Gaza was preparing for more bloodshed Tuesday after 58 Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers during protests on Monday, the deadliest day in the territory since the 2014 war.
Israel Defense Forces (IDF) opened fire on protestors on the Gaza border as American diplomats, religious leaders and officials including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner gathered in Jerusalem for the opening of the new American Embassy to Israel.
While dozens of Palestinians were dying less than 100 miles away, attendees listened to a recorded message from the U.S. president, in which Donald Trump lauded the “sacred land of Jerusalem” and gave testament to the “unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” As well as the 58 dead, more than 1,000 were injured, The Times of Israel reported.
The American Embassy controversy has been a thorny addition to an already difficult period for Israeli-Palestinian relations, with the Trump administration consistently bullish in its dismissal of the protestors. Even as world leaders expressed their concern at the ugly scenes in Gaza, Kushner said, “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.”
Tuesday marks Nakba—or “catastrophe”—day, when Palestinians mark the anniversary of fleeing or being forced to leave their homes in present-day Israel after the country’s creation in 1948. Today will mark the climax of the protests that have been ongoing since March 30, in which Palestinians have called for the right to return to land in what is now Israel.
A Palestinian official who did not wish to be named told Newsweek that the timing of the embassy opening just before Nakba Day was “shameful” and “an insult to our nation.” He also condemned the celebrations in Jerusalem “even though there was a massacre taking place in Gaza at the same time.”
“There is a total dehumanization of the Palestinian people,” the official added.
The protests are buoyed by dire humanitarian and economic conditions in the Gaza Strip, which has been under blockade by Israel and Egypt since 2006 in an effort to degrade the military capabilities of Hamas—the Islamist group that controls Gaza and its two million people.
Further protests are expected along the Gaza border fence today, and may spread to other Palestinian territories in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Yesterday, the IDF warned it would take all steps necessary to protect the border fence and nearby Israeli communities and carried out air and artillery strikes on suspected militant positions inside the Strip.
The international community has called on Israel to exercise restraint and minimize bloodshed in response to Monday’s violence. United Nations Secretary General António Guterres said he was “profoundly alarmed by the sharp escalation of violence” in Gaza and urged Israel to “exercise maximum restraint in the use of live fire.” He added that protest organizers have a responsibility to discourage violence and provocations on the part of demonstrators.
Federica Mogherini, the European Union's foreign policy chief, urged Israel to respect the “principle of proportionality in the use of force,” and “the right to peaceful protest.” Mogherini also said Hamas “must not exploit [protesters] for other means.”
Others—including Turkey, Egypt and Qatar—blamed Israel directly for the violence. The U.S., however, was supportive of Israeli use of force, further cementing what are becoming the closest relations between Washington, D.C., and Israel for many years.
On Monday, the White House blamed Hamas for the deaths, with Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah branding the protests “a propaganda attempt.” The U.S. also blocked a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for an independent investigation into the killings.
Trump’s decision has likely damaged the prospect of successful peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, despite the White House’s claim that it remains committed to a lasting settlement. Yesterday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the new embassy a “settlement outpost” and vowed that Palestinians would not take part in any talks mediated by America “in any way, shape or form.”
“Suddenly, everything that is good for peace is basically everything Israel wants,” the Palestinian official said, including “annexation of occupied territory and a green light to do whatever they want with the occupied Palestinian population.”
The lack of support for Gazans from the international community has sent a message to Palestinians that they have nothing to lose, the official said. “The choices that are being presented are either you accept living in a big open-air prison and do whatever Israel wants, or you die. So, what’s your choice?”
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