Dispatches From Gaza: A Wave of Sadness

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<i>Editor’s note: This excerpt is one of a series by the author—to read more of this story, click on the link following the passages posted below. View a full assortment of Tolan’s dispatches here.</i>

The indelible images of suffering and stories of loss are everywhere in #Gaza. The family of 19 in three small rooms whose only drinking water comes from plastic jugs filled at the mosque. The woman who lost 38 members of her family during Israeli strikes in 2014. The man who lived with 49 others in a relative’s house after his neighborhood of Shujaiya was flattened. But there is something else that abides in the day-to-day life in Gaza that for me resonates just as deeply: a kind of stubborn resilience in the face of catastrophe.

The other night I was walking along a spit of sand and rock that forms part of the Gaza harbor with Raed, my colleague and translator. The place was rippling with everyday life: fishermen pulling up their nets, laughing and giving each other grief; kids posing for selfies; families gathered under beach umbrellas at small plastic tables, sharing a modest picnic.

A young couple with their three kids invited us to join them. The children nibbled from bags of chips, eyeing me shyly. Rana Dilly poured mango soda into small plastic cups while her husband, Ahmad, pushed an unopened package of chocolate wafers toward me. I politely declined, which of course was a mistake. He laughed and pushed the package closer, telling me, “You are with Palestinians!” In other words, your resistance to our hospitality is futile!

Ahmad told me that despite the hardships and frequent dangers, he tries to come to this little finger of land nearly every day, just to clear his head and have some kind of normal feeling. He brings the family once or twice a week. “I want to share life,” he told me. “To share some things with my family and my kids. To show them something is possible.”

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Tens of Thousands Attend Arab-Led Rally Against Israeli Bill

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TEL AVIV, Israel — Members of Israel’s Arab minority led a mass protest in central Tel Aviv on Saturday night against a contentious new law that critics say marginalizes the state’s non-Jewish citizens.

The rally marked further fallout from the explosive Nation-State law and came a week after thousands of Druze, also members of the Arab minority, packed the same city square last week.

Israel’s 1948 declaration of independence defined the country as a Jewish and democratic state and the government says the recently passed bill merely enshrines the country’s existing character. But critics say it undercuts Israel’s democratic values and sidelines the country’s non-Jewish population, namely the Arab community that makes up 20 percent of the country.

One clause downgrades the Arabic language from official to “special” standing.

Israeli media reported tens of thousands of Jews and Arabs attended the protest. Some Arab protesters waved Palestinian flags and others held signs reading “equality.” Some knelt and preformed Muslim prayers.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted footage on Twitter of protesters waving the Palestinian flags. “No better testament to the necessity of the Nation State law,” he wrote.

Ayman Odeh, an Arab member of the Israeli parliament, told The Associated Press: “This is the first time that tens of thousands of Arabs have come to Tel Aviv with Jewish democratic groups. They came to say this is not the end of the demonstrations, but the first serious demonstration against the Nation State law.”

Many Jewish Israelis, including top retired security officials and politicians, have also harshly criticized the law.

Omar Sultan, from the Arab city of Tira in central Israel, said he was protesting to send a message to Netanyahu.

“This law is against us, against the Arabic language, against peace, against our future in this land, we are the real people of this land, we can’t agree on this law,” he said.

Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights but face discrimination in some areas of society like jobs and housing. They share the ethnicity and culture of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and often identify with Palestinian nationalism, rather than Israeli.

Tens of thousands of Druze, also members of the Arab minority, packed the same square in the heart of Tel Aviv, Israel’s cultural and commercial center, last week. The Druze are followers of a secretive offshoot of Shiite Islam and are considered fiercely loyal to the state and serve in Israel’s military, unlike most of the country’s other Arab citizens.

Over the years, members of the Druze community have risen to prominence in the military and in politics. Some Druze have said they feel betrayed by the law and several Druze military officers recently said they would stop serving in response to it, sparking fears of widespread insubordination.

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Israel Exchanges Intense Fire With Hamas Militants in Gaza

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JERUSALEM — The Israeli military carried out its largest daytime airstrike campaign in Gaza since the 2014 war Saturday as Hamas militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel throughout the day, threatening to trigger an all-out war after weeks of growing tensions along the volatile border.

Two Palestinian teenagers were killed in an airstrike in Gaza City, while three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a residential home.

Israel said it was focused on hitting militant targets and was warning Gaza civilians to keep their distance from certain sites. But even before the report of casualties the intense tit-for-tat airstrikes and rocket barrages still marked a significant flare-up after a long period of a generally low-level, simmering conflict.

“The Israeli army delivered its most painful strike against Hamas since the 2014 war and we will increase the strength of our attacks as much as necessary,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the latest Israeli sortie, the third of the day, struck some 40 Hamas targets including tunnels, logistical centers and a Hamas battalion headquarters. He said the escalation was the result of the sustained Hamas rocket attacks, its fomenting of violence along the border and its campaign of launching incendiary kites and balloons that have devastated Israeli farmlands and nature reserves.

“Our message to Hamas is that we can and will enhance the intensity of our effort if needed,” he said. “What Hamas is doing is pushing them ever closer to the edge of the abyss … Hamas will have to understand that there is a price to be paid.”

Later, witnesses reported that Israeli warplanes dropped four bombs on an unfinished building near a Hamas police and security compound in Gaza City, reducing the old structure to rubble. The four-story building is adjacent to a public park. Gaza’s Health ministry said two teenagers were killed in the strike and ten others injured.

It marked the first casualties of the day. Striking in the heart of Gaza City is typically only seen during full-blown conflicts like the 2014 war and could signal that a further escalation may be in store.

The Israeli military had no immediate reaction to that strike but said it had targeted a separate high-rise building in the northern Gaza Strip that was used as a Hamas urban warfare training facility. It said a tunnel was dug under the building.

Shortly after, Israeli medical officials said three Israelis were wounded from a rocket that landed on a house in southern Israel. It said paramedics in the southern city of Sderot were treating a 52-year-old man with a chest wound, a 17-year-old girl with a face wound and a 20-year-old woman with injuries to her limbs.

Sirens wailed overnight and throughout most of the day Saturday in southern Israel as waves of rockets and mortars were launched from Gaza amid the airstrikes. The military said it identified about 60 launches of rockets and mortars from Gaza toward Israeli territory, of which about 10 were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. As a precaution, the military shut down a popular beach in southern Israel and placed limitations on gatherings of large crowds. Israeli police says four of the projectiles caused damage.

Israel has been warning Hamas in recent weeks that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it will not tolerate Gaza militants’ continued efforts to breach the border and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

With Israel focused on rising tension along its northern border in its efforts to prevent Iran from establishing a permanent military foothold in post-civil war Syria, it has been wary of escalating hostilities in Gaza. But Netanyahu has also come under pressure to act from southern Israeli communities, who have once again found themselves under rocket fire from Gaza in addition to contending with the daily field fires.

“We are ready to operate simultaneously in different theaters,” Conricus said, referring to the dual threats from Syria and Gaza. “It will be challenging to fight on more than one border but it is something we can do and are prepared to do.”

Israel’s military chief visited the border area for briefings and the Security Cabinet, Israel’s top decision-making body, is expected to convene Sunday to discuss further actions.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead. Later the military said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him.

Gaza’s health ministry said Saturday that a 20-year-old struck by gunfire Friday during the protests in the southern Gaza Strip had also died of his wounds.

The Islamic militant group Hamas that rules Gaza has led border protests aimed in part at drawing attention to the Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. The demonstrations have been fueled in large part by pervasive despair caused by the blockade, which has caused widespread economic hardship.

Over 130, mostly unarmed, Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since protests began on March 30.

Israel says it is defending its sovereign border and accuses Hamas of using the protests as cover for attempts to breach the border fence and attack civilians and soldiers. Most recently, it has been struggling to cope with the widespread fires caused by the incendiary kites and balloons floating over the border.

In a statement, the military said Hamas’ activities “violate Israeli sovereignty, endanger Israeli civilians and sabotage Israel’s humanitarian efforts that aim to help Gazan civilians.”

In a relatively rare admission, Hamas said it fired the rockets to deter Israel from further action. Most of the recent rockets from Gaza have been fired by smaller factions but Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said it was an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message.”

The military said its jets targeted two Hamas tunnels as well as other military compounds, including those involved in the production of the kites and balloons. It said the Hamas battalion headquarters in northern Gaza was completely destroyed and footage it released showed a series of large explosions that left a gaping hole in the ground.

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Kushner: Mideast Peace Plan Due Soon, With or Without Abbas

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JERUSALEM—President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser said in an interview published Sunday that the administration will soon present its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, with or without input from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

In an interview published in the Arabic language Al-Quds newspaper, Jared Kushner appealed directly to Palestinians and criticized Abbas, who has shunned the Trump team over its alleged pro-Israel bias, particularly on the fate of contested Jerusalem.

The interview came out after a weeklong trip around the region by Kushner and Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt. The team met with leaders of Israel, Jordan, Qatar, Egypt and Saudi Arabia to discuss the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza and the administration’s proposals for a peace deal.

The Palestinians refused to meet with Kushner, and leaders have criticized the Trump negotiating team in recent days.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Kushner and Greenblatt on Saturday of trying to topple the Abbas-led West Bank autonomy government and dismantle the U.N. aid agency for Palestinian refugees. On Sunday, Erekat doubled down on his criticism, telling Israel’s Channel 10 that the American negotiators are “not neutral” and predicting their peace plan would fail.

Any peace plan would face major obstacles, including the increasingly dire humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, internal Palestinian divisions, and recent cross-border violence between Gaza’s Hamas rulers and Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet on Sunday that he met twice with Kushner and Greenblatt this weekend and discussed “how to solve the humanitarian situation in Gaza without strengthening Hamas.”

It remains unclear how the Trump administration would proceed with a peace plan without Palestinian cooperation.

Kushner said the plan is “almost done,” but offered scant details aside from the promise of economic prosperity. He made no mention of a Palestinian state arising alongside Israel, though he acknowledged that Arab partners support that goal.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza — territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, and two years later, Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’ forces. Abbas now governs only small autonomous zones in the West Bank.

Kushner cast doubt on Abbas’ ability to make a deal, alleging that the Palestinian leadership is “scared we will release our peace plan and the Palestinian people will actually like it” because it would offer them a better life.

“The global community is getting frustrated with Palestinian leadership and not seeing many actions that are constructive toward achieving peace,” Kushner said. “There are a lot of sharp statements and condemnations, but no ideas or efforts with prospects of success.”

Palestinian leaders have refused to meet with the Trump team since the president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Jerusalem is an emotional issue at the epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel captured the city’s eastern half, home to holy sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it. The annexation is not internationally recognized. Palestinians seek east Jerusalem as capital of a future state.

“If President Abbas is willing to come back to the table, we are ready to engage; if he is not, we will likely air the plan publicly,” Kushner said.

Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh responded to Kushner’s interview by restating that American efforts will yield no result if they bypass the Palestinian leadership, and if they are not aimed at an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

Later in the day Israel’s military said its aircraft carried out several strikes in Gaza in response to Palestinians launching “arson and explosive balloons.”

Gaza’s Health Ministry said three people were wounded. Local media and witnesses in Gaza said the injured were members of Hamas forces.

For weeks, Israel has been struggling to combat large fires caused by kites and balloons rigged with incendiary devices launched by Palestinians in Gaza that have destroyed forests, burned crops and killed wildlife and livestock.

The military said that Hamas is now orchestrating the flying fire bomb attacks and “will bear the consequences for its actions.”

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Rights Group: Israeli Lethal Force in Gaza May Be War Crime

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JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks may constitute war crimes.

The statement was issued Wednesday ahead of an emergency U.N. General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force.” A similar Security Council resolution was vetoed earlier this month by the United States for being “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Palestinians have held near-weekly protests since March 30, calling for a “right of return” to ancestral homes now in Israel. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire in protests along the border. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.

The Israeli military has said its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.

Human Rights Watch contended in its statement that the mostly unarmed protesters didn’t pose an imminent threat to Israeli troops or civilians, and therefore the use of live fire suggests a violation of international law. The organization said eyewitnesses recounted Palestinians were shot from a great distance from the fence, and others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” were shot from a closer range.

Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Last month the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes.

Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch’s Mideast director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”

“The U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.

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Hundreds Hurt in Gaza Protest, Including 80 by Israeli Fire

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Israeli troops fired live rounds and tear gas as thousands of Palestinians protested near the Gaza border fence on Friday, with some demonstrators burning tires, throwing stones and flying blazing kites. At least 413 Palestinians were wounded, including 80 by live fire, Gaza health officials said.

Seven of the wounded were in serious condition, the Health Ministry said, in the latest in a series of mass protests to call attention to a decade-old blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt.

The march also marked the annual “Jerusalem Day,” instituted by Iran to protest Israeli rule of the holy city. Israel and Iran have been archenemies since Tehran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

In the capitals of Iran and Iraq, thousands of Shiite Muslims marked Jerusalem Day with protests, with some chanting “Death to Israel” or burning Israeli flags and effigies of President Donald Trump.

In Gaza, at least 115 Palestinians had been killed and nearly 3,800 wounded by Israeli army fire in previous protests near the border fence. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded had been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.

After Muslim prayers at noon Friday, thousands of Gaza residents streamed toward five protest tent camps that had been erected more than two months ago, each several hundred meters (yards) from the fence. From there, smaller groups walked closer to it.

In a camp east of Gaza City, activists burned tires, releasing black smoke. Others threw stones or flew kites with burning rags attached, aiming to send them over the border and set Israeli fields on fire.

Israeli troops fired volleys of tear gas, including from drones, that sent protesters running for cover.

One man with a bullhorn shouted, “America is the biggest evil.”

At one point, seven activists in black-and-white striped shirts meant to resemble concentration camp uniforms from World War II approached the fence.

“We want to remind the world that the Israeli occupation is committing the same massacres that the Nazis committed,” said activist Ahmed Abu Artima.

The attempt to draw a parallel between Gaza’s suffering and the Holocaust was bound to draw angry reactions.

The mass protests have been aimed at a border blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007, after the Islamic militant group Hamas overran the territory. The marchers have also pressed demands for a “right of return” for descendants of Palestinian refugees to ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

More than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled in the 1948 Mideast war over Israel’s creation. Two-thirds of Gaza’s 2 million residents are descendants of refugees.

Protester Fadi Saleh said the frequent marches have helped revive sympathies in the Arab world for the Palestinians, but that more could be done.

“We need real Arab support and solidarity with our cause,” said Saleh, a student of Arabic literature who wore a medical mask against the tear gas.

Israel’s use of potentially lethal force against the protesters has drawn international criticism. Rights groups have said Israel’s open-fire rules are unlawful.

Israel has accused Hamas of trying to carry out attacks and damage the fence under the guise of the protests. Hamas leaders have threatened possible mass border breaches, raising concern in Israel that communities near Gaza might be at risk.

The protests have largely been organized by Hamas and to some extent by the smaller Islamic Jihad militant group. Both have received political and financial support from Iran, but they also pursue their own agendas. Growing despair in Gaza over blockade-linked hardships, including daily power cuts and rising poverty, have driven turnout.

Israel and Egypt argue that they must maintain the blockade to contain Hamas and other militant groups, which have built up arsenals over the years, including short-range rockets. Israel and Hamas have fought three cross-border wars since 2008.

The Jerusalem Day protests are being held each year on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. The day is known in Arabic as “Al Quds Day,” a reference to the city’s historic Arabic name.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it to its capital, a move not recognized by most of the international community. Israel’s current government has said it will not accept a partition of the city as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

The eastern sector houses major shrines revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews. The Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in east Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, is built on the spot where tradition says the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven. The compound sits on the ruins of biblical temples and is revered by Jews as the holiest site of their religion.

In Iran’s capital of Tehran, thousands joined a Jerusalem Day march, chanting “Death to Israel” and burning a Trump effigy.

In Iraq, thousands of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen in uniform marched through the streets of the capital of Baghdad, burning an Israeli flag and carrying posters of the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Supreme Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

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Associated Press writers Ian Deitch in Jerusalem and Amir Vahdat in Tehran contributed.

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Gaza Cease-Fire Reached With Israel, Hamas Says

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GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip—Gaza’s Hamas rulers said Wednesday they had agreed to a cease-fire with Israel to end the largest flare-up of violence between the sides since a 2014 war.

Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, said Egyptian mediators intervened “after the resistance succeeded in warding off the aggression.” He said militant groups in Gaza will commit to the cease-fire as long as Israel does.

Israeli Cabinet minister Arieh Deri told Israel’s Army Radio that he expected calm to be restored.

“If it will be quiet, we will respond with quiet. We’ve given Hamas a chance to prove that we can return to routine … If they release the reins there will be a very painful strike,” he said. “There is a good chance that the routine will be restored after the blow the army unleashed on them.”

The Israeli military struck dozens of militant sites in Gaza overnight as rocket fire continued toward southern Israeli communities into early Wednesday morning, setting off air raid sirens in the area throughout the night.

The military said it hit drone storage facilities, military compounds, and rocket and munition workshops across the Gaza Strip. The overnight Hamas rocket fire reached the city of Netivot for the first time since the 2014 war. A home was struck, but no one was wounded.

The border area has been tense in recent weeks as Palestinians have held mass protests aimed at lifting an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed after Hamas seized power in 2007.

Israeli fire has killed more than 110 Palestinians, most of them during the Hamas-led protests, which climaxed on May 14.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic militant group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

The last war, in 2014, was especially devastating, with over 2,000 Palestinians killed, including hundreds of civilians, and widespread damage inflicted on Gaza’s infrastructure in 50 days of fighting. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side.

A crippling Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed when Hamas took power, has meanwhile brought the local economy to a standstill.

Hamas initially billed the weekly border protests as a call to break through the fence and return to homes that were lost 70 years ago during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment. But the protests appear to be fueled primarily by a desire to ease the blockade. Gaza’s unemployment rate is edging toward 50 percent, and the territory suffers from chronic power outages.

After Gaza militants fired some 30 mortars shells early Tuesday, Israel responded fiercely, threatening to set off another round of confrontations.

The Israeli military said most of the projectiles fired Tuesday were intercepted, but three soldiers were wounded. One mortar shell landed in a kindergarten shortly before it opened, wounding one person.

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief military spokesman, threatened tougher action and said it was up to Hamas to prevent the situation from escalating.

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Israeli Warplanes Target Gaza as Militants Fire Rockets, Mortars

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JERUSALEM—Palestinian militants bombarded southern Israel with dozens of rockets and mortar shells Tuesday, while Israeli warplanes struck targets throughout the Gaza Strip in the largest flare-up of violence between the sides since a 2014 war.

The Israeli military said most of the projectiles were intercepted, but three soldiers were wounded, raising the chances of further Israeli retaliation. One mortar shell landed near a kindergarten shortly before it opened.

The sudden burst of violence, which stretched past midnight with no signs of slowing, follows weeks of mass Palestinian protests along the Gaza border with Israel. Over 110 Palestinians, many of them unarmed protesters, have been killed by Israeli fire in that time. Israel says it holds Gaza’s Hamas rulers responsible for the bloodshed.

“Israel will exact a heavy price from those who seek to harm it, and we see Hamas as responsible for preventing such attacks,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic group seized control of Gaza in 2007.

The last war in 2014 was especially devastating, with over 2,000 Palestinians killed, including hundreds of civilians, and widespread damage inflicted on Gaza’s infrastructure in 50 days of fighting. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side.

Tuesday’s violence bore a striking resemblance to the run-up to past wars. In the early morning, Palestinian militants fired over two dozen mortar rounds into southern Israel, including the shell that landed near the kindergarten.

The Israeli military confirmed over 60 airstrikes throughout Gaza, including an unfinished tunnel near the southern city of Rafah that crossed under the border into Egypt and from there into Israeli territory. It said other targets included “sheds of drones,” a rocket manufacturing workshop, naval weaponry, military and training facilities and a munitions manufacturing site. No Palestinian casualties were reported.

Palestinian militants continued to fire additional barrages toward southern Israel, setting off air raid sirens in the area throughout the night.

Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the chief military spokesman, threatened tougher action and said it was up to Hamas to stop the situation from escalating.

“These strikes will continue to intensify as long as necessary if this fire continues,” he told reporters outside Israeli military headquarters.

Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad militant issued a joint statement Tuesday, claiming shared responsibility for firing rockets and projectiles against Israeli communities near Gaza.

They said Israel “began this round of escalation” by targeting their installations in the past two days, killing four militants. It was the first time the armed wing of Hamas has claimed responsibility for rocket attacks out of Gaza since the 2014 war.

An Islamic Jihad spokesman, Daoud Shehab, claimed that Egypt had brokered a cease-fire deal to go into effect at midnight. But more than an hour after the deadline, rocket fire and Israeli airstrikes were continuing. Shehab said some militants rejected the cease-fire and were continuing to fire rockets. There was no Israeli comment on the purported cease-fire plan.

Hamas has been severely weakened by the three wars with Israel, as well as a stifling Israeli-Egyptian blockade that has brought the local economy to a standstill.

Hamas initially billed the weekly border protests as a call to break through the fence and return to homes that were lost 70 years ago during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment.

But the protests appear to be fueled primarily by a desire to ease the blockade. Gaza’s unemployment rate is edging toward 50 percent, and the territory suffers from chronic power outages.

With limited options at its disposal, and a failure so far of the protests to significantly ease the blockade, Hamas appears to be gambling that limited rocket fire might somehow shake up the situation.

Ismail Radwan, a Hamas official, said the “resistance is capable of hurting the occupation and it proved this today by responding to its crimes.”

Israel says the blockade is needed to prevent Hamas from building up its military capabilities.

Also Tuesday, two fishing boats carrying students and medical patients set sail from Gaza City’s port, aiming to reach Cyprus and break the Israeli blockade, which has restricted most activity along the coast. Hamas acknowledged it was mostly a symbolic act.

One of the boats quickly turned around, while the Israeli navy intercepted the second vessel after it ventured beyond a six-mile (10-kilometer) limit imposed by Israel.

The Israeli military said the boat was intercepted without incident, was taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod and the 17 people aboard would be sent back to Gaza.

In southern Israel, angry residents complained about the renewed rocket fire.

Adva Klein of Kibbutz Kfar Aza said she only got about two hours of sleep because of the frequent incoming fire and the warning sirens. Other residents reported machine- gun fire from Gaza.

“It’s been a really scary morning,” said Adele Raemer of Kibbutz Nirim.

Regional councils near the Gaza border instructed residents to stay close to bomb shelters.

The high Palestinian death toll in the border protests has drawn strong international criticism of Israel, with rights groups saying Israel’s use of live fire is illegal because in many cases it has struck unarmed protesters who did not pose an imminent threat to Israeli soldiers.

But on Tuesday, the Palestinians came under criticism.

The United States condemned the attacks out of Gaza and called for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council. U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said the Security Council “should be outraged and respond.”

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, called for an immediate halt to the rocket and mortar fire.

“Indiscriminate attacks against civilians are completely unacceptable under any circumstances,” she said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it had instructed embassies around the world to seek similar condemnations of the Palestinian fire.

Israel has rejected the criticism of its response to the protests, saying it is defending its border and nearby communities. It accuses Hamas of trying to carry out attacks under the cover of protests and using civilian demonstrators as human shields.

Hamas has vowed to continue the border rallies.

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Associated Press writer Fares Akram in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed.

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Palestinians Seek World Court Investigation of Israel

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THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Calling it a “historic step” toward justice, the Palestinian foreign minister asked the International Criminal Court on Tuesday to open an “immediate investigation” into alleged Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinian people.

The development was sure to worsen the already troubled relations between the internationally backed Palestinian Authority and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Peace talks have been frozen for over four years, and contacts between the two sides are minimal.

Speaking to reporters at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said he submitted the “referral” to the court during a meeting with the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda.

The referral sought an investigation into Israeli policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip since the state of Palestine accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction in 2014, he said.

This includes Israeli settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, as well as the recent round of bloodshed in the Gaza Strip, where Israeli fire killed over 100 Palestinians during mass protests along the Gaza border, Malki added.

“There is a culture of impunity in Israel for crimes against Palestinians,” Malki said. “This referral is Palestine’s test to the international mechanism of accountability and respect for international law.”

The ICC has been conducting a preliminary probe since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including Israel’s settlement policy and crimes allegedly committed by both sides in the 2014 Gaza conflict. Tuesday’s referral could speed up a decision on whether to open a full-blown investigation that could ultimately lead to the indictment of high-ranking Israelis.

The move comes with Israeli-Palestinian relations at their lowest point in years in the aftermath of the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem and the recent bloodshed on the Gaza border.

“This is a conduct that requires that we take action and this is why we moved in this regard,” said Palestinian Assistant Minister for Multilateral Affairs Ammar Hijazi, referring to recent Gaza violence.

Israel has said it was defending its border and accused Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group of using the unrest to carry out attempted attacks and of using civilians as human shields.

In new violence, the Israeli army said it targeted a Hamas observation post in Gaza with tank fire after a group of militants briefly entered Israel and set fire to an Israeli military post. The army said there were no injuries on the Israeli side, and no additional details were immediately available.

In response to Tuesday’s move at the ICC, Israel said it took a “severe view” of the Palestinian request, calling it a “cynical” and “absurd” step. It accused the Palestinians of violent incitement against Israel and exploiting women and children as human shields. It also said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case because Israel is not a member of the court.

“Israel expects the ICC and its prosecutor not to yield to Palestinian pressure, and stand firm against continued Palestinian efforts to politicize the court and to derail it from its mandate,” the Israeli statement said.

Israel is not a member of the ICC, but its citizens can be charged by the court if they are suspected of committing grave crimes on the territory or against a national of a country that is a member. The ICC has recognized “Palestine” as a member state.

The ICC is a court of last resort — it is authorized to take on cases where national authorities cannot or will not launch prosecutions.

Israel says it has investigated actions by its forces during the Gaza conflict, and says it has opened a number of investigations into the latest Gaza violence as well. But critics say the investigations rarely lead anywhere.

“Israel acts in accordance with independent and thorough judicial review mechanisms, befitting a democratic state, and in accordance with international law,” the Israeli statement said.

While the ICC can indict suspects, it has no police force and has to rely on cooperation from member states to enforce arrest warrants.

Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, said Bensouda, the chief ICC prosecutor, should now “take steps to open a formal probe aimed at holding perpetrators of serious crimes to account and ensuring impartial and comprehensive justice consistent with the court’s statute.”

The Palestinians appear to have an especially strong case in the matter of settlements. In 2004, the United Nations’ highest judicial organ, the International Court of Justice, ruled in an advisory opinion that the settlements breached international law.

In late 2016, the U.N. Security Council also declared the settlements to be illegal.

Over 600,000 Israelis now live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem — territories sought by the Palestinians as parts of their future state. Israel captured both territories from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war.

Under international law it is illegal to transfer populations out of or into occupied territory.

Israel claims east Jerusalem as an inseparable part of its capital — though its annexation is not international recognized.

Israel claims the West Bank is not occupied because it was captured from Jordan, not the Palestinians, and Jordan does not make a claim to the territory.

Since the Palestinians never ruled the West Bank, Israel says this territory is disputed and its final status should be resolved in negotiations. It also claims that settlements can be torn down and therefore do not prejudice the final status of the territory. It notes that in the case of Gaza, for instance, it uprooted all settlements there when it withdrew in 2005. Israel also captured Gaza in the 1967 war.

While the Gaza withdrawal removed some 8,000 settlers, the much larger population in the West Bank and east Jerusalem would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to move.

___

Associated Press writer Josef Federman in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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Israel’s Days of Shame

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Uri Averny / Tikkun.

On bloody Monday this past week, when the number of Palestinian killed and wounded was rising by the hour, I asked myself: what would I have done if I had been a youngster of 15 in the Gaza Strip?

My answer was, without hesitation: I would have stood near the border fence and demonstrated, risking my life and limbs every minute.

How am I so sure?

Simple: I did the same when I was 15.

I was a member of the National Military Organization (the “Irgun”), an armed underground group labeled “terrorist”.

Palestine was at the time under British occupation (called “mandate”). In May 1939, the British enacted a law limiting the right of Jews to acquire land. I received an order to be at a certain time at a certain spot near the sea shore of Tel Aviv in order to take part in a demonstration. I was to wait for a trumpet signal.

The trumpet sounded and we started the march down Allenby Road, then the city’s main street. Near the main synagogue, somebody climbed the stairs and delivered an inflammatory speech. Then we marched on, to the end of the street, where the offices of the British administration were located. There we sang the national anthem, “Hatikvah”, while some adult members set fire to the offices.

Suddenly several lorries carrying British soldiers screeched to a halt, and a salvo of shots rang out. The British fired over our heads, and we ran away.

Remembering this event 79 years later, it crossed my mind that the boys of Gaza are greater heroes then we were then. They did not run away. They stood their ground for hours, while the death toll rose to 61 and the number of those wounded by live ammunition to some 1500, in addition to 1000 affected by gas.

On that day, most TV stations in Israel and abroad split their screen. On the right, the events in Gaza. On the left, the inauguration of the US Embassy in Jerusalem.

In the 136th year of the Zionist-Palestinian war, that split screen is the picture of reality: the celebration in Jerusalem and the bloodbath in Gaza. Not on two different planets, not in two different continents, but hardly an hour’s drive apart.

The celebration in Jerusalem started as a silly event. A bunch of suited males, inflated with self-importance, celebrating – what, exactly? The symbolic movement of an office from one town to another.

Jerusalem is a major bone of contention. Everybody knows that there will be no peace, not now, not ever, without a compromise there. For every Palestinian, every Arab, every Muslim throughout the world, it is unthinkable to give up Jerusalem. It is from there, according to Muslim tradition, that the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, after tying his horse to the rock that is now the center of the holy places. After Mecca and Medina, Jerusalem is the third holiest place of Islam.

For the Jews, of course, Jerusalem means the place where, some 2000 years ago, there stood the temple built by King Herod, a cruel half-Jew. A remnant of an outer wall still stands there and is revered as the “Western Wall”. It used to be called the “Wailing Wall”, and is the holiest place of the Jews.

Statesmen have tried to square the circle and find a solution. The 1947 United Nations committee that decreed the partition of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state – a solution enthusiastically endorsed by the Jewish leadership – suggested separating Jerusalem from both states and constituting it as a separate unit within what was supposed to be in fact a kind of confederation.

The war of 1948 resulted in a divided city, the Eastern part was occupied by the Arab side (the Kingdom of Jordan) and the Western part became the capital of Israel. (My modest part was to fight in the battle for the road.)

No one liked the division of the city. So my friends and I devised a third solution, which by now has become a world consensus: keep the city united on the municipal level and divide it politically: the West as capital of the State of Israel, the East as capital of the State of Palestine. The leader of the local Palestinians, Faisal al-Husseini, the scion of a most distinguished local Palestinian family and the son of a national hero who was killed not far from my position in the same battle, endorsed this formula publicly. Yasser Arafat gave me his tacit consent.

If President Donald Trump had declared West Jerusalem the capital of Israel and moved his embassy there, almost nobody would have got excited. By omitting the word “West”, Trump ignited a fire. Perhaps without realizing what he was doing, and probably not giving a damn.

For me, the moving of the US embassy means nothing. It is a symbolic act that does not change reality. If and when peace does come, no one will care about some stupid act of a half-forgotten US president. Inshallah.

So there they were, this bunch of self-important nobodies, Israelis, Americans and those in-between, having their little festival, while rivers of blood were flowing in Gaza. Human beings were killed by the dozen and wounded by the thousand.

The ceremony started as a cynical meeting, which quickly became grotesque, and ended in being sinister. Nero fiddling while Rome was burning.

When the last hug was exchanged and the last compliment paid (especially to the graceful Ivanka), Gaza remained what it was – a huge concentration camp with severely overcrowded hospitals, lacking medicines and food, drinkable water and electricity.

A ridiculous world-wide propaganda campaign was let loose to counter the world-wide condemnation. For example: the story that the terrorist Hamas had compelled the Gazans to go and demonstrate – as if anyone could be compelled to risk their life in a demonstration.

Or: the story that Hamas paid every demonstrator 50 dollars. Would you risk your life for 50 dollars? Would anybody?

Or: The soldiers had no choice but to kill them, because they were storming the border fence. Actually, no one did so – the huge concentration of Israeli army brigades would have easily prevented it without shooting.

Almost forgotten was a small news item from the days before: Hamas had discreetly offered a Hudna for ten years. A Hudna is a sacred armistice, never to be broken. The Crusaders, our remote predecessors, had many Hudnas with their Arab enemies during their 200-year stay here.

Israeli leaders immediately rejected the offer.

So why were the soldiers ordered to kill? It is the same logic that has animated countless occupation regimes throughout history: make the “natives” so afraid that they will give up. Alas, the results have almost always been the very opposite: the oppressed have become more hardened, more resolute. This is happening now.

Bloody Monday may well be seen in future as the day when the Palestinians regained their national pride, their will to stand up and fight for their independence.

Strangely, the next day – the main day of the planned protest, Naqba Day – only two demonstrators were killed. Israeli diplomats abroad, facing world-wide indignation, had probably sent home SOS messages. Clearly the Israeli army had changed its orders. Non-lethal means were used and sufficed.

My consience does not allow me to conclude this without some self-criticism.

I would have expected that all of Israel’s renowned writers would publish a thundering joint condemnation while the shooting was still going on. It did not happen.

The political “opposition” was contemptible. No word from the Labor party. No word from Ya’ir Lapid. The new leader of the Meretz party, Esther Sandberg, did at least boycott the Jerusalem celebration. Labor and Lapid did not even do that.

I would have expected that the dozens of our brave peace organizations would unite in a dramatic act of condemnation, an act that would arouse the world. It did not happen. Perhaps they were in a state of shock.

The next day, the excellent boys and girls of the peace groups demonstrated opposite the Likud office in Tel Aviv. Some 500 took part. Far, far from the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated some years ago against the price of cottage cheese.

In short: we did not do our duty. I accuse myself as much as I accuse everybody else.

We must prepare at once for the next atrocity. We must organize for mass action now!

But what topped everything was the huge machine of brain-washing that was set in motion. For many years I have not experienced anything like it.

Almost all the so-called “military correspondents” acted like army propaganda agents. Day by day they helped the army to spread lies and falsifications. The public had no alternative but to believe every word. Nobody told them otherwise.

The same is true for almost all other means of communication, program presenters, announcers and correspondents. They willingly became government liars. Probably many of them were ordered to do so by their bosses. Not a glorious chapter.

After the day of blood, when the army was faced with world condemnation and had to stop shooting (“only” killing two unarmed demonstrators) all Israeli media were united in declaring this a great Israeli victory.

Israel had to open the crossings and send food and medicines to Gaza. Egypt had to open its Gaza crossing and accept many hundreds of wounded for operations and other treatment.

The Day of Shame has passed. Until the next time.

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