White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah on Monday blamed Hamas for the scores of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers during protests along the border fence in Gaza, as the United States opened its new embassy in Jerusalem.
“We’re aware of the reports of continued violence in Gaza today,” Shah said during Monday’s press briefing. “The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas. Hamas is intentionally and cynically provoking this response. As the secretary of state said, Israel has the right to defend itself.”
Pressed on whether the White House believed Israel should “shoulder the blame” for the 62 Palestinians killed by Israeli snipers, or rein in its military’s response, Shah stated, “This is a propaganda attempt. This is a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence. And we find it very unfortunate.”
Israeli soldiers on Monday killed at least 55 Palestinians and injured thousands more, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, marking the highest single-day death toll since 2014. Amnesty International noted that the fatalities include at least six children. By Tuesday, the death toll had risen to 62, with at least 3,188 injured.
The protests were part of the “March of Return” demonstrations, which began on March 30, and also occurred on the same day that the United States moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Israeli Defense Forces claimed the protesters were “leading a terrorist operation under the cover of masses of people,” and that “firebombs and explosive devices” were being hurled at Israeli soldiers.
Palestinian protesters say that’s not the case.
“It is shocking. We didn’t expect this huge number of martyrs and injuries,” Hadeel Louz, 25, a Palestinian human rights activist in Gaza, told ThinkProgress. “Most of the martyrs who are killed are just normal citizens — we are not following Hamas party or Fatah party, [the two Palestinian factions]. Even those who follow those parties, they are not in an army — they don’t have guns.”
The violence against Palestinian protesters comes one day prior to Nakba, or Catastrophe Day, which marks Palestinians’ expulsion from what is now modern-day Israel in 1948. During that eviction, 700,000 Palestinians were uprooted from their homeland and forced to flee.
“…The Nakba is not just about the past, as Palestinians are still displaced and brutalised by Israeli authorities today,” The Independent’s Ben White wrote on Monday. “The Palestinians being gunned down by Israeli snipers in Gaza – including more than 250 children hit with live fire since 30 March, according to Save the Children – live under a devastating blockade.”
The decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem last December was met with criticism from foreign policy experts and human rights groups alike. Palestinian authorities have said the move constitutes a non-starter and crushes any hopes for a two-state solution, to which the Trump administration has claimed it is still dedicated.
“We will not accept for the U.S. to be a mediator, because after what they have done to us — a believer shall not be stung twice in the same place,” Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said in January, shortly after the decision was made. He accused Trump’s move of killing the 1993 Oslo Accords, a set of agreements meant to pave the way for a future peace deal.
East Jerusalem is typically recognized as the future home of a Palestinian state, although it has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Currently, some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and as Reuters reported in October, the Israeli government recently gave its approval for an additional 176 new housing units.
This story has been updated to include new death toll figures released on Tuesday, May 15, by the Palestinian Health Ministry in Gaza.