While much of the world have reacted with couched language to the killing of more than 50 unarmed Palestinian protesters in Israel, South Africa has reacted strongest by withdrawing its ambassador to Israel.
Leaders from across the globe vacillated between calling for calm to denouncing the killing of civilians, including at least six children, and the wounding of more than 2 700 as people approached a buffer zone between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian refugees in Gaza.
Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Lindiwe Sisulu has urged the Israeli Defence Force to exercise restraint.
“We were informed that the people of Palestine were preparing for more marches today. We hope that we can persuade the Israeli Defence Force to be a little more cautious. It is possible for them to protect themselves if they wish to protect themselves with any other means but deadly means, which they used yesterday. It is unacceptable and we join the rest of the world in condemning this,” Sisulu said during a media briefing.
The minister says that she contacted US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about possibly delaying America’s official recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
“My request to him on behalf of the South African government was if there was no way that we can put off for a while the establishment and inauguration of the embassy in east Jerusalem? And he said that it was too late for that.”
The Palestinian protest started a day before Nakba day, or the day of the great catastrophe, when more than 700 000 Palestinians were driven from their home to make way for the state of Israel. The protests also coincided with the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem, which also marks the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding.
The relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has sparked outrage amongst Palestinians who see the move as an indication of the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The move breaks decades of US policy and goes against the United Nations’ Security Council’s resolution that called on countries not to have embassies in contested Jerusalem.
Many countries have slammed both President Donald Trump’s decision to move its embassy as well as the recent spate of violence towards Palestinians. In condemnation of Washington’s decision, 128 countries voted to uphold the UN’s resolution.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the opening of the new embassy as a “glorious day” and posed for photos with the special US delegation consisting of President Trump’s daughter, Ivanka and her husband who is also the adviser to the president, Jared Kushner.
The White House has blamed one of the most violent attacks by Israeli forces on Palestinians in years on Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip.
“The responsibility for these tragic deaths rests squarely with Hamas… We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Hamas is the one that, frankly, bear responsibility for the entire situation right now,” said White House spokesperson Raj Shah.
Netanyahu also blamed Hamas and defended his country’s use of force, saying “every country has the obligation to defend its borders”.
Netanyahu further said: “The Hamas terrorist organisation declares its intentions to destroy Israel and sends thousands to break through the border fence for that purpose. We will continue to act with determination to defend our sovereignty and our citizens.”
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attacks,saying that the “US is no longer a mediator in the Middle East” through the move of its embassy and that the new embassy was “a new American settler outpost” in Jerusalem.
Abbas has declared three days of mourning.
Hamas, which the US and Israel blame for the attacks, has vowed to continue protesting.
“We say clearly today to all the world that the peaceful march of our people lured the enemy into shedding more blood,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said.
The Middle Eastern country announced it was recalling its ambassadors to the US and Israel “for consultations”.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said “what Israel is doing is a genocide” and that “Israel is a terrorist state”.
The country also announced that it would be holding three days of national mourning.
Spokesperson to the president, Ibrahim Kalin called the deaths of Palestinians in Gaza “another dark spot, another crime added to Israel’s wall of shame”.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said: “Those responsible for outrageous human rights violations must be held to account.”
UN chief António Guterres said he was “particularly worried” about the developments.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini urged “utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life” and said that “Israel must respect the right to peaceful protest”.
“Dozens of Palestinians, including children, have been killed and hundreds injured from Israeli fire today, during ongoing mass protests near the Gaza fence. We expect all to act with utmost restraint to avoid further loss of life,” Mogherini said in a statement.
French President Emmanuel Macron “condemned the violence of the Israeli armed forces against protesters” in a telephone conversation with Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
He also reaffirmed criticism of the US decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem.
British Prime Minister Theresa May urged “calm and restraint to avoid actions destructive to peace efforts”.
Minister for the Middle East Alistair Burt issued a statement saying that the violence was “shocking” and that “such violence is destructive to peace efforts.” Burt said the United Kingdom “remains committed to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital”.
Foreign Affairs Minister Sergey Lavrov said Russia had publicly stated its opposition to moving the embassy “several times”.
“The determination of the status of Jerusalem… must be decided through direct dialogue with the Palestinians,” he said.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said it was “inexcusable that civilians, members of the media and children have been among the victims”.
Kuwait requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the violence along the Gaza border.
“We condemn what has happened,” the Kuwaiti ambassador to the UN, Mansour al-Otaibi, said.
Egypt’s foreign ministry called those who were killed “martyrs” and warned against “this serious escalation”.
Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest institution of Sunni Islam, called on “Arabs and Muslims and all fair and reasonable people in the world to stand by the defenceless Palestinian people.”
Iran’s Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that the “Israeli regime massacres countless Palestinians in cold blood as they protest in world’s largest open air prison. Meanwhile, Trump celebrates move of US illegal embassy and his Arab collaborators move to divert attention. A day of great shame.”
Israeli regime massacres countless Palestinians in cold blood as they protest in world’s largest open air prison. Meanwhile, Trump celebrates move of U.S. illegal embassy and his Arab collaborators move to divert attention. A day of great shame.
— Javad Zarif (@JZarif) May 14, 2018
South Africa has taken a strong stance against the killing of scores of Palestinians by Israeli armed forces by pulling the South African ambassador out of Israel.
Department of international relations spokesperson Ndivhuwo Mabaya said in a statement: “South Africa maintains further that the violence in the Gaza Strip will stand in the way of rebuilding Palestinian institutions and infrastructure.”
— Sherwin Bryce-Pease (@sherwiebp) May 14, 2018