Gaza riot
Gaza riotWissam Nassar/Flash90

JTA - Reform Movement leader Rick Jacobs said he was “alarmed, concerned and profoundly saddened” by the deaths of 58 Arab rioters who charged Israel's security fence along the Gaza border on Monday.

“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.”

Fifty-eight rioters were killed and more than 2,000 wounded in clashes with Israeli forces Monday as tens of thousands of Arabs rushed the Gaza border in an attempt to break through Israel's security fence. The protests are the latest in the March of Return, a string of protests against Israel on the border that began on March 30th and are set to culminate on Tuesday.

Rioters hurled rocks and flaming tires at IDF soldiers stationed along the border, and used kites carrying firebombs to spark fires on the Israeli side of the fence. Israeli forces repeatedly warned Gazans not to approach the security barrier, dropping leaflets before Monday's riots urging rioters not to rush the fence.

Jacobs praised the opening of the embassy Monday while calling for renewed efforts to reach Israeli-Arab 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.”