mounds of sand, sometimes in jeeps. And they are picking people off. Snipers are literally picking people off. I’ve seen people who weren’t even close to the fence being shot. Most of the people are being shot in the lower extremities, in their legs. I saw one person shot in the throat.”
The casualty count was hugely asymmetrical. On Monday night, health officials in Gaza put the number of Palestinian fatalities at fifty-two, and the number of wounded at more than seventeen hundred. Lieutenant Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the I.D.F., said that one Israeli soldier had been “slightly wounded by shrapnel,” and he added, “Our troops have not taken any sustained direct fire.”
Humanitarian groups condemned the actions of the Israeli forces. In a tweet on Monday, Amnesty International said, “We are witnessing an abhorrent violation of Int law and human rights. 38 confirmed dead, including children/minors, with close to 2000 people injured in #Gaza. Many are reporting injuries to the head and chest. Over 500 injured with live ammunition. This horror must end now.” Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, tweeted: “Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account. The int’l community needs to ensure justice for victims.”
There is little chance of that happening. While the clashes were taking place, senior members of the American and Israeli governments were celebrating the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. In the absence of Donald Trump, the U.S. delegation was led, banana-republic style, by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner. During the ceremony, they were seated next to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, who is a long-standing friend of the Kushner family.
Netanyahu declared the day a “glorious” one. Kushner delivered a speech that was a combination of toadying, boilerplate, and wishful thinking. He praised his father-in-law for delivering on his campaign promise to move the Embassy from Tel Aviv. He said, “Israel proves every day the boundless power of freedom.” He criticized Iran. Despite the almost universal condemnation outside Israel of the decision to move the embassy, Kushner said, “Today’s celebrations do not reflect a departure from our strong commitment to lasting peace.” He even had the temerity to say, “Peace is within reach.”
But of the “Trump peace plan,” which Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s lawyer turned Middle East envoy, have reportedly been working on together for the past year, there was still no sign. Nor was there any hint of criticism of the Israeli government for authorizing the shooting of mostly unarmed demonstrators. Kushner parroted the official Israeli line, that the protests in Gaza represented a deliberate provocation from Hamas, saying, “As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.”