Gaza Protests, Killings: 6 Things to Know About Israel-Palestine

(Photo: TPS/Kobi Richter)Border Police officers standing on the Mount of Olives facing the Temple Mount during an action in East Jerusalem, Israel, September 05, 2017.

Close to 60 Palestinians were killed on Monday during violent protests on the Gaza border with Israel, along with reportedly 13 children who have been killed over the past several weeks.

The United Nations, along with several Western states and world leaders, have blamed The Israel Defense Forces for the killings, arguing that they have used excessive force.

Israel has defended its actions, however, saying that it is responding to violence its soldiers are facing, and has also accused militant group Hamas of driving the protests and using children as human shields.

The U.S. Administration of President Donald Trump has firmly stood behind Israel and rejected a U.N. resolution seeking to investigate its ally. It has also defended its decision to relocate the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, with the official ceremony having taken place on Monday.

Much like the rest of the world, Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories are also divided on the issue.

Here are six important things to know about the long-standing conflict and the recent escalation of violence.

1. 13 Children Dead

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(Photo: Reuters//Mohammed Salem)Palestinians sit outside their damaged house as they look at a neighbouring house, which witnesses said was destroyed in an Israeli air strike, in Gaza City August 9, 2014.

At least 13 children have been killed (six of them on Monday) in Gaza since the violent protests began several weeks ago. 

This is according to some sources, such as the Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza, though Israel disputes these numbers, and disputes who is to blame for these tragic deaths.

Palestinian mourners vowed revenge for the dead children, Reuters reported on Tuesday, wrapping the bodies of some, such as 8-month-old Leila al-Ghandour, in their national flag. 

"Let her stay with me, it is too early for her to go," cried the child's mother, revealing that the girl died from inhaling tear gas.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News in an interview that protesters are being paid to try and cross the border and are using children as human shields by bringing them to hostile areas.

"They're pushing civilians, women, children into the line of fire with the view of getting casualties," Netanyahu argued. "We try to minimize casualties. They're trying to incur casualties in order to put pressure on Israel, which is horrible."

Asked about the Palestinian casualties, including at least 60 on Monday, he stated:

"You try all sorts of means. You try non-lethal means and they don't work. So you're left with bad choices. It's a bad deal. You know, you try and you go for below the knee and sometimes it doesn't work. And unfortunately, these things are avoidable. If Hamas had not pushed them there, then nothing would happen."

International charity Save the Children said that it was "horrified" by news of children been killed, and pointed to Palestinian reports that another 220 youngsters have been injured.

"The killing of children cannot be justified. We urgently call on all parties to take active steps to ensure children are not hurt and to protect children in accordance with the Geneva conventions, relevant international humanitarian law and international human rights law," the group urged in a statement on Wednesday. 

"We also call on all parties to show restraint and urge all protests to remain peaceful, while calling on all sides to tackle the long-term causes of this conflict and promote dignity and security for both Israelis and Palestinians," it added.

2. What Is Hamas and What Is Their Role?

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(Photo: Reuters/Suhaib Salem)Palestinian Hamas militants take part in a rally marking the twelfth anniversary of the death of late Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed in an Israeli attack in Gaza City, March 23, 2016.

As BBC News points out, Hamas is the largest of several Palestinian militant Islamist groups, and in 2005 won political elections in Gaza, where it has its headquarters. 

It presents itself as a resistance movement looking to purge Israel from land it considers belongs to Palestine, though Israel and the U.S. have branded it a terrorist organization, blaming it for decades of attacks and bloodshed.

The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs keeps statistics of the various suicide bombing attacks it says the group has carried out, including the constant rocket and mortar shell fire Israeli border communities are subjected to. 

Israel said that the past two years have seen a significant increase in rocket fire, positioning that while it is often not lethal, it has a "devastating effect on the daily life and sense of security of the 200,000 residents of the western Negev."

Hamas has disputed reports that it is forcing its supporters to sacrifice their lives, though as The New York Times reported, it has responded to the latest violence by urging thousands of worshipers to join the protests. 

Hamas speakers have blamed Trump and the U.S. government for sparking further chaos by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

"America is the greatest Satan," said Sheikh Marwan Abu Rass, a cleric.

"Now we are heading to Jerusalem with millions of martyrs. We may die, but Palestine will live," he added, echoing rhetoric that is often repeated from the Islamist group.

3. Are the Gaza Protests Really Peaceful?

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(Photo: Reuters/Mohammed Salem)Palestinians burn an Israeli and a U.S. flag during a protest against the U.S. intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in Gaza City.

The nature of the several weeks of protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel has also been disputed. Hamas claims the protesters are peaceful, but several Israeli and international reports have insisted that they have been anything but.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has said that Israel's military has been carrying out "massacres" of unarmed civilians, and Senior Hamas Official Mahmoud Al-Zahhar argued that it has employed a "peaceful resistance bolstered by a military force and by security agencies, and enjoying tremendous popular support."

BBC reported that close to 40,000 people took part in a protest campaign dubbed the "Great March of Return," which Hamas insisted was in support of Palestinian refugees wishing to return to land they were forced out of. 

But some reports say that several of the protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers, and have flown petrol-soaked kites intended to ignite fires on the Israeli territory.

Still, Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday that the actions of the Palestinians do not warrant Israeli forces using live ammunition on the protesters. 

"An attempt to approach or crossing or damaging the fence do not amount to a threat to life or serious injury and are not sufficient grounds for the use of live ammunition," Colville argued.

Israel has positioned, however, that its military's response to the violence on the Gaza border is "in keeping with Israeli and international law." 

Netanyahu said on Monday that "Hamas intends to destroy Israel and sends thousands to breach the border fence in order to achieve this goal." He explained that everything its military is doing is "with determination to protect our sovereignty and citizens."

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, international spokesman and head of Social Media of the IDF, said in April that soldiers use live fire "only when absolutely necessary and when there is clear threat to infrastructure or to Israeli soldiers." 

"If there is, then we use snipers who fire specifically and under very clear guidance by commanders," he said.

4. United Nations Calls Out Israel

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(Photo: REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid)U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017.

The U.S. blocked on Tuesday a U.N. Security Council statement that called for an independent investigation into the deaths of the Palestinians on the Israeli-Gaza border.

"The Security Council expresses its outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest," read a draft of the statement, as reported by AFP

"The Security Council calls for an independent and transparent investigation into these actions to ensure accountability."

The draft statement argued that the protests on the Gaza Strip were "peaceful."

"The Security Council calls on all States not to undertake any steps that further aggravate the situation, including any unilateral and unlawful measures undermining the prospects of peace," it added.

The U.N. Human Rights Council separately said that it would hold a special session on Friday to discuss "the deteriorating human rights situation" in the region. 

"The special session is being convened per an official request submitted this evening by Palestine and the United Arab Emirates," the Geneva-based body said, noting that the session has received support from 26 states so far.

U.N. Watch has pointed out that from its inception in 2006, the Human Rights Council has held 22 specials sessions focused on criticizing countries, with Israel being the subject of eight such sessions, more than any other nation. 

It noted that the sessions have been initiated by Arab states, and do not include any condemnation of Hamas.

Moreover, the U.N. General Assembly issued 97 resolutions from 2012 through 2015, 83 of which were focused on Israel.

American conservative political commentators, such as Ben Shapiro of The Daily Wire, have criticized the U.N. and argued that the U.S. needs to defund it. 

"The U.N. has always been a foolish fantasy, a League of Nations knockoff that's been about as productive and twice as irritating. It's an outmoded organization that's outlived whatever small usefulness it once had. There's no reason for us to continue cutting checks to prop up regimes that condemn us publicly for exercising the most basic standards of morality," Shapiro wrote in December 2017.

5. U.S. Response

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(Photo: Reuters/Stephanie Keith)U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley prepares to speak at a Security Council meeting on the situation in Syria at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, U.S., April 12, 2017.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley insisted on Tuesday that Hamas and Iran are responsible for the violence, pushing back against accusations from the U.N. and other nations.

"Let's remember that the Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy," Haley said at a U.N. Security Council Emergency Meeting on Tuesday. 

"This is what is endangering the people of Gaza. Make no mistake, Hamas is pleased with the results from yesterday."

Haley pointed to the reports of Palestinian protesters using Molotov cocktails attached to kites to attack Israeli soldiers, and said that Hamas has been urging protests to get closer to the border fence using recordings and loudspeakers.

"No country in this chamber would act with more restraint than Israel has. In fact, the records of several countries here today suggest they would be much less restrained," she said.

"As our President said when he announced the decision in December, the location of our embassy has no bearing on the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem or the resolution of contested borders," Haley added.

"It has no bearing on Jerusalem's holy sites. It does not prejudge whatever the parties might negotiate in a peace agreement. It does not undermine the prospects for peace in any way. And yet, for some, this is supposedly a cause for violence."

U.S. Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah also blamed Hamas for the violence.

"We believe that Hamas is responsible for these tragic deaths, that their rather cynical exploitation of the situation is what's leading to these deaths, and we want them to stop," Shah declared.

6. Christians Have Opposing Views

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(Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)A footbridge leads from the Western Wall to the compound known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City June 2, 2015. Picture taken June 2, 2015.

Israeli and Palestinian Christians are also strongly divided on the issue and have opposing views.

Some Christians, such as Evangelical Bishop Munib Younan, have said that Trump's decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem is a mistake.

"Jerusalem is also dear to us Christians. And we think that any change of the status quo will not bring peace to the area. On the contrary, you are touching the nerve of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict," Younan said back in December, according to DW.com.

"Jerusalem must be a place for peace, justice and reconciliation. Secondly, we believe that the historic status quo for the holy places must be maintained and not changed."

Reuters reported that some Palestinian Christians and Muslims have been joining together in prayer against the Jerusalem embassy.

Fredrick Hazo, a member of the Assyrian Catholic church in Jerusalem, said that Trump is "dragging all the world into trouble," and urged him to reverse the decision.

"We are united - Christians, Muslims, we are one," Hazo said. "In this sacred place, God is protecting us all. We are guarded by his angels in Jerusalem."

On the other side of the debate, the Rev. Doctor Petra Heldt from the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Jerusalem told Premier's News Hour on Monday that people are "overjoyed" with the embassy move.

"In Israel there is great joy in the streets of Jerusalem ... there is dancing, people go to the western wall, they pray there, they thank for this movement, they thank that Israel is finally recognized by the greatest and most important country in the world."

As for the violence, Heldt said that Palestinians had been warned of the consequences of violent protests.

"The Israeli army was ready to defend the borders of Israel and they have handed leaflets, thousands of leaflets to Gaza yesterday and today to warn the population not to follow the terror ideology of the Hamas jihadists and to stay away from the border of Israel," she added.

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