International outrage is mounting, as Israeli leaders refuse to begin an inquiry into the use of live rounds during a demonstration at the Gaza-Israeli border, despite calls from the international community for just such an inquiry. More than a dozen funerals took place over the weekend, following the deaths on “Land Day”, which is a symbolic day for the Palestinians. The day is the beginning of a month and a half of protests and sit-ins.
Video footage has been released onto the internet showing men approaching the border, only to be shot at as they fled. At least nine of the protestors were killed by the Israeli army’s ammunition, while a farmer was killed by a shell in his own field.
Live ammunition and rubber bullets were used during the protest by the Israeli army, and this has sparked calls for an inquiry from the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres. Other leaders calling for an inquiry include EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. Leaders throughout the international community noted that the Israeli response appears to have been disproportionate to the actions of the protesters.
Israel’s Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that the soldiers acted as “necessary”. He claimed that the soldiers were fired upon by protesters and that included rocks and flaming tires being hurled at them. He maintained that peaceful protesters were not harmed, but that only those charging the border were confronted by the Israeli soldiers.
In the meantime, the Israeli government has increased its border security, including adding paramilitary troops and snipers ahead of the annual commemoration of the land seizures and the displacement of the Palestinian people.
Protesters have been advised to stay 700 meters back from the border, and those that came closer were the ones fired upon by the Israeli soldiers. The Palestine authority claims that thousands were injured by the rubber bullets, live ammunition, and tear gas.
“The use of live ammunition should, in particular, be part of an independent and transparent investigation,” said Mogherini in a statement on Saturday. “While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times.”
During this turbulent period between the Israelis and Palestinians, a recent potential change of heart from the Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman could shift the balance in the region. The Crown Prince acknowledged that the Jewish people have a right to their own homeland, reflecting a shift in policy within the kingdom, but also an important realignment in the region itself.
The increased concerns about the actions of Iran throughout the region has meant that aligning with Israel creates another alliance for the kingdom. The uneasiness in the region has become even more intense as it becomes clear that Syria’s Assad is still in power and his alliances with Russia and Iran give both countries a stepping stone into the Middle East. Officially, however, the country does not recognize Israel, and they have maintained that Israel needs to withdraw to its territory before the 1967 Israeli-Arab war, although this demand was not repeated by the prince during this interview. After the Crown Prince’s interview with the Atlantic, the Saudi government released a statement of support for the Palestinian people, noting “the kingdom’s steadfast position toward the Palestinian issue and the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people to an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
Jerusalem is really the sticking point for all sides, so it is unclear how all the players will move forward in light of what appears to be changing policy of the kingdom, while at the same time, how the recent Israeli actions have created tensions for the region and the international community.