On Monday the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem. Donald Trump made the decision months ago to move the embassy to the city which Jews have considered the capital since the establishment of the state in 1948. Many attended the ceremony, including the Trump administration’s Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and Steve Mnuchin.
During the opening, the March of Return, a protest held by Palestinians in Gaza to protest the land taken by Israel, ran into massive trouble with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). 62 people were reportedly killed by IDF bullets when the protest apparently turned “violent,” with burning tires, and tear gas. A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the group, bringing the total number of known members of the group among the fatalities up to 53.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the IDF acted in self-defense: “Every nation has the right to defend its borders. Hamas clearly says its intentions are to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border for that end. We will continue to act with resolve to defend our sovereignty and our citizens,” Netanyahu said.
Israel’s allies upon hearing the news were shocked. The action was condemned by a long list of countries, including Germany, France, and the UK. The German Foreign Office and the French Foreign Ministry expressed concern that Israeli actions in Gaza were an excessive amount of unnecessary force: “Israel has the right to defend itself and to secure the fence against violent incursion. However, the principle of proportionality applies. That includes only using live ammunition when other, less forceful methods of deterrence do not work and in cases of concrete threats,” the German Foreign Office said.
At the same time, it also urged Hamas not to exploit the protest for violent ends: “The right to peaceful protest must also apply in Gaza. At the same time, we have always made clear that this right must not be abused, taken as a pretext or exploited in order to escalate the situation, deploy violence or incite others to do so.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for restraint on both sides but unlike Germany did not make any statement against Hamas: “France again calls on the Israeli authorities to exercise discretion and restraint with respect to the use of force, which must be strictly proportionate. It reaffirms the duty to protect civilians, especially minors, and the right of Palestinians to demonstrate peacefully,” Drian said.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang blamed the violence on the opening of the US Embassy in Jerusalem. I think he might have a point. Maybe we could have avoided the whole thing? Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also blamed the US, to the surprise of no one.
Some countries are going even futher than words.
Turkey and South Africa have recalled their ambassadors to Israel after the bloodiest day in Gaza since the 2014 war. Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bekir Bozdag, said on Monday that Ankara had recalled envoys in Tel Aviv and Washington for consultations, state-run Anadolu Agency reported. “Today, will go down in the history as Bloody Monday for Muslims and Islamic countries,” Bozdag said. Bozdag declared three days of mourning in solidarity with the slain protesters.
South Africa also recalled its ambassador to Israel on Monday, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Monday: “Given the indiscriminate and grave manner of the latest Israeli attack, the South African government has taken a decision to recall Ambassador Sisa Ngombane,” the statement said.
Already the decision to move the embassy has generated violence and international scrutiny. Because of its unwavering support for Israel, there are many who believe the blood is on the hands of the United States just as much as Israel’s.