Dead Gaza Protesters 'Don't Tell The Story,' Israeli Minister Says

An Israeli Cabinet minister has dismissed the casualties inflicted on Palestinian protesters by Israeli troops in Gaza in recent weeks, claiming that the death toll alone does not explain what is happening in the coastal enclave.

Minister of Construction Yoav Gallant told foreign reporters Tuesday that by focusing on the number of people killed and wounded along the Gaza-Israel border, the international community is playing into the hands of Hamas, the Associated Press reported.

More than 115 Palestinians have been killed and thousands injured by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers since a round of protests began on March 30. More than half of the dead were killed on May 14 as demonstrations coincided with the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

A wounded Palestinian demonstrator is evacuated during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border in the southern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

Protesters have been calling for the right to return to the lands they and their families left or were forced from during the creation of Israel in 1948. Organizers are also calling for the lifting of an 11-year blockade on the Strip by Israel and Egypt, which has crippled the local economy and precipitated a dire humanitarian crisis.

Israel claims the blockade is needed to degrade the military capabilities of Hamas, who it says is using the protests along the fence as cover to plan and launch attacks on Israeli positions. Many of those killed have been members of Hamas, though the group says they were attending the protests of their own accord rather than as operatives.

The IDF claims only those who pose a threat to the border fence or its soldiers have been killed. Officials cited burning tires, rocks, fire bombs tied to kites and improvised explosive devices used by some demonstrators as proof that the movement is not peaceful. The fire bombs are estimated to have caused around $1.4 million in damage to farmland near the Gaza fence since the end of March.

Israel has been criticized for allowing an open-fire policy to deal with the protesters, the vast majority of which have been unarmed and have not posed a serious threat to IDF troops. But Gallant warned the world not to "calculate who is right and who is wrong by the numbers of the casualties."

"In the Second World War, 7.5 million Germans were killed and only 500,000 British," he continued. "So who was the aggressor, the Germans or the British? The issue is not the numbers. The issue is who is doing what."

Israeli soldiers are seen on the Israeli side of the border fence between Israel and the Gaza Strip May 15, 2018. The military has been criticized for firing on Palestinian protesters. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Gallant said Israeli soldiers fired at protesters' legs to try and minimize the number of deaths, though there have been many reports of unarmed demonstrators—including journalists and medical workers—being shot in the head and neck. Many of those injured and killed were reportedly hundreds of meters from the border fence.

Though Gallant admitted that "mistakes" have been made due to uneven terrain and large crowds, he defended the use of lethal force, claiming that rubber bullets and other non-lethal methods have proved ineffective at stopping those trying to breach the border fence.

Renewed protests were arranged for June 5 to mark Naksa Day—the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War in which Israel captured parts of Jordan and Egypt, including the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The marches were cancelled in lieu of demonstrations set for the end of this week, coinciding with the last Friday of Ramadan. Extra troops are being deployed along the border in case large-scale demonstrations break out.