Jerusalem – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the US embassy move to Jerusalem as a “glorious” day in Israel’s history to a crowd of about 800 officials and dignitaries.
The ceremony took place on Monday after at least 55 Palestinian protesters were killed and more than 2,400 wounded as Israeli forces opened live fire on them in Gaza.
Speaking from the newly designated building in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighbourhood, Netanyahu lauded US President Donald Trump for keeping his campaign promise to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv, saying the bond between the two countries is “stronger than ever”.
“President Trump, by recognising history you have made history,” the Israeli prime minister said.
“This is a good day for peace, too. You can only build peace upon truth, and the truth is that Jerusalem has been the capital of Israel for 3,000 years.”
His words were not received well by several foreign dignitaries, including France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who said in a statement the embassy move was “in violation of international law, in particular, the United Nations Security Council resolutions”.
Placards wrapped around lampposts and trees with the slogan “Trump make Israel great again” frequently dotted the main roads.
Outside the American embassy, several hundred Palestinian and Jewish Israeli activists gathered to protest the move, which was not recognised by the international community.
Palestine flags were held up by demonstrators, most of whom had to walk to get to the area because of road closures and security barricades. Posters saying “Make Jerusalem free again” and “No to Trump’s illegal decision” were raised before being torn to pieces by Israeli policemen gathered on opposite sides of the barriers.
Rania Muhareb, a legal researcher at the Palestinian rights group Al Haq, told Al Jazeera the US embassy move had given Israel the “green light to continue its forcible transfer of Palestinians” from occupied East Jerusalem to keep the demographics in favour of Jewish Israelis.
“This forcible transfer has been ongoing since the beginning of the occupation,” Muhareb said. “But what we’ve seen over the past few months is that Israel has accelerated and escalated these measures to remove Palestinians from the city, and has adopted legislation that allows settlements from the East Jerusalem periphery to be annexed to Jerusalem.
“These are all grave violations of international law and must be prohibited,” she added. “The US embassy move is legitimising these illegal measures Israel has undertaken, and is encouraging other states to move their embassies to the city against international law.”
Israeli police surged into the crowds, ripping flags of Palestine from the hands of protesters and arresting at least two Palestinian men after beating them up.
Israelis in residential buildings around the demonstration watched from their balconies, many festooned with the Israeli flag. Occasionally, onlookers expressed their objections to the protesters by spraying water on them with hoses.
Laura Loomer, who wore a blue Trump Make America Great Again T-shirt, stood at the back of the Palestinian protest.
“There were Trump supporters and other people in favour of the embassy move standing here before,” Loomer told Al Jazeera. “It was very peaceful and things only became violent when these protesters showed up.”
The 24-year-old Jewish American woman lives in New York but came to Jerusalem to celebrate the embassy move.
“It’s hard for me to have sympathy for a lot of Palestinians because the way they are expressing themselves is violent,” she said.
At least 55 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on Monday and more than 2,400 wounded in the deadliest demonstration at the Gaza-Israeli border since they began eight weeks ago.
Wassil Abu Yousef, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, announced in a statement a large-scale strike would be observed in all Palestinian territories on Tuesday to mourn the dead.
For Loomer, the deaths were a result of Hamas‘ “state-sponsored terrorism”.
“Hamas is paying Palestinians $1,000 each if they storm the Gaza border and attack Israelis,” she said. “The media is reporting that the Palestinians are dying, but they are not innocent.”
Muhareb accused the Israeli army was committing “war crimes”.
“What we’re seeing is intentional, excessive, and premeditated use of force and willful killings,” she said.
Fadel Tahboub, a Jerusalem resident, said since Trump announced his decision last December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, more than 100 Palestinians have been killed peacefully protesting in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
“The Israelis are involved in war crimes against an isolated, unarmed population,” Tahboub told Al Jazeera.
“This embassy move is merely an expression of where the US stands regarding the rights of Palestinians and the Israeli occupation.”
Jerusalem is not Trump’s city to give, he added.
“We are here to stay and we will remain. What is happening here is in violation of international law and must be stopped.”