By Bassam Tawil, Gatestone Institute

Much of the world is convinced that the Palestinian protests that took place on May 14 and 15 were directly connected to the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

This misapprehension can be traced directly to the international media, which helped create the impression that the clashes that took place between Palestinians and the Israel Defense Forces along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel came in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Instead, what we have witnessed in the past few days is part of the ongoing Palestinian struggle against Israel. This is a struggle that began with the establishment of Israel 70 years ago and is continuing to this day. It is a struggle that every now and then finds a new excuse to launch terror attacks against Israel and kill as many Jews as possible.

Most notably, throughout history, the excuses to attack Israel keep changing.

Once, it was that Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, had “invaded the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” This was in September 2000, and Palestinians used that lie to launch the Second Intifada: a massive wave of suicide bombings and drive-by shootings and other forms of terrorism that left thousands of Israelis maimed or dead. At that time, Palestinian leaders told their people to take to the streets to defend their holy sites because Sharon and other Jews were planning to destroy them.

About three years ago, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his Ramallah-based associates lied to their people again. This time, they told Palestinians that permitted visits by Jews to the Temple Mount, also known to Muslims as Haram Al-Sharif, were designed to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Abbas even went as far as vowing that the Palestinians would not allow Jews to “defile with their filthy feet our holy sites.” Abbas’s well-known speech ignited another uprising — this time known as the “Knife Intifada.”

It is no secret that the Palestinians were never happy with the election of President Trump. It is no secret that the Palestinians were never happy that President Trump had surrounded himself with a number of Jewish senior advisors: Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner and US Ambassador David Friedman.

From the moment Trump took office, the Palestinians saw that the good old days of the Barack Obama administration were gone. The Palestinians had gotten used to hearing the White House and State Department scapegoat Israel for the crimes of the Palestinians. The Palestinians noticed a rather dismaying change in tone between the two administrations.

Suddenly, the Palestinians woke up to see criticism being fired in their direction. This came as quite a shock to them. For 8 years under the Obama administration, they had portrayed themselves, and been treated, as the deserving underdog – the “good guys.” Now, a foreign government was actually holding the Palestinians accountable and calling them out for activities they had taken for granted, such as incitement to riot and murder, or funding terrorists and their families. The Palestinians do not like it one bit.

The Palestinians hate the Trump administration not because of the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. They hate the Trump administration because they see it as being pro-Israel. They hate the Trump administration because it speaks truth to them and exposes their perfidy and malice. They hate the Trump administration because they see it as an obstacle on their way to eliminating Israel.

Does anyone seriously think that a young Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip and who has never been outside the coastal enclave really cares whether the US embassy is located in Jerusalem? This Palestinian has never been to Jerusalem or the West Bank; in most instances, young Palestinians have not even been out of the Gaza Strip.

Why should a young Palestinian living in the Gaza Strip care about the embassy relocation from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem when the vast majority of the Arab residents of Jerusalem and Arab countries do not seem to be bothered by Trump’s decision?

Proving this week that the last thing on their mind is the issue of the US embassy, the Arabs of Jerusalem did not stage any protests or even go on strike (only a few Arab citizens of Israel and a handful of political activists from east Jerusalem showed up for a planned protest near the site of the new US embassy). Moreover, we did not see millions of Arabs and Muslims take to the streets in their countries to express outrage over the embassy move.

It is true that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip demonstrated along the border with the Gaza Strip on May 14, the day when the inauguration ceremony for the US embassy took place in Jerusalem.

However, the demonstrations were in the context of the so-called Great March of Return, a six-week campaign launched by Hamas and other Palestinian groups. The organizers said that the march had three main goals: to achieve the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants so that they would be able to move to Israel, to thwart Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East, and to return the Palestinian issue to the top of the world’s agenda.

The “Great March of Return” demonstrations began in late March and reached their peak on May 14, one day before the Gregorian day marking Israel’s 70th anniversary, which the Palestinians call Nakba Day (Catastrophe Day). So the demonstrations that took place on the day of the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem were in the context of the “Great March of Return,” and not specifically planned for the embassy move.

The demonstrations that took place that day were no different from the previous weekly protests orchestrated by Hamas and its allies in the Gaza Strip. On May 14, thousands of Palestinians again tried to breach the border with Israel, but were repelled by Israeli troops. They did not try to breach the border to protest against the embassy relocation.

Rather, they sought to infiltrate Israel to wreak havoc and kill Jews. Jerusalem is about 97 km (62 miles) away from the Gaza border, and they knew that they would never be able to reach that city.

What happened at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip was an act of aggression by Hamas on Israeli sovereignty. It was an act of war. It was an attempt by a terror group to use tens of thousands of civilians as a cover to infiltrate the border. ِEighty percent of those killed by the Israeli army on that day were Hamas members. Even Hamas has admitted this; senior Hamas official and spokesmen Salah Al-Bardaweel revealed in a television interview that 50 of the 62 Palestinians killed by Israeli gunfire were Hamas members.

If the protests in the Gaza Strip were against the US embassy inauguration ceremony, what were 50 Hamas members doing trying to infiltrate the border with Israel? Were they on their way to holding a peaceful protest against the Trump administration? Were they on their way to stage a peaceful sit-in strike outside the offices of the United Nations in Jerusalem?

No: the Hamas terrorists were on their way to kill Jews. They were on their way to infiltrate Israeli communities near the border with the Gaza Strip. Even the terrorists did not say that they were protesting the embassy relocation.

The terrorists and the rest of the Palestinian demonstrators were chanting “Death to Israel” and “Death to America.” They were chanting that their goal is to replace Israel with an Islamic state. They were chanting that there is no room for Jews in this region. They were chanting slogans against the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, whom they accuse of being too friendly with Israel and the Trump administration.

The Palestinians are using the issue of the US embassy as yet another excuse to pursue their war on Israel. Abbas and his cronies are using the embassy as an excuse to step up their campaign to delegitimize and demonise Jews. Their goal is to isolate Israel in the international community.

Does anyone seriously think that Abbas really cares about the precise location of the US embassy? Why has he never protested against the fact that the US Consulate General is already in Jerusalem? Why has he never protested that the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s Office and the Israeli Supreme Court are already based in Jerusalem? Why should Abbas or any Palestinian be upset if the US embassy is located in west Jerusalem and not in an Arab neighbourhood in east Jerusalem? Abbas is not objecting to the embassy; Abbas is objecting to the Israeli state, which he has repeatedly described as a “colonialist project” imposed on Arabs by Western powers.

If he really cared about the US embassy inauguration, he would not have spent the days prior to the ceremony in Chile, Venezuela and Cuba.

The idea that Hamas is concerned about the US embassy move is a sick joke. All one needs to do is to listen very carefully to what Hamas is saying, namely that its struggle is to “liberate all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.” Hamas is saying that the protests it has been orchestrating are aimed at enabling millions of Palestinians to flood Israel and turn it into an Islamic state with a Jewish minority. Hamas could not care less about the location of the embassy. Hamas wants “Palestine” and “Palestine” in its entirety.

Abbas and Hamas are using the US embassy move to wage another blood libel against Israel, by accusing it of killing innocent and unarmed civilians — a charge that is wholly counterfactual in the wake of Hamas’s own admission that most of the victims were Hamas terrorists. The Palestinians have once again found an excuse to wage war on Israel and Jews, this time in the form of the embassy move.

They are trying to create the false impression that the conflict with Israel began — and is now focused on — Trump’s decision to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — as if before the decision, Palestinians had recognized Israel’s right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people. As if before the decision, Palestinians had not been engaged in semi-daily killings of Jews. As if before the decision, Palestinians had not been inciting and promoting violence against Jews.

Sadly, there are many in the international media who are helping the Palestinians promote the lie that this moment in the Israeli Arab conflict is all about the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem. In reality, this moment – and all others – in the Israeli-Arab conflict is about some Arabs rejecting that Israel exists at all, within any borders, in the Middle East.

Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East
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