The bizarre juxtaposition of death and celebration was no accident. Israeli Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information Gilad Erdan defended the deaths, telling Ynet News: ‘We need to go back to targeted killings, and they need to go back to hiding underground and fearing for their lives, not organizing the masses to carry out terror attacks.’
By SHEILA COPPS
First published in The Hill Times on May 21, 2018.
OTTAWA—Thank you Donald Trump. A Middle East powder keg erupted last week with a split-screen shot that said it all.
The juxtaposition was so glaring that the Economist cover story had this to say: “In a surreal split-screen moment, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was exulting over the opening of America’s embassy in Jerusalem, calling it a “great day for peace.” The other television split screen shot involved an up-close view of many shots. Israeli military snipers picked off specific targets including personnel from Doctors Without Borders, who had gathered to provide medical support at an expected massive Gaza protest.
Trump’s on-screen triumph included his daughter and son-in-law, accompanied by a motley group of administration officials, Trump fundraisers and Christian zealots, all applauding his decision to move the embassy to west Jerusalem. Missing were most diplomats from other countries, some of whom boycotted, while others were simply not invited.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of protesters had gathered at the frontier to protest the embassy move and mark the 70th anniversary of what they call Nakba, or day of catastrophe, when the creation of the State of Israel displaced more than 700,000 Palestinians.
News reports say that more than 60 people were killed, incuding a baby overcome by tear gas. The New York Times later reported the baby who died had also suffered from a congenital heart disease and The Associated Press quoted an unnamed doctor who believed the cause of her death was a heart ailment, not Israeli tear gas. London, Ont., physician, Dr. Tarek Loubani, was shot in both legs. More than 2,700 Palestinians were injured, including 1,359 hit by live ammunition.
Israel blamed the deaths on Hamas, suggesting it was only defending its borders from terrorist attacks. The White House backed that viewpoint. Principal deputy press secretary Raj Shah called the demonstrations “a propaganda attempt” orchestrated by Hamas.” “I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence, and we find it very unfortunate.”
Most of the world community used much stronger language, condemning the unwarranted use of excessive violence by the Israeli military. United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May, usually a staunch defender of Israel, has called for an independent inquiry into the use of live ammunition against civilians.
Meanwhile, Canada’s prime minister added his voice to those calling for a probe, characterizing the use of “excessive violence” as “inexcusable.”
Even the Israeli Defense Forces spokesperson admitted the images were a public relations “knockout” for the Palestinians. “It was a graphic image,” Lt.-Col. Jonathan Conricus, a senior officer in the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, was reported to have said Wednesday. “The amount of people hit did us an immense wrong. It was a difficult story to tell.”
The longest-running Israeli newspaper, left-leaning Haaretz, published an opinion piece that pulled no punches. Anyone who isn’t ashamed of what should already be called the “Trump Massacre” should be. Let anyone who is not ashamed be ashamed at the wanton firing at unarmed demonstrators while the VIPs, the leaders, the lords and masters and the rabbis attend a vacuous and tasteless celebration.”
The celebration guest list highlighted a bizarre mix of movers and shakers in the Trump coalition. Invitees included an evangelical Christian pastor who once claimed Jews “can’t be saved.”
Fox News reported in advance of the ceremony that Rev. Robert Jeffress’s prayer would include “thanking God for our President Donald Trump, who had the courage to do what no other U.S. president has done, and that is to officially recognize Jerusalem and to move the embassy.”
In the past, Jeffress has labelled Mormonism and Islam “a heresy from the pit of Hell” and claimed that Islam “promotes pedophilia.” Mitt Romney, a Mormon and Republican 2012 presidential candidate, criticized the inclusion of Jeffress in the ceremony. “Such a religious bigot should not be giving the prayer that opens the United States Embassy in Jerusalem,” he tweeted.
Guest Rev. John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel, has characterized Adolf Hitler as a “hunter” sent to help Jews return to Israel. Hagee and Jeffress believe last week’s return to Jerusalem sets the stage for the Apocalypse.
The bizarre juxtaposition of death and celebration was no accident. Israeli Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information Gilad Erdan defended the deaths, telling Ynet News: “We need to go back to targeted killings, and they need to go back to hiding underground and fearing for their lives, not organizing the masses to carry out terror attacks.”
Erdan added, “It’s time for the heads of Hamas to pay a personal price for organizing these terror attacks.”
That may have been his intention. At this juncture it appears that innocent civilians and first responders were the ones who paid the price.
The Hill Times Editor’s note: This column had originally reported the U.S. embassy moved to East Jerusalem, but it was moved to west Jerusalem. As well, The New York Times reported the baby who died had also suffered from a congenital heart disease.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.