Palestinians Plan Protests Against New U.S. Embassy In Jerusalem

Originally published on May 14, 2018 12:10 pm
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, BYLINE: And I'm Steve Inskeep in Jerusalem, where the United States just opened the American Embassy in this city for the first time. This came after President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital. And the traffic circle out front of this building has been renamed after the president. At a ceremony that just ended here, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made only one reference to another huge story here. Palestinian protesters are confronting Israeli soldiers at the borders of Gaza.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: We are here in Jerusalem protected by the brave soldiers of the army of Israel, and our brave soldiers - our brave soldier are protecting the borders of Israel as we speak today. We salute them all.

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INSKEEP: Gaza health authorities say 43 people have been killed by the Israeli military today. NPR's Daniel Estrin is in Gaza.

And Daniel, how has this day unfolded as you've been watching?

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: It started this morning when mosques announced on loudspeakers for people to come to the border for what's been called #themillionmanmarch (ph). There have been six weeks of protests. They have culminated today, timed to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Today is also the first day of summer vacation in Gaza, so when we got to the border, we saw a lot of young kids, a lot of families with young children. I've been observing several of these protests at the border over the course of the last six weeks, and I can tell you this. This is very, very different. I saw people spread out across the border. So there are - for about the last six weeks, there have been just five spots along the border where people have protested, but actually now, according to the army, there are 12 spots where people are protesting, fanning out along the border. It's been the deadliest single day so far. Among the dead, according to Gaza officials, are a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old.

INSKEEP: Which would be almost to be expected - when we have seen these protests in the past, young people get involved. Israel also says that it has expanded its military response. We not only have protesters who are being killed by Israeli soldiers as they approach these border fences; Israel also conducted airstrikes. What were their targets?

ESTRIN: That's right. They said that - I just got off a conference call with the Israeli army. A spokesperson said that fighter jets struck Hamas targets deep inside Gaza in response to these violent protests, in their words. They said that - the Army says that the violence today is unprecedented in the last six weeks, with several people opening fire along the border. That's according to the Israeli military. And they say this is unacceptable for a sovereign nation and a border.

INSKEEP: How is Hamas, which is designated by the United States as a terrorist group, connected to these protests, which were originally designed to be nonviolent?

ESTRIN: Hamas is a part of the leadership committee of these protests, just one of several political factions in Gaza. They've been encouraging the protests. And I met a senior Hamas leader, one of the top Hamas leaders in a press conference several days ago. He made it very clear that these protests are aimed at trying to improve conditions in Gaza. Conditions in Gaza are bad. There are four hours of electricity a day, many power cuts. There's a blockade for the last 11 years imposed by Israel and Egypt. People - it's very hard for people to go in and out, to travel. And so this is what is on many people's minds when they come to the border. People - I've met people without jobs who say, we have nothing to lose.

INSKEEP: Daniel, thanks very much for your reporting today. We'll keep checking in.

ESTRIN: And thanks for yours.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin. He's in Gaza. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.