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While the opening of the American Embassy in Jerusalem was a historic day for South Florida’s Jewish community, Monday’s violence in the Gaza Strip that led to more than 50 Palestinians killed and more than 2,000 injured cast a pall over the momentous occasion.
It’s “an exciting event and day for us,” said Guy Gilady, deputy consul general of Israel in Miami, who also expressed concern about the escalating violence in Gaza, about 50 miles from Jerusalem.
“The numbers are horrific and really this is loss of life and for what? Nothing,” said Gilady. “I believe the majority of the people on the other side are like you and [me]. But they are ruled by a terrorist organization.”
Those representing the Palestinian community had a different view of Monday’s events.
“We condemn this massacre of civilian protesters — including children, medical personnel and the disabled — who seek to shake the conscience of an international community that has long ignored or excused Israel’s past dispossession of the Palestinian people,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who is of Palestinian heritage.
The mass protests along the Gaza Strip began on March 30 when Israeli forces clashed with some 30,000 Palestinians, leaving 18 dead and hundreds wounded. The protests were over Israel’s economic blockade of the region.
As Israel’s 70th anniversary approached — celebrated in April due to the Hebrew calendar, but the actual date is May 14, 1948 — the violence escalated, leaving dozens dead.
With the United States moving the embassy Monday from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city that the international community has considered neutral due to competing ownership claims by the two sides, the protests bubbled up. On Monday, Israeli armed forces killed at least 58 people, including several teenagers, as waves of Palestinians tried to burst through the border fence separating Gaza from Israel.
More than 2,000 people were injured in the violence, the worst since 2014. Many were shot.
Gilady said Israel has no choice but to protect its borders, from people threatening the country’s existence.
“Gaza has been taken over by a terrorist group, Hamas,” he said, adding Hamas has been sending thousands of people to the border to “infiltrate Israel.”
Wilfredo A. Ruiz, the spokesman for CAIR’s Florida chapter, disputes that assessment.
The Palestinians haven’t “launched a single rocket or fired a gun,” he said.
The protesters did burn tires and launched stones from slingshots, according to the Associated Press.
As for the embassy opening in Jerusalem, Gilady praised President Donald Trump’s decision.
“This was a natural move made by the administration,” he said. “Every country should be free to choose their own capital. This is only one more step to strengthen the bond, the relationship and the alliance between Israel and America.”
But, Ruiz countered, America’s decision to move its embassy only inflamed the situation.
“We see no purpose in America’s foreign policy in doing this move,” he said. “America is taking one side.”
Ruiz said the provenance of Jerusalem is something that should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians.
“This is not about Muslims and Jews,” Ruiz said. “It’s an Israeli, Palestinian conflict and should remain that.”