He crawled along the bumpy ground, wire-cutters in hand. People around him were felled by bullets. He choked when Israeli jeeps sped past, peppering him with tear gas. A few yards away, a man was shot in the leg. Behind him, he said, a teenage boy was shot in the head, fatally.
By the end of the day, Ismail Khaas, a 23-year-old Palestinian protester, accomplished what he had set out to do: he touched the fence separating Gaza from Israel.
“That’s the priority, and we achieved it,” he said.
Mr. Khaas insisted he did not have a death wish. But on Monday, the deadliest day in Gaza since the 2014 war with Israel, the risks may not have seemed commensurate with the rewards.
At least 58 protesters had been killed, Gaza’s Health Ministry reported, more than the 49 killed since the protests at the border fence started on March 30.
Both sides were driven by history and politics in one of the world’s most intractable conflicts.
Many of the Gaza protesters were furious at the Trump administration’s decision to move the United States Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the disputed holy city, with a ceremony that took place on Monday barely 40 miles away.
The protests also were timed to the eve of the 70th anniversary of what the Palestinians call the Nakba, or catastrophe, on May 15, 1948, when hundreds of thousands were fled or forced from their homes in what is now Israel.
For many of the young protesters flinging themselves at the fence, with such little real hope of getting through, it also seemed an act of desperation over the circumstances of their impoverished, isolated lives in a territory that they call a virtual prison camp since Israel imposed a blockade 11 years ago.
The mass protest also was an act of defiance. Among the first Gazans to stride toward the border fence on Monday were groups of women in long black cloaks, many clutching shoulder bags and holding aloft Palestinian flags. Other women followed, recording their steps with cellphone cameras.
“We don’t want just one or two to get closer,” shouted a woman cloaked in a niqab, the full-body female garb worn by devout Muslims, urging others to follow. “We want a group.”
For the protest organizers, the prominence of women may have been encouraged by another reason — the Israeli soldiers might be less likely to fire on women.
in kites, some carrying crude explosive loads that their fliers were hoping would blow into Israel. Now and then, a shot rang out as Israeli soldiers picked off individual marchers, usually by shooting them in the legs, creating a brief flurry of panic that caused some protesters to retreat or flee.
But that sense of restraint evaporated as crowds swelled along the length of the fence. Inky clouds of smoke from burning tires piled high by the protesters to obscure the Israeli view were laced with spirals of tear gas fired from the Israeli side. The rate of sniper fire increased. Palestinian ambulances screamed back and forth. The number of deaths rose sharply.
The scenes resembled a sweeping tableau of an old-fashioned battleground. Behind the central protest zone, there were areas for prayer, refreshments, medical care and even entertainment. Protesters chatted or ate lunch as shouting rescuers rushed past, carrying the dead or wounded.
After midday prayers, clerics and leaders of militant factions in Gaza, led by Hamas, urged thousands of worshipers to join the protests. The fence had already been breached, they said falsely, claiming Palestinians were flooding into Israel.