Credit: Sara Apps

May 14, 2018; New York Times

Yesterday, according to Palestinian officials, more than 2,700 Palestinian demonstrators were wounded—and between 58 and 62 people killed—along the border fence with Gaza. David Halbfinger, Isabel Kershner, and Declan Walsh, writing in the New York Times, report that this loss of life marks the “biggest one-day toll of Palestinians killed by Israelis since Israel’s 2014 invasion of Gaza.” In an article written a day earlier, Walsh noted that “at least 49 Palestinians have been shot dead and thousands have been wounded along the fence since protests erupted on March 30th. No Israelis have been injured.”

The demonstrations, the Times explains, “began seven weeks ago to protest Israel’s economic blockade of Gaza” and involved tens of thousands of Palestinians. The blockade has been in effect since 2007.

More protests are expected today. “May 15,” notes the Times, “is observed by Palestinians as the anniversary of what they call the nakba, or catastrophe. It marks the expulsion or flight from the newly formed Jewish state of hundreds of thousands of Arabs in 1948, who have been unable to return or reclaim property they left behind.”

But yesterday’s protests and the over-the-top response, which has now been widely condemned, coincided with both Israel’s 70th anniversary and the formal relocation of the United States’ embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. As the Times notes, “The formality and celebration created an almost surreal contrast to the violence raging barely 40 miles away.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu exulted, “Remember this moment! This is history! President Trump, by recognizing history, you have made history.”

Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) called on the Israeli army to stop using deadly force against demonstrators, calling their action yesterday “unacceptable and inhuman.”

It is unbearable to witness such a massive number of unarmed people being shot in such a short time. Our medical teams are working around the clock, as they have done since 1 April, providing surgical and post-operative care to men, women and children, and they will continue to do so tonight, tomorrow, and as long as they are needed.

In one of the hospitals where we are working, the chaotic situation is comparable to what we observed after the bombings of the 2014 war, with a colossal influx of injured people in a few hours, completely overwhelming the medical staff. Our teams carried out more than 30 surgical interventions today, sometimes on two or three patients in the same operating theatre, and even in the corridors.

This bloodbath is the continuation of Israeli army’s policy during the last seven weeks: shooting with live ammunition at demonstrators, on the assumption that anyone approaching the separation fence is a legitimate target. Most of the wounded will be condemned to suffer lifelong injuries.

As new demonstrations are announced for…Tuesday, when Palestinians will observe the “Nakba Day”—the Israeli army must stop its disproportionate use of force against Palestinian protestors.

According to the Guardian:

The UN’s secretary general, António Guterres, said he was “profoundly alarmed” by the number of Palestinians killed. The UK called on Israel to show restraint.

The UN Security Council is set to meet later on Tuesday to discuss the violence. South Africa has recalled its ambassador to Israel. Turkey has called for Muslim nations to review their ties with Israel.

The situation in Palestine is distressing on many levels. First, it is worth noting that, until this week, US coverage was muted, even though deaths of Palestinians in protests had averaged one a day for the past seven weeks before yesterday’s big protest. We in the US also ignore the daily violence of the blockade, an action that has continued for 11 years and which, more than the change in location of the US embassy, spurred the recent Palestinian protests. Three years ago, NPQ’s Rick Cohen wrote, “It may be difficult to imagine, but between the last three wars, from Operation Cast Lead in 2008 and 2009 to Operation Protective Edge in 2014, some 6,500 children in Gaza have lost one or both parents and are classified as orphans.” Cohen added that, according to UNICEF’s field office in Gaza, “373,000 children in Gaza need some sort of psychosocial support, over one-third of all children in the area.”

According to the Guardian, a 2015 report from Save the Children, entitled A Living Nightmare: Gaza One Year On, found that in the 2014 war, “551 children were killed and 3,436 were injured, of whom 10 percent suffered permanent disability. One Israeli child was killed during the war, and 270 injured.” Then there is the impact of trauma:

Three-quarters of Gaza’s children experience unusual bedwetting regularly…while 89 percent of parents report that their children suffer constant feelings of fear, and more than 70 percent of children say they are worried about another war. Seven out of 10 children interviewed now suffer regular nightmares.”

Then, there is the role of the US government. Of course, the Trump administration added fuel to the flames by having the US become the first country to recognize the divided city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But support of the Israeli occupation has been highly bipartisan. Indeed, in 2015, Hillary Clinton penned an article for the Forward titled, “How I Would Reaffirm Unbreakable Bond With Israel—and Benjamin Netanyahu.” In it, she wrote, “I will do everything I can to enhance our strategic partnership and strengthen America’s security commitment to Israel, ensuring that it always has the qualitative military edge to defend itself. That includes immediately dispatching a delegation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to meet with senior Israeli commanders. I would also invite the Israeli prime minister to the White House in my first month in office.” Last year, NPQ’s Cyndi Suarez, writing about bills in Congress to “outlaw” boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns that seek “to pressure corporations to cut ties to Israel or even with Israeli settlements,” observed that “this may be one of the few issues in Congress that enjoys bipartisan support.”

The protests were to have culminated today, but it is now unclear what the immediate future holds. Haaretz reports that:

Funerals of Monday’s casualties are expected to take place in Gaza on Tuesday, with the question remaining whether Hamas will call the masses to the fence as it did Monday or keep the rallies as a spontaneous initiative of the people. Rallies are expected in the large West Bank cities, as well as a general strike.

It was decided during last night’s Palestinian leadership meeting to transfer the Israeli settlements case to the international court and to call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council to ask for international protection for the Palestinian people. Domestically, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem criticized the Israeli response to expected demonstrations, saying that there had been “plenty of time to come up with alternate approaches…The fact that live gunfire is once again the sole measure that the Israeli military is using in the field evinces appalling indifference towards human life on the part of senior Israeli government and military officials.”

Rachel Shabi, in a column for the Guardian, writes, “This is a violent escalation that was foretold, the result of a deliberate upturning of international conventions. It is the US presidency striking a match and throwing it into the tinderbox of Jerusalem, half of which is deemed by the international community to be occupied by Israel and intended as the capital of a future Palestinian state.”—Steve Dubb