On the night of May 14, the leading headline of The Washington Post said, “More than 50 killed in Gaza protests as U.S. opens its new embassy in Jerusalem.” Headlines of other newspapers were not much different.
There is no doubt the headlines were factually accurate. But so would a headline saying, “More than 50 killed in Gaza as the moon was a waning crescent,” or “More than 50 killed in Gaza as Arambulo named co-anchor of NBC4’s ‘Today in LA.’ ” Were they unbiased? Not quite. They suggested a causation: The U.S. opens an embassy and hence people get killed. But the causation is faulty: Gazans were killed last week, when the United States had not yet opened its embassy. Gazans were killed for a simple reason: Ignoring warnings, thousands of them decided to get too close to the Israeli border.
There are arguments one could make against President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. People in Gaza getting killed is not one of them. A country such as the United States, a country such as Israel, cannot curb strategic decisions because of inconveniences such as demonstrations. Small things can be postponed to prevent anger. Small decisions can be altered to avoid violent incidents. But not important, historic moves.
At the end of this week, no matter the final tally of Gazans getting hurt, only one event will be counted as “historic.” The opening of a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem is a historic decision of great symbolic significance. Lives lost for no good reason in Gaza — as saddening as it is — is routine. Eleven years ago, on May 16, 2007, I wrote this about Gaza: “The Gaza Strip is burning, drifting into chaos, turning into hell — and nobody seems to have a way out of this mess. Dozens of people were killed in Gaza in the last couple of weeks, the victims of lawlessness and power struggles between clans and families, gangsters and militias.” Sounds familiar? I assume it does. This is what routine looks like. This is what disregard for human life feels like. And that was 11 years to the week before a U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem.
A legitimate country is allowed to defend its border. A legitimate country is allowed to choose its capital.
Why were so many lives lost in Gaza? To give a straight answer, one must begin with the obvious: The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has no interest in having more Gazans killed, yet its mission is not to save Gazans’ lives. Its mission — remember, the IDF is a military serving a country — is to defeat an enemy. And in the case of Gaza this past week, the meaning of this was preventing unauthorized, possibly dangerous people from crossing the fence separating Israel from the Gaza Strip.
As this column was written, the afternoon of May 15, the IDF had achieved its objective: No one was able to cross the border into Israel. The price was high. It was high for the Palestinians. Israel will get its unfair share of criticism from people who have nothing to offer but words of condemnation. This was also to be expected. And also to be ignored. Again, not because criticism means nothing, but rather because there are things of higher importance to worry about. Such as not letting unauthorized hostile people cross into Israel.
Of course, any bloodshed is regretful. Yet to achieve its objectives, the IDF had to use lethal force. Circumstances on the ground dictate using such measures. The winds made tear gas ineffective. The proximity of the border made it essential to stop Gazan demonstrators from getting too close, lest thousands of them flood the fence, thus forcing the IDF to use even more lethal means. Leaflets warned them not to go near the fence. Media outlets were used to clarify that consequences could be dire. Hence, an unbiased, sincere newspaper headline should have said, “More than 50 killed in Gaza while Hamas leaders ignored warnings.”
So, yes, Jerusalem celebrated while Gaza burned. Not because Gaza burned. And, yes, the U.S. moved its embassy while Gaza burned. But this is not what made Gaza burn.
It all comes down to legitimacy. Having embassies move to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, is about legitimacy. Letting Israel keep the integrity of its borders is about legitimacy. President Donald Trump gained the respect and appreciation of Israelis because of his no-nonsense acceptance of a reality, and because of his no-nonsense rejection of delegitimization masqueraded as policy differences. A legitimate country is allowed to defend its border. A legitimate country is allowed to choose its capital.