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World Middle East

Splitscreen: Gaza border violence and US embassy opening

  • paula_slier
The disconnect between what was happening inside the new American embassy – as it was being inaugurated on Monday afternoon in Jerusalem – and the scenes playing outside its walls, could not have been greater.
by PAULA SLIER | May 17, 2018

Twenty-one years after the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, calling for the US to move its mission from Tel Aviv, some 800 guests gathered in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighbourhood to witness the historic event.

But at the same time, thousands of Palestinians were gathering along the Israel-Gaza border fence and confronting Israeli soldiers in deadly clashes. By the time the Jerusalem ceremony was over, 46 had been killed.

I reported from outside the embassy. Israeli police cordoned off an area where journalists could stand and were extremely strict about checking credentials and keeping the calm.

A small crowd of proud Israelis gathered to watch us, waving flags and calling US President Donald Trump a hero for keeping his promise and not bowing in the face of international pressure to relocate his embassy.

It wasn’t long before a group vehemently opposed to the move gathered with loudspeakers, Palestinian flags and anti-Trump chants on the opposite side of the road. As the inevitable scuffles with police broke out, it was impossible to ignore the very divisive feelings the embassy move had ignited.

Nearly 100km away, the scenes unfolding along the Gaza border were a hundred-fold worse, and by nightfall 59 Palestinians, including seven children under the age of 18, had been killed. It was the single worst day of violence since the last Gaza war in 2014.

In television, there is a function called “split screen” in which two or more visuals are shown simultaneously. It was used widely during coverage of Monday’s embassy opening. On one side of the screen Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and senior White House adviser, flanked by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, smiled into the lens. On the other side, clouds of fire, teargas and rioting exploded as protesters and journalists ran for cover from Israeli fire.

In his address, Jared Kushner – Ivanka’s husband and novice peace envoy – blamed the Palestinian protesters, saying “those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution”. Such statements merely inflamed tensions.

It becomes understandable, then, why Palestinians and those criticising Trump’s move are insistent that the American administration has lost its credibility as a neutral mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This, despite Trump himself saying in a recorded message, played during the ceremony, that he was fully committed to facilitating peace, and extended a hand of friendship to both sides.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has called the new embassy a “settlement outpost”, highlighting yet again the disconnect between the sides. This was also clear when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed to other countries to follow Trump’s example, saying this would “advance peace”.

Watching the scenes of violence this week, that seems difficult, if not impossible, to imagine.

But none of this is new. The question is: What can, and should, Israel do moving forward?

The cycle of violence seems never-ending and each Friday that I find myself back on the border for the anticipated clashes, I am reminded of this yet again. Nothing changes – only more anger and death on the Palestinian side, and more resolve and justification on the Israeli side.

Talking to Israelis, most insist that Hamas is to blame for sending its population to the border to “commit collective suicide”. Israelis insist that Hamas knows full well that the Israeli army will respond with live fire – the military itself has dropped leaflets over Gaza and urged citizens not to come near the border fence.

As one Israeli told me, summing up popular sentiment in Israel: “What Hamas is doing on the Gaza border is a macabre metaphor for the Palestinians over the past 100 years. It is a refusal to deal with reality, unnecessary wars that have been lost, cynically trying to show the world that the price of a Jewish state came at the expense of the Palestinians.”

But there are facts that cannot be ignored. Despite inviting all 86 diplomatic missions in Israel to participate in a ceremony on Sunday night ahead of the embassy relocation, only 33 reportedly confirmed attendance. Although the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania sent representatives, there was no one from a Western European country – pointing to a rift within the EU over the embassy move.

South Africa and Turkey have recalled their ambassadors and human rights groups continue to charge the Israeli Defence Forces for “excessive force” against “unarmed protesters”.

Israelis tell me that Europe will always be biased against them, as will the United Nations and most Arab countries. Security is more important than international sentiment, they insist. But something is amiss here. The scenes that continue to play out will only further isolate the country and encourage Palestinians back to the borders.

Monday night ended with Hamas calling on protesters to go home. Speculation is rife as I write this that they could be planning to fire missiles at Israel. Hamas has warned of a coming increase in violence.

Israel needs to find a way out of the impasse – continuing to fire on protesters will not help it in the long run. There are no easy answers, but there is an urgent need for dialogue and new, creative solutions.

  • Paula Slier is the Middle East Bureau Chief of RT, the founder and CEO of Newshound Media and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Woman in Leadership Award of the South African Absa Jewish Achievers.

1 Comment

  1. 1 Shimon Z. Klein 21 May
    It appears that the only way despite the security risks involved would be to lift the strangling blockade on Gaza. Israel should allow work permits for Gazans to enter Israel to obtain work under very stringent security checks. These measures are not without risks. However, Gazans who find meaningful employment in Israel and elsewhere as well as education will cease to be monopolized by Hamas and this evil monstrous organization will weaken in the long run.


    We must remember that an impoverished Gazan population is where the strength of Hamas rule lies. An economically strengthened Gaza that can be productive is bad for Hamas.


    It will probably be unlikely that this evil Hamas organization would allow Gazans to seek work in Israel if Israel removes the blockade as this is where Hamas strength lies - in Israel’s blockade!


    The removal of the blockade would also weaken Hamas and hopefully, the Gazans will rise and finish these savages once and for all! Of course, the lifting of the blockade will also be accompanied by stringent security checks on those who enter Israel.


    These ideas of a solution may seem unrealistic at this stage or maybe far-fetched to many but perhaps the solution to the Gaza tragedy lies in this direction.


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