Don’t blame Trump for the violence at the Gaza border

Steven Schmidt, the Republican strategist, says that President Trump has blood on his hands for moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. Former CIA director John Brennan seems to agree.

It’s true that the same day the new U.S. embassy opened in Jerusalem, Israeli forces killed approximately 60 Palestinians who were part of a mob engaged in violent acts and trying to breach a border fence. But to blame the deaths on Trump’s decision regarding the embassy ignores both facts and logic.

First, as Nikki Haley said at the U.N., “the Hamas terrorist organization has been inciting violence for years, long before the United States decided to move our embassy.”

Second, blaming the embassy decision ignores the fact that the events of May 14 were part of an extended protest that apparently had nothing to do with the U.S. embassy. (As I understand it, the protest was planned before Trump announced his decision to move the embassy).

The month of May marks the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel. To protest Israel’s founding — in other words, to protest the existence of the Jewish state — Hamas organized a “Great March of Return.” It was to last from the Palestinian “Land Day” on March 30 to “Nakba Day” on May 15.

The protests were violent at times. For example, in April protesters began lighting massive fires with burning tires. They also began launching fire kites into Israel to set fields aflame.

At times, they also charged the border fence. Backed by burning tires, Molotov cocktails, and slingshots, protesters assaulted the fence and attempted to cut it. They did so expecting to be shot, most likely in the legs. Ambulance teams and medics were deployed to treat and remove the injured.

These protests led to deaths well before May 14, the day the embassy opened. On “opening day” of the protests, for example, at least 17 Palestinians were killed and more than a thousand wounded.

May 14 was even bloodier. But it also came at the end of the “Great March of Return.” It was, more or less, “closing day.”

Would there have been fewer deaths if the U.S. embassy hadn’t opened that day? Possibly, but I don’t assume there would have been. The nearly two months of protests were always building towards this sort of grand finale. And remember, Hamas was protesting Israel, not the location of the U.S. embassy.

However, let’s assume for the sake of argument that fewer Palestinians would have died on May 14 if the U.S. hadn’t moved its embassy. It would still be absurd to blame the U.S. for those extra deaths.

The U.S. isn’t required, and can’t be expected, to base foreign policy decisions on whether they will cause Palestinians to burn tires, throw Molotov cocktails, and charge a border fence. There is no “thug’s veto” over American foreign policy.

Blame for the May 14 deaths lies with Hamas and those it incited or duped into violent conduct. If particular members of Israel’s defense force used excessive force, they would also shoulder blame. Blaming the U.S. or its president is ludicrous.

Be that as it may, the U.S. took a hit as a result of the grim events on the Gaza border. The juxtaposition of celebrations in Jerusalem featuring glamorous Ivanka Trump with Palestinians being killed in Gaza doesn’t sit well, and not just with John Brennan. Even some who are relatively sympathetic to Israel don’t like it.

But life goes on. Israel likely will keep moving from strength to strength and Gaza will remain a hellhole.

PR victories are nice. But when they are founded on the death of your people and you have nothing else to offer them, what have you actually won?

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