The U.S. Embassy in Israel isn’t the only reason for violence: Here are the key issues


Gaza’s Health Ministry says the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli army fire near the Gaza border has reached 37. (May 14)

The formal dedication of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Monday outraged Palestinians, but it’s not the only reason for the deadly, weeks-long demonstrations along Israel’s border with Gaza.

Protest leaders are calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees to the areas they fled or were driven from their homes with the creation of Israel in 1948. The demonstrations, dubbed the Great March of Return, also are a response to the control of goods entering Gaza by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Scores of Palestinians were killed and hundreds more wounded by the Israeli military Monday in clashes along the boundary fence on the most violent day yet. More than 100 have died since the protests began in March.

Tuesday could be worse. May 15 is Nakba Day, the Day of Catastrophe, when Palestinians commemorate their ouster.

The Israeli military has blamed Gaza’s ruling Hamas for the violence, saying the Sunni-Islamist political organization has been encouraging protesters to breach the fence. 

Great March spokesman Ahmad Abu Artema was undeterred, however, telling Al Jazeera that the effort along the fence is designed to “send a message — the Palestinian people have not and will not adapt to 70 years of being refugees, estrangement and difficult conditions.”

More: Scores killed as violence greets dedication of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

More: U.S. Embassy to open in Jerusalem amid Palestinian outcry

How did the Great March begin?

The march was sparked by a Facebook post months ago by Artema, who suggested thousands of unarmed Palestinians walk toward the border fence. Artema rejects Hamas’ notion of defeating Israel, but wants to end the separation between Palestinians and Israelis. “I don’t believe in liberation,” Artema told Israel’s Ynet News, an online newspaper. “I want to live alongside Israelis.”

What do the Palestinians want?

Palestinian leaders demand the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees who fled or were driven from their homes in what is now Israel. Some 750,000 Palestinians were displaced with the creation of Israel in 1948. Around 70% of Gaza’s 2 million population are descendants of those refugees, and now live in an area about the size of Philadelphia, according to the International Committee for Breaking the Siege of Gaza. The committee is an association of groups that oppose the control of goods entering Gaza by Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority.

Are the protests non-violent?

Thousands of men, women and children have gathered in tent encampments at a safe distance from the fence. But militants have joined the protest movement and urged other participants to burn tires close to the fence, and to hurl stones and gasoline bombs toward Israeli soldiers on the other side. According to Israeli authorities, Hamas also detonated two bombs near a border patrol passing along the fence, while others were shot trying to cut the fence and enter Israel. There have been no Israeli injuries associated with the protests.

What does Israel say?

Israel says it has the right to defend its borders, protect its citizens and prevent illegal infiltration. “Responsibility for any clashes that may arise will thus lie solely with Hamas and the other Palestinian organizations who have manufactured this entire campaign,” according to a statement by Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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