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Palestinians Mark 70th Anniversary of Nakba After Israel Kills 61 & Wounds 2,700 Protesters in Gaza

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The Israeli military killed at least 61 Palestinians in Gaza and wounded 2,700 more for protesting Monday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and the Israeli occupation. It was the deadliest day for Palestinian protesters since they launched the nonviolent Great March of Return on March 30. Palestinian leaders are accusing the Israeli military of carrying out war crimes during Monday’s crackdown. More protests and a general strike across the Palestinian territories are planned for today. We get an update from Gaza with Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Funerals are being held across Gaza today, after Israeli forces killed at least 61 unarmed protesters Monday in the deadliest day since residents of Gaza began a series of nonviolent protests six weeks ago at the Gaza border. Twenty-seven hundred Palestinian protesters were also injured. Monday’s massacre came on the same day as the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Today, Palestinians across the Occupied Territories have launched a general strike to mark 70 years since the Nakba, or Catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their homes after the state of Israel was formed.

AMY GOODMAN: On Monday, the Palestinian permanent observer to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, condemned Israel’s actions.

RIYAD MANSOUR: Of course, this massacre is taking place at the same time when the United States of America, illegally and unilaterally and in a provocative way, is opening its embassy. It is very, very tragic that they’re celebrating an illegal action while Israel is killing and injuring thousands of Palestinian civilians. This is the life of the Palestinian people. And those who think that opening the embassy open doors to peace, let them look at what is really happening in the Gaza Strip. Is killing 45 civilians and injuring 2,000 would be helpful to open doors for peace, or is it deepening the resentment and atmosphere of hatred between people, instead of moving in the direction of peace?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Meanwhile, in Washington, White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah called the deaths of the Palestinians propaganda. He made the comment in response to a question from a reporter.

JESSICA STONE: Jared Kushner, in his speech, pointed a finger at the Palestinians, saying they were responsible for provoking violence. But given the fact that it’s only Palestinians who are being killed, should Israel not shoulder some of the blame?

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY RAJ SHAH: Well, as I said earlier, we believe Hamas bears the responsibility. But this is a propaganda attempt. I mean, this is a gruesome and unfortunate propaganda attempt. I think the Israeli government has spent weeks trying to handle this without violence. And we find it very unfortunate.

JESSICA STONE: But people were throwing rocks 50 meters from the wall and were faced with sniper attack. I mean, is the White House in denial of the split-screen reality that’s occurring?

DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY RAJ SHAH: Again, we believe that Hamas is responsible for this.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Gaza, where we’re joined by Democracy Now! correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous. He’s a Puffin fellow at The Nation Institute.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Sharif, you are right there on the front line in Gaza, where the—in front of the border between Israel and Gaza. Sixty-one people, the Israeli military killed yesterday. Describe what happened. Twenty-seven hundred others injured?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: That’s right, Amy. I mean, we’re on the spot, just east of Gaza City, where the most casualties took place. Twenty-seven people were killed here, according to the Ministry of Health. And it was a scene of chaos, in many ways, with burning tires, tear gas, young men throwing rocks and these kites flying over. But you have to understand that the sniper bullets don’t come in quick succession. It’s not a barrage of fire. It’s methodical. It’s patient. It’s precise. You hear a shot, and someone falls down. Then his bloodied body is carried away. You wait a few minutes, you hear another shot, and another body falls. And that’s how 1,350 people were shot yesterday—slowly, by Israel. And the death toll now has gone to over 60. The number of injured is 2,700, over 2,700. And there was funerals, of course, yesterday and today. Today I went to the house of Laila al-Ghandour, who is an [8-month-old] baby.

You have to understand also, you know, this is a very large space. And there’s the front line, and you can just see kind of behind me—I’ll just point. In the background now, there’s some youth burning tires. And just on your left, you’ll see some mounds. And those sand mounds are where Israeli sniper nests are. I don’t know if you can see the canopies or not. There’s a much, much smaller turnout today. Very few people have actually come today. And we can talk about that in a little bit. But so, that’s where a lot of the people were shot, kind of closer to the border area. But many people were shot not close, and many people were killed far away, as well. So, where I am standing, people were shot and killed.

And Laila al-Ghandour, an [8-month-old] child, was probably around where I was, according to her family. Her uncle was holding her in his arms. They were watching from far away what was going on. And an Israeli drone came above them and dropped tear gas in the area where they were. And she eventually died of suffocation. She turned blue. They took her to the children’s hospital initially, and then she died there. They took her to Shifa Hospital but couldn’t revive her. And, of course, there was wails of grief today in the house as her small body was wrapped in a Palestinian flag and taken out of the house to the graveyard.

There’s also Yazan al-Tobasi, a 24-year-old young man, like so many young men here, who couldn’t find work, was unemployed, came every week, every Friday, to the protests here, to—his family says, to express his rights and to make—to send his message to the world that Gaza needs to be free. He was shot, they said, about a hundred yards away from the border fence. And the shot hit him in the right eye, and he died on the spot.

And there’s also Alaa Asawafiri, who is 25 years old. She was actually shot the day before, very far away, you know, near one of the main tents. She was hit in the stomach. And she’s now fighting for her life. And she actually has a speech impediment, the result of her mother, when she was pregnant with her, inhaling a lot of tear gas 25 years ago here in Gaza, which caused complications with the pregnancy. So, she was injured, you know, in the womb, and now she’s fighting for her life 25 years later after being struck with a bullet.

We went to Shifa Hospital later in the day, when the crowds started to leave, and it was just a scene of utter chaos. The hospital itself was just bursting at the seams. This is the largest hospital in Gaza. And there was blood—you know, the floor was slippery with blood. There was just dozens and dozens of men and boys shot, many of them in their legs, wincing and screaming in pain. I spoke to a doctor who had worked there for 17 years, and he said he had never seen a day like this. The Palestinian Red Crescent had deployed 58 ambulances yesterday in Gaza, and it wasn’t enough to carry the wounded. They started using their administrative cars to ferry people back and forth to hospitals and try and give them care.


SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: So, it was really a devastating day. Go ahead.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sharif, I wanted to ask you: In terms of the distance between the line of Israeli soldiers and the actual protesters, could you give us a sense of how far apart they are? Because, obviously, Israel is claiming that their soldiers are in danger. They’re also claiming that Hamas is using the protest to insert armed fighters into Israeli territory. Could you respond to those claims, as well, from what you can tell?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Well, let me just—let me just show you what it looks like. So, just over here to my right, you can see these—the border is right there. And I don’t know if you can see this mound. The cameraman should be focusing on one of them. And that’s where the snipers are. So there’s three sets of fences. There’s three sets of fences, barbed wire, that’s set up, and then two more, and then the main fence. And then you have these snipers there. So, many of the people who are approaching and getting close, they’ll get really close to the first piece of barbed wire. A lot of them try and put hooks on it and pull it away. They fling, using slings and slingshots. They try and fire on the soldiers. But I would say most of those people are more than, you know, 50 yards away. And they’re throwing rocks at these soldiers. Some people do manage to cross. They cross in. But even then, no one has any guns. They have either a Molotov cocktail or a rock. And really, it’s very hard to imagine how any of them pose an imminent threat to life to any soldier. And the evidence of this is that not a single soldier has been injured. So, and, honestly, you know, a lot of these people who were shot, as I mentioned before, weren’t shot up at the fence. A large number were. I, myself, saw, when I approached near the first set of barbed wire, people being shot just standing there. Someone was shot where I’m standing right now, who was just facing and looking. So, you know, there’s a lot of talk of this being clashes and so forth, but there wasn’t really clashes. There was no real threat to the other side, as far as I could see.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Sharif, can you talk about this coming together of today, the 70th anniversary of what’s known as the Nakba—and if you can explain that word in Arabic for “Catastrophe”—and the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, sort of ceremonial because, in fact, it’s not opening there right now, it remains in Tel Aviv as they build it?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Right. Today is the 70th anniversary to what Palestinians refer to as the Nakba. “Nakba,” in Arabic, means “Catastrophe.” And it marked the moment when, you know, something like 720,000 or 750,000 Palestinians were forcibly displaced from their homes to Gaza, to here, to the West Bank and to countries like Lebanon and Jordan and Syria. And for 70 years, they have called for the right to return. There’s a U.N. resolution that ensures the right to return. And for 70 years they’ve been denied that right. There is 1.9 million Palestinians living in Gaza right now; 1.3 [million] of them are refugees. They’re recognized as refugees by the United Nations. There are eight sprawling refugee camps here, which have been here for decades. And, you know, so the right to return is something that is at the very core of the Palestinian issue, of the Palestinian national project, of the Palestinian cause. And that’s why they call these marches the Great March of Return.

And the idea was to do a protest where they walk up to the border, and they said, “We will implement our right ourselves. We will cut the wires, and we will cross.” Some people did, in fact, try and cut the wires, and they did cross, and they would quickly go back. A lot of them were shot when they did. But this was an attempt, because after decades of negotiations, negotiations have brought them nothing, except bigger prisons and a more—just something of a garrison state that they’re living under, not even a state. So, this was a key issue, why this began on—this all began on March 30th, which is Land Day in Palestine, and it has continued every week.

And a lot of these issues are coming together here. It’s the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, calling for the right of return. It’s the transfer of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and the feeling that Jerusalem becoming the capital of Israel is trying to be forcefully implemented. And, of course, it’s about the siege in Gaza, which has gone on for 11 years and has made life utterly intolerable here. And, I mean, Jerusalem is very important to people here. Many of them have never been to Jerusalem. They can’t go. They can’t really go anywhere. Many of them have never left Gaza, because the borders are closed to them. And so, many of them were walking to these borders in this kind of protest. But also the siege has affected every aspect of life. And it’s all of these things coming together—the right of return, the siege, the regional politics—that have given birth to this movement, which is not just Hamas. It includes Hamas. It includes Fatah. It includes PFLP, the main political parties. And it includes broad swaths of civil society. It’s an idea that’s been brewing for quite some time now. And they were hoping that it would bring some kind of result and some kind of change.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Sharif, the plans for today, the general strike that has been called, the protests across now not only Gaza but also throughout the West Bank, are they affected also by what took place yesterday, the Israeli military killing 61 people, it looks like is the total at this point, again, as you said, shooting over a thousand others, injuring 2,700 people?

SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: You’re right. I mean, there was a strike also yesterday, and the strike is continuing today. But like I said, the numbers today are much, much smaller. I mean, it’s actually the lowest turnout I’ve seen. We didn’t see buses bringing in people, being organized and bringing in people, as we saw yesterday. We didn’t hear on loudspeakers out of mosques and cars that drive around on the streets calling for people to come out. So there hasn’t been the same kind of mobilization effort.

It’s unclear at this point why exactly, if negotiations are happening. Ismail Haniyeh, a Hamas leader, went to Egypt, and apparently there’s negotiations about the opening of the Rafah border, the only border crossing in Gaza that’s not controlled by Israel.

It also may be the level of violence has quelled the numbers here somewhat—61 people, as I said, shot in this kind of slow and methodical way, and so many more injured. And when we’re talking about the injured, you have to understand, as I mentioned yesterday, these are high-velocity bullets that really cause terrible damage to the body. Bones are pulverized. There’s massive tissue damage, these massive gaping wounds. And many of these people are going to suffer long-term consequences. Many of these people are going to be disabled for the rest of their lives. So it really had a devastating effect.

And again, people here insist that this was peaceful. You know, people did use rocks. They did try and fly these kites with these makeshift burning items on the bottom. Some of them fell—I mean, some of them fell on this side of the border. It really wasn’t a very effective technique. But they insisted this is peaceful resistance, because there are a lot of weapons in Gaza. Hamas and other groups do have rockets that they can fire, but the decision was made by this combined leadership not to use any weapons, not to fly any flags other than the Palestinian flag, not to have any military uniforms. And that was adhered to 100 percent. And so, this was supposed to be a different kind of struggle in Gaza than ones we’ve seen in the past.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re speaking to Sharif Abdel Kouddous, a Democracy Now! correspondent, Puffin fellow at The Nation Institute, speaking to us from the front lines in Gaza. When we come back, we will broaden this discussion—we’ll be going to Jerusalem, we’ll be going to Sweden, we’ll be speaking here in New York—about this 70th anniversary of the Nakba, the Arabic word for “Catastrophe,” the expulsion or forcing to flee hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and the opening, the ceremonial opening, of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem yesterday. This is Democracy Now! Back with you in a moment.


AMY GOODMAN: “Theme of Ali” from The Battle of Algiers, here on Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we turn now to Jerusalem. Budour Hassan is with us, a Palestinian writer, project coordinator for the Jerusalem Center for Legal Aid and Human Rights. We want to first go to what happened yesterday in Jerusalem, not far from where Budour is right now. We want to turn to Jared Kushner, the senior adviser to his father-in-law, the president of the United States, Donald Trump. He represented Trump at Monday’s opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. During his remarks, he described the protesters in Gaza as “part of the problem.”

JARED KUSHNER: As we have seen from the protests of the last month and even today, those provoking violence are part of the problem and not part of the solution.

AMY GOODMAN: But those remarks were later excised from the official version of events.

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