Though many are blaming the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem for igniting the mass protest of 40,000 Palestinians at the border of Gaza, riots had been taking place for six weeks now and rose to a crescendo only on Monday, coinciding with the embassy opening.
“The Great Return March” began on March 30, Palestinian Land Day with Palestinian protesters staging weekly demonstrations near the border with Israel since. Demonstrators even ransacked a crucial crossing, destroying a conveyor belt and pipeline into Gaza that delivers much needed fuel and compounding an already severe humanitarian crisis.
Protests continued on Tuesday with a two-day death toll of 60, according to Palestinians.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, the rioters — up to 40,000 at one point — used explosives, guns, molotov cocktails and flaming kites to breach the security fence. The IDF noted that it had dropped leaflets into Gaza warning citizens against “approaching the fence.”
“Destitute Gazans are receiving $100 per family, bankrolled by Iran, to approach and dismantle the security fence,” the IDF said on its website. “Those who do not participate are threatened by the terror organization. Hamas is coercing Gazans to risk their lives.”
The IDF claims that at least eight protesters attempted to breach the border fence and that. The IDF also accused Hamas of uploading maps to show proximity to Israeli towns near the border.
“There’s no other way to understand these pictures than as a threat against these communities,” Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis said.
The situation in Gaza is unsustainable for its 1.9 million residents who are beleaguered by extreme poverty, high unemployment rates and restricted movement from the area. Christians there, now numbering just 1,000, are even further marginalized as the area becomes more Islamized.
The strip itself is controlled by the terror group Hamas, which seized power in 2007. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and has long sought, through deadly terror attacks and rocket launches, to “liberate” the land currently occupied by the “Zionist entity.”
So any attempt by Palestinians to breach the fence between Israel and Gaza will be met by Israel with military force.
Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy Hamas leader, admitted that Monday’s protest was timed to coincide with the “deplorable crime of moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”
“Our people went out today to respond to this new Zionist-American aggression, and to draw by their blood the map of their return,” he said.
International response to the deadly protests was mixed. Both Turkey and South Africa recalled their nations’ ambassadors to Israel. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador from Ankara.
The United Nations Human Rights Council said the threat of Palestinians approaching the Gaza fence is insufficient grounds for Israel to use live ammunition, a spokesman for the council said.
The rules on the use of force under int’l law have been repeated many times but appear to be ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press, first responders, bystanders, & at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.
— UN Human Rights (@UNHumanRights) May 15, 2018
But America backed Israel’s right to defend herself and Australia’s prime minister blamed Hamas for the deaths in Gaza.
“Hamas’s conduct is confrontational. They’re seeking to provoke the Israeli Defense Forces,” said Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. He added that Hamas was “pushing people to the border. In that conflict zone, you’re basically pushing people into circumstances where they are very likely to be shot at.”
In fact Palestinians claim an 8-month-old girl was killed at the border which begs the question: Who brought a baby to a mass protest in which live ammunition was used by both sides?
According to the Gaza Health Ministry, the baby died from tear gas inhalation.
Meanwhile Israeli officials reopened the damaged Kerem Shalom Crossing in order to get much needed supplies into Gaza. But officials on the Palestinian side sent back 14 trucks full of food and diapers, The Times of Israel reported. It was not immediately clear why.
“Humanitarian operations depend on the Kerem Shalom Crossing to get assistance to those in need in Gaza,”said Jamie McGoldrick, humanitarian coordinator for the agency. “I call on demonstrators to avoid actions that negatively affect the functioning of Gaza’s main entry point for humanitarian goods and on relevant authorities to quickly repair any damage.”