Israel officials double down on Palestinian killings as local news dominated by embassy opening
Israeli minister: ‘Palestinian killing not enough, restart leadership assassinations’
With the Israeli left in disarray and the Trump administration shielding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government from foreign censure, Israeli decision makers seemed to have scant reason Tuesday not to unleash a further wave of Palestinian fatalities at the Gaza border.
Asked by an Israeli journalist whether the army may have gone too far by slaying dozens of Palestinian protesters Sunday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan took exception. "That is like saying that the Nazis in World War Two had hundreds of thousands of fatalities so we should start considering the justice of the Nazi cause," he said. While voicing no regret over the deaths, he called for escalation saying Israel should resume assassinations of Hamas leaders - a step that would be certain to result in Hamas rocket fire towards Israel, risking a new Israel-Hamas war.
The Palestinians killed by the Israeli military this week include minors and a wheelchair-bound man. The deaths came as tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated along the Gaza border to underscore demands of the refugees to be able to return to their former homes inside Israel and their rejection of the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.
With the desperate Gazans, reeling from years of Israeli and Egyptian blockade, using stones and flammable kites against the Middle East's most powerful army, left-wing Israeli activist Tom Mehager took to Facebook where he wrote that this is the “Gaza ghetto”, a reference to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of barely armed Jews against Nazi forces in 1943.
But there has been a deafening silence from leaders of the Israeli Labour party, while the centrist Yesh Atid is backing the government and the army on the Gaza violence. Under the leadership of Avi Gabay, who was elected as head of Labour last year, the party has blurred previous distinctions between it and Likud on major issues.
Daniel Seidemann, director of the NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem and a veteran advocate of a two-state peace compromise solution between Israelis and Palestinians, said Israeli leaders feel buoyed in pursuing their harsh approach towards Gazans by the US's moving of its embassy to Jerusalem.
"The message in the move of the embassy and in the horrendous figures of unarmed people being shot is the same: Israeli lives matter, Palestinian lives don't," he said. "The move of the embassy sends a message to an already emboldened and increasingly authoritarian Netanyahu that you can double down on occupation and have legitimacy at the same time, that we've got your back. Were Netanyahu to feel more accountable for occupation, this [killing] wouldn't be happening."
At the ceremony of the opening of the embassy, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner backed Israel's handling of the Gaza demonstrations and Washington thwarted the issuing of a security council statement on Gaza Sunday night.
In the view of Knesset member Anat Berko, from Netanyahu's Likud party, there are no grounds for questioning the high fatality count. "The security forces have been very cautious," she told The National. "Unfortunately, the terrorists from Hamas are using women and children as human shields. We are not talking about protests, we are talking about an act of war aimed at bursting the border and violating our sovereignty. They want to enter Israeli territory to harm the citizens of Israel, kidnap soldiers or attack residential areas. We will not allow this."
Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman went even further in justifying the Palestinian fatalities, suggesting that Arabs prefer death to life. Referring to an exuberant concert in Tel Aviv Sunday night by Israel's Eurovision song contest winner Neta Barzilai, Lieberman tweeted "tens of thousands of Israelis gathered at Rabin Square for a musical performance. In Gaza, on the other hand, thousands gathered to infiltrate Israel to commit acts of terror. That's the difference between Israel's culture of life and Hamas's culture of death in Gaza."
For Israel's largest circulation newspaper, the pro-Netanyahu Yisrael Hayom, the Gazan deaths were the least important thing that happened along the border. The paper's front page – as well as the first five inside pages – was devoted to the "historic" embassy opening.
The paper summed up the Gaza events by referring to "a day of rioting on the Gaza border, explosive devices, mass assault towards the border, tens of inflammatory kites, 58 Palestinians killed and thousands wounded." Elsewhere it made clear that the dead Palestinians were "58 rioters".
By contrast, Haaretz – that has a fraction of Yisrael Hayom's circulation – led with the Gaza deaths and the fact that teens were killed and called in its editorial to "stop the bloodbath".
Amit Gilutz, a spokesman for the Israeli human rights group B'tselem, termed the deaths "shocking but also predictable. Israel had a long time to prepare for this. What's shocking is that the only solution the government found was to keep on using live ammunition against unarmed protesters. It's another example of the complete disregard of Israeli policymakers for the value of Palestinian lives."