(JTA) — Reform Jewish leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs said he was “alarmed, concerned and profoundly saddened” by the deaths of more than 50 Palestinian protesters on the Gaza border.
“That Israel has the right, and even the obligation, to defend herself and her borders is beyond dispute,” Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said in a statement Monday afternoon. “But we are alarmed, concerned, and profoundly saddened by the growing number of Gazan dead and wounded. It does not have to be this way.”
More than 50 protesters have been killed, and more than 2,000 wounded, in clashes with Israeli forces Monday as tens of thousands of Palestinians rushed the Gaza border. The protests are the latest in the March of Return, a string of protests against Israel on the border that have lasted seven weeks and are set to culminate on Tuesday.
Palestinians say they are protesting against Israel’s siege of Gaza and for their right to return to ancestors’ homes in Israel. Israel says its forces are responding to violence emanating from the protests, which it views as a threat to its citizens’ lives and property. The protests Monday also opposed the opening of the United States embassy in Jerusalem that afternoon.
Jacobs praised the opening of the embassy Monday while calling for renewed efforts to reach Israeli-Palestinian peace.
“We also celebrate the opening of the Embassy as an affirmation of the deep and lasting ties between the U.S. and Israel,” the statement said. “However, we remain very much aware of the lack of progress toward a long-term just solution for Israelis and Palestinians. We hope that the Administration’s statements today are the start of a serious new effort to bring both sides back to the table.”
When President Donald Trump announced the embassy move — and recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — in December, the Reform movement released a statement saying it “cannot support his decision to begin preparing that move now, absent a comprehensive plan for a peace process,” and criticized it as “all but certain to exacerbate the conflict.”
One day later, following backlash, Jacobs said in a statement that while the decision could “risk destabilizing the region,” the Reform movement “commend[s] the President for affirming the importance of moving the peace process forward.”