TEL AVIV — While Israelis and Americans, including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, celebrated the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Monday, violent protests erupted 50 miles away at the border with Palestinian-controlled Gaza and in towns on the West Bank. It was the single deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 Gaza War.
The ceremony took place 70 years to the day since Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, formally declared the State of Israel an independent nation. (However, today is not Israel’s independence day; Israel officially uses the Hebrew calendar, which varies from the one the West uses.) Neither President Trump nor Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attended the ceremony, though both had at different times hinted that they might. But the president did acknowledge the event on Twitter, saying: “Big day for Israel. Congratulations!”
Kushner, representing the White House, delivered an address at the ceremonies.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin spoke to a cheering crowd at the embassy dedication. Netanyahu emphasized that Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv merely acknowledged the existing state of affairs. He said the move, which the Palestinians have denounced, nevertheless could be an important step in securing peace between Israel and the Palestinians: “A peace that is built on lies will crash on the rocks of Middle Eastern reality. You can only build peace on truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state.”
While both Netanyahu and Kushner expressed hope for peace in their speeches, neither mentioned a two-state solution, which has long been the preferred outcome among the international community. Trump bucked that consensus early in his presidency when he said that he would be “happy with the [resolution] that both parties like.” Kushner heads the administration’s initiative to secure a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, and the administration is expected to announce a peace plan in soon.
Kushner also addressed the protests in Gaza directly: “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.”
The protests at the border with Gaza are now in their seventh week. Palestinians have called the movement the Great Return March, an attempt (largely symbolic, given Israel’s military superiority) to breach the security fence around Gaza and reclaim the land Palestinians left behind when they fled or were expelled from the country in 1948.
The Israeli Defense Force estimated that the crowd on Monday — chanting slogans, and hurling rocks and incendiary devices — numbered as many as 40,000. Three demonstrators were killed as they tried to plant explosives, and the total number killed by Israeli forces by the end of the day was put at 58.
Palestinians also protested in the West Bank, a territory that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Six-Day War and is governed by the Palestinian Authority, controlled by the Fatah party. Although the protests in Gaza are not directly related to Trump’s decision to relocate the U.S. Embassy, the protests in the West Bank are, intended to draw international attention to the Palestinian cause and to protest the embassy move to Jerusalem. Several thousand protesters gathered in Ramallah, and in Qalandiya, a small village north of Jerusalem, Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli soldiers. Protesters threw stones, and the soldiers responded by firing a mix of live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
Related story: What’s behind the deadly Gaza protests >>>
There were protests in Jerusalem itself, outside the Damascus Gate in Arab East Jerusalem to protest the embassy move. Hundreds of Arab citizens of Israel, including five members of the Knesset, staged a demonstration near the site of the new embassy.
The protests come after another round of disturbances Sunday, a national holiday called Jerusalem Day, when tens of thousands of Israelis march through Jerusalem — including the Old City — with Israeli flags. As in previous years, the “Flag March” touched off violent clashes, including on the holy site that Jews call the Temple Mount and that Muslims call Haram al-Sharif.
Earlier this month, some had expressed concerns that Israel might have to face two major crises at the same time: one on its northern border with Syria, as the Syrian civil war seemed to be spilling over into Israel, and another on its southern border with Gaza, where Israel has deployed its Iron Dome missile-defense system. On May 10, Iranian forces stationed in Syria struck the Israeli-held Golan Heights, provoking a punishing counterattack on a number of Iranian bases. A spokesman for Israel’s security Cabinet asserted that Iran “has gotten the Israeli message, and won’t mess with us in the near future.”
But Israelis still are fearful of the escalating crisis in Gaza. Even bigger protests are expected Tuesday, which is both the first day of Ramadan and what Palestinians call Nakba Day, commemorating the “catastrophe” of 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from the new Jewish state. In April, a former Israeli intelligence officer, Amos Yadlin, predicted that this month would be the most dangerous month of May since 1967, the time leading up to the Six-Day War of 1967. Israelis are bracing for it.
Ben Manson is a freelance journalist based in Tel Aviv.
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