- Sharif Abdel Kouddousindependent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent reporting from Gaza.
We go to Gaza for a live update from Sharif Abdel Kouddous as tens of thousands of Palestinians have gathered near the heavily fortified border with Israel for nonviolent protests against the U.S. Embassy’s opening in Jerusalem. At the time of our broadcast, the Israeli military had killed at least 30 Palestinians, and least 1,000 had been injured. “No one is carrying any weapons here. There are no bullets being fired by Palestinians on Israeli soldiers. … And yet these killings continue,” Kouddous says. This comes as senior members of the Trump administration have gathered in Jerusalem for the embassy’s opening.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where the Israeli military has killed at least 30 Palestinians, at this count, today, amidst the massive nonviolent protests against the U.S. Embassy’s opening in Jerusalem, later, after this broadcast. At least 1,000 people have been injured. Israeli soldiers are currently firing live ammunition into the crowd of tens of thousands of Palestinian protesters, who have gathered in Gaza near the heavily fortified border with Israel. The Israeli military has also been dropping tear gas from drones over Gaza.
This comes as senior members of the Trump administration have gathered in Jerusalem for the opening of the U.S. Embassy, including President Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump, White House senior adviser; her husband, senior adviser Jared Kushner; and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin. Jared Kushner is expected to lay out the Trump administration’s plan for Middle East peace in the coming weeks. The Trump administration’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem has sparked widespread international condemnation, while it’s been praised by the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who spoke on Sunday.
PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Move your embassies to Jerusalem, because it advances peace. And that is—that’s because you can’t base peace on a foundation of lies. You base peace on the foundations of truth. And the truth is that not only has Jerusalem been the capital of the Jewish people for millennia, and the capital of our state from its inception; the truth is that, under any peace agreement you could possibly imagine, Jerusalem will remain Israel’s capital.
AMY GOODMAN: Two controversial pastors have been chosen by the Trump administration to lead prayers at the U.S. Embassy’s opening. The right-wing preacher Robert Jeffress, who has previously said, quote, “Islam is a false religion inspired by Satan,” and that, quote, “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” he’s anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, anti-Mormon, anti-gay.
For more, we go to Gaza, where we’re joined by Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent.
Sharif, welcome back to Democracy Now! Explain what’s happening in Gaza right now, as the U.S. Embassy is about to be opened, symbolically, in Jerusalem.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, there’s just a simply massive protest all along the eastern border of Gaza, the border with Israel, throughout the entire length of the Strip, from the north in Beit Hanoun, to the south in Rafah. I was at the biggest protest site, which is just east of Gaza City. There are thousands of people converging on the site—men, women and children. And it’s a really surreal scene. There are people gathering, mostly young men and boys, up near the border, where there is barbed wire, three sets of barbed wire. And you can see, just a couple of hundred yards away, Israeli soldiers, you know, under these canopies, on mounds of sand, sometimes in jeeps, and they are picking people off with—snipers are literally picking people off. I’ve seen people who weren’t even close to the fence being shot. Most of the people are being shot in the lower extremities, in their legs. I saw one person shot in the throat. The latest numbers—they keep going up—somewhere between 28 and 30 killed, including a paramedic and a disabled person. There’s a thousand wounded today, including nine journalists. That brings the total, since this movement began, this kind of somewhat unprecedented movement in Gaza, since March 30th, to 74 people killed and over 9,000 injured.
And, you know, there’s—no one is carrying any weapons here. There are no bullets being fired by Palestinians on Israeli soldiers. There’s nothing I have seen that poses any threat to the Israeli military. Not a single Israeli soldier has been injured. And yet these killings continue. People insist that this is peaceful. There are no military uniforms allowed. There are no weapons allowed. Despite the fact that there are very heavily armed groups in Gaza, this was a decision that was made by a group of—by the committees that are running this movement. People throw rocks. They burn tires, large tires, which send huge plumes of black smoke into the air, to try and block the view of the snipers. They also send these kites and balloons, which have either a burning rag or an improvised Molotov cocktail dangling off the end, and they try and guide it over, over the border.
And what most people are doing, it’s just the very act of walking to the border. Some people go and place the Palestinian flag on the barbed wire. Some people do go and cut the wire and try and cross, saying that they are implementing the right of return themselves. But it’s also a way—you know, we have to remember that people are trapped in Gaza. There’s really no way out. Many people have never left the Strip, because all border crossings are closed to them, and they’re not allowed to leave. And so this is a way of pushing their bodies up against their confinement. And this is also happening, all of this, in a buffer zone. We have to remember that Israel imposed a buffer zone a couple of hundred meters from the border in Gaza. And so, over the years, farmers and people living on that side of the Gaza Strip have been regularly shot at by Israeli troops from the other side. And so, even reclaiming this space in Gaza itself is, in itself, an achievement. But it’s a very—it’s a very difficult situation.
And as you mentioned, there are—well, and they’re using these high-velocity sniper bullets, which cause a lot of damage. Also, a couple of doctors told me that they’re using fragmentation bullets, which break apart upon impact. And they have seen injuries with fist-sized holes in the exit wounds. And most of this is being—people are being shot in the legs. They were talking about nearly 10,000 people injured, many of them by live ammunition, many being hit in the legs. You know, it kind of reminds me of the first intifada. Israelis would break the arms of Palestinians who were throwing stones. And now it’s Palestinians walking towards the border, and so they’re taking out their legs. We were in Shifa Hospital. If you just walk there, I mean, there was a wailing of pain in the orthopedic wards and young men and boys walking around on crutches, many of them lying in beds, their legs bandaged up with rods and pins protruding out. One doctor told me that they’re creating a new generation of cripples. There’s been almost 30 amputations.
And also there’s the fact of the tear gas. Tear gas comes in three different ways. It’s fired by jeeps, which fire in multiple rounds, five at a time, at the crowd. They’re also fired by the normal kind of rifle, that goes much further. But there’s a new method, which I saw twice today, is tear gas being fired from drones. And this is a new method that Israel experimented with just a couple of weeks before these protests started. It was first used in Gaza in March. And military officials were reported as saying that they were experimenting with this, but it looks like it’s now operational. And this also fits a trend of Israel kind of experimenting its tools of occupation on the bodies of Palestinians. And those tools are usually exported elsewhere. And I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing tear gas drones in other places, as well. But a really chaotic situation here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re talking about what’s happening on the Gaza-Israel border. The embassy is opening in Jerusalem, Sharif. Do you know about any protests there? It’s opening just after the broadcast, actually, of this show. The protest in Gaza, while today is the most deadly day of the Israeli military gunning down Palestinian protesters—the numbers, we think, around 30, as you said—we’re nearing 80 Palestinians killed by Israeli snipers and the Israeli military since the ongoing nonviolent protest of March 30th, that are supposed to be culminating tomorrow, although expected to go on from there.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, Amy, being here in Gaza, it’s hard to know what’s happening in Jerusalem, just with everything that’s happening on the ground and also a lack of access to the internet. But what I can tell you is that Jerusalem is a main factor in what’s driving this. You know, there’s a number of reasons that this kind of new movement is happening in Gaza. It’s the accumulation of a number of things and the convergence of a number of events.
You know, first of all, there’s the siege, of course, where the situation in Gaza—I’ve been coming here since 2011, and every time I come, the situation is much worse. It’s really now intolerable. This has been a siege for 11 years. It has affected everything—the economic situation, humanitarian situation, the right to travel. On top of that, in summer, the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas imposed sanctions on Gaza, worsening the economic situation and things like electricity, in a bid to force Hamas’s hand. And, you know, everyone knew that this was unsustainable. People were talking about it. And so, that’s one of the reasons this has risen up.
But another one, in a broader context, and from speaking with a lot of people here, there’s a sense that the very core of the Palestinian cause is under threat, that the essence of the Palestinian cause is under threat. So you have Jerusalem, which is at the very core of the Palestinian cause, with Trump moving the embassy to Jerusalem, the U.S. Embassy, and recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and that is a huge insult to Palestinians. And there’s also the issue of the right of return. Many people here spoke of what’s called the deal of the century, that’s supposedly being worked on by Trump and other countries. There’s been several leaked versions of it. But many of them do away with the right of return, and treat Palestinian refugees as a humanitarian situation. If you take away Jerusalem and the right of return, you know, what’s left for the Palestinian cause? So that’s really driving this, as well.
And it also comes in a context of a divided leadership, Palestinian leadership, with Fatah and Hamas really nowhere near reconciliation, that was supposed to happen a few months ago. It comes in a context of a region where Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, are aligned with Israel, in many ways. And it’s coming on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, of 70 years of waiting for the right to return not being realized.
And finally, Gaza has seen itself, historically, as responsible for the national cause. Yasser Arafat is from Gaza. Gaza gave birth to the first intifada. It gave birth to Fatah. It gave birth to Hamas. It gave birth to Islamic Jihad. It is—all of this came out of Gaza, and it sees itself as part of—you know, responsible for the Palestinian cause. And so, that’s why the demands here are not just lifting the siege. They go to the very essence of it, and they’re calling for the right of return, as well.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the significance of the opening of the embassy in Jerusalem. An anti-gay, pro-Trump pastor from Dallas, Pastor Robert Jeffress, was chosen by the Trump administration to lead the prayer at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Pastor Jeffress has a history of making hateful comments against Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Mormons, the LGBTQ community. This is just a few of the statements he’s made over the years.
DONALD TRUMP: Where is Pastor Jeffress? He’s around here someplace. What a good guy! Where is he? Well, come here. I love this guy!
PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS: Here’s the deep, dark, dirty secret of Islam. It is a religion that promotes pedophilia, sex with children. … Mormonism is not Christianity. It has always been considered a cult by the mainstream of Christianity.
ANDERSON COOPER: Hindus and Buddhists, Islam—cults?
PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS: Yes, absolutely. … Muhammad was nothing but a bloodthirsty warlord who beheaded 600 Jews who would not follow him into battle.
IMAM MOHAMMAD ALI ELAHI: That is not true.
PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS: Islam is wrong! It is a heresy from the pit of hell. Mormonism is wrong. It is a heresy from the pit of hell. Judaism, you know, you can’t be saved, being a Jew.
JIM ACOSTA: And Mormons do say they are Christians.
PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS: Yeah.
JIM ACOSTA: They say that. They believe in Jesus Christ.
PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS: Well, a lot of people say they’re Christians, and they’re not. … Homosexuality is degrading. It’s a degenerative practice. .. Homosexuality is a perversion. They are engaged in the most detestable, unclean, abominable acts you can imagine. … Marriage should be between a man and a woman. Whenever you counterfeit something, you cheapen the value of the real thing. … Around the world today, you have Muslim men having sex with 4-year-old girls, taking them as their brides, because they believe the prophet Muhammad did it.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Reverend Jeffress, in that compendium put together by Media Matters. Mother Jones reports Jeffress, who runs the First Baptist Dallas megachurch in Texas, has referred to both Islam and Mormonism as a “heresy from the pit of hell,” believes Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism and Buddhism are all cults, that Catholicism represents the genius of Satan. Jews, he believes, are going to hell. “You can’t be saved by being a Jew,” he said. Islam, he said, “is a religion that promotes pedophilia, sex with children,” he said, among other things. This is the man who will be doing the opening prayer today at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, Sharif. Also, President Trump’s children, son-in-law and daughter, Ivanka Trump and Jared [Kushner], will be there, along with the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin. Apparently, Jared Kushner, who’s under investigation in the United States, his son-in-law, will be unveiling a Middle East peace plan in the next few weeks, Sharif.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, what can you say? I mean, you know, Jerusalem, it goes to, like I said, the very core of the Palestinian issue. And this is being done—I mean, speaking with people here in Gaza, you know, and not just—well, I mean, the fact that the decision was made in this way, but also the arrogance in the way that it is being done, will not be, I think—you know, pass easily here. It’s not something that Palestinians are just going to let slide.
You know, there’s been a slow and very determined movement to displace Palestinians from Jerusalem. Palestinians who live in Jerusalem have a separate kind of identity card. They have to constantly prove what’s called a “center of life” there. If they travel abroad for a length of time, they can lose that residency, and then it will go to a Jewish person, a settler. If they marry someone from the West Bank, then they can’t live together in Jerusalem. So there’s a whole raft of laws and rules and different ways that they’ve been slowly chipping away to take over Jerusalem.
And then, you know, this, the move of the embassy, is just another kind of slap in the face. And it’s one of the main three issues that Palestinians have been calling for. And it’s also recognized under international law, you know, that it’s not going to go to either state, that it’s going to be a shared capital, if we go by what the United Nations resolutions have said. So, you know, what can you say when—and also you get this kind of pastor here?
And I’ve just been handed, Amy, the death toll number here in Gaza has now just gone up to 37 just today. So this killing continues.
And, you know, I just have to point out also, in a lot of the coverage I’ve seen, it’s always Gaza is equated with Hamas, and it’s just that this is a Hamas movement and so forth. And, you know, Gaza is much more than Hamas. And especially what’s happening now, this is a mass movement of all sectors of Palestinian society. Hamas is involved, but so is Fatah, so is PFLP, so is Islamic Jihad, you know, all those political parties. But more than that, there are women’s committees, youth committees, civil society committees, legal advocates. All of them are taking part and making these decisions of how to move forward and how to run this movement. There are no party flags allowed. I didn’t see any Hezbollah flags. They’re not allowed. Only the Palestinian flag. And in the back of the protest, further away from the border just a couple of hundred yards, there’s a festive atmosphere. There’s cultural events. There’s art. There’s music. There’s celebrations of Palestinian heritage. So, this is really more of a broad-based, grassroots movement. I don’t think, even if Hamas wanted this to stop, that it could stop it. And—
AMY GOODMAN: Sharif?
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Go ahead.
AMY GOODMAN: We just have this report from AP. You were describing the drones that are releasing tear gas, and you’ve got the butterfly bullets that explode within a person’s body. The latest number of people dead since March 30th is, we believe, around 84. Just today alone, in the deadliest day of the Israeli military’s attack on this nonviolent protest in Gaza, 37 people dead. And AP is saying, “Witnesses say Israeli drones have dropped incendiary materials, setting ablaze tires that had been collected for use in a planned Gaza border protest. They say the drones set tires ablaze in two locations early Monday, releasing large clouds of black smoke.”
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: I wouldn’t be surprised. This morning, drones flew over and set fire to, early in the morning, two encampment sites, trying to set fire to the tents themselves. Some sewage water was sprayed in the tent encampment in Khan Younis. And, you know, when we talk about crossing borders, the military does regular incursions into Gaza all the time and commits these things.
But, yeah, I mean, these—you know, Israel is always coming up with kind of these new weapons. And the drones, I saw one, you know, for the first time today. It flew over, and then, all of a sudden, maybe six canisters, tear gas canisters, dropped out of the drone. They’re spinning, because they’re spewing out the gas, and so they kind of spread over a large area. And you have people, you know, men, women and children, just kind of fleeing everywhere. It’s quite, quite terrifying. And again, you know, this is—the resistance of this movement is really—it’s just rocks, it’s kites and balloons, it’s some Molotov cocktails. But nowhere near can they reach the Israeli soldiers, who are sitting behind these ramparts and picking people off with sniper rifles.
So, you know, and the burning of these tires, there have been kind of changes of tactics. You have what they call the tire brigade, and you’ll see all these young men and boys run up with all these tires, and they put them in these holes that they’ve dug in the ground, so they can hide down and not be hit by the bullets. And then they’ll light one on fire, and a young man will drag it, sprinting out to the front and hoping not to get shot, and then run back. And then, once that tire is burned, there’s a huge plume of black smoke, and it really does bar the view of the snipers. And so, there’s this kind of, you know, resistance that’s trying to counter this violence. But again, yeah, today, as I said, the number now is up to 37, so, by far, the bloodiest day. And tomorrow there’s also supposed to be a massive mobilization. Tomorrow is the 70th anniversary of the Nakba. And we don’t know what will—
AMY GOODMAN: And when you say Nakba, Sharif, just to be clear, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel, for Palestinians, seeing this as the 70 years starting with the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Explain what Nakba means.
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Yeah, Nakba was what—how Palestinians refer to the founding of Israel and the forced expulsion and mass displacement of something like 750,000 Palestinians from Palestine. And so, you know, this year marks the 70th anniversary of that. You know, in Gaza itself, over 80 percent of the residents of Gaza are refugees or the descendants of refugees who fled from their homes and were forced into Gaza back in 1948.
So, you know, you have these young men who keep trying to cross. They say, “I want to go back home,” even though they’ve obviously never been there. But they say, “This is our land.” And I asked one of them, you know, “You’re going to cut this wire, and you’re going to cross. You don’t have anything with you.” I said, “You’re going to get hurt, or you’re going to die.” He said, “I knew I was going to get hurt. But I’m not afraid, and I’m going to go.” So there’s also a sense of despair involved, as well. I mean, there’s these young men going, knowing that they’re going to be either crippled or be killed, but they kind of keep doing it.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Sharif, we will continue to talk to you tomorrow, as this massive mobilization continues. Today, on this day of the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, opposed by many countries around the world, Palestinians protesting by the thousands. Sharif Abdel Kouddous, independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, reporting to us from Gaza.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by Reverend Theoharis and Reverend William Barber on a new Poor People’s Campaign in this country. Stay with us.