What started the latest violence between Israel and Palestine

May 17, 2021

The New Daily

“It’s forced ethnic displacement. These families have lived in these homes for generations and the only reason these people are being targeted is because they are Palestinian” – Sara Saleh, Palestinian activist from APAN

By Samantha Dick

The long-running dispute between Israel and Palestine has captured the world’s attention once more following a series of deadly attacks.

But what caused the most recent Palestinian uprising, and why is it different to others?

A property dispute

The latest bout of violence between Israel and Palestine was partly triggered by a battle for property rights in Jerusalem, a holy city that both countries claim as their capital.

For decades, the Israeli national government has pursued policies aimed at expanding the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.

Initially, this meant expanding the city’s borders and building Jewish settlements to the east, outside of the city.

But recently, right-wing groups backed by the Israeli government have been going a step further by trying to boost the Jewish population in the Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem.

That includes the small Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

There, four Palestinian families have been fighting eviction notices by Jewish settlers.

Polish protesters rally in solidarity with Palestine in Krakow, Poland on May 13. Photo: Getty

The families have reportedly been living at the properties since 1957, after they were kicked out of their original homes when Israel was created in 1948, a period known to Palestinians as al-nakba or “the catastrophe”.

However, under Israeli law, Jewish settlers can claim property that was under Jewish ownership before 1948, so it’s assumed the group of Palestinians will be evicted and their homes given to Jewish claimants.

In the eyes of Palestinian activists like Sara Saleh, from The Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN), this is just one example of “ethnic cleansing”.

“This has been happening all over Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem,” she told The New Daily. 

“It’s forced ethnic displacement. These families have lived in these homes for generations and the only reason these people are being targeted is because they are Palestinian.”

In February, the International Criminal Court handed down an historic ruling confirming the court’s prosecutor had the power to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity in Palestine.

Last month, a report from Human Rights Watch found Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in certain areas amounted to “apartheid and persecution”.

The Israeli perspective, however, maintains the evictions fight is nothing but an ordinary property dispute between private parties – and it just so happens the owner is an Israeli corporation with Jewish owners.

The Sheikh Jarrah property battle has since sparked several protests and demonstrations.

Jerusalem Day

After weeks of tension related to the evictions – heightened by Israel’s decision to block Muslim worshippers from accessing the Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan – violence finally erupted.

It broke out last week on Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday that celebrates the “reunification of Jerusalem” after the 1967 six-day war with neighbouring Arab countries.

Israeli police stormed the holy Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, where thousands of Muslim worshippers had gathered.

Some 300 Palestinians and 21 Israeli officers were wounded.

Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist group, responded by firing thousands of rockets from Gaza into Israel, Israel says.

Some of these rockets struck Tel Aviv, Ashkelon and other cities.

Damaged buildings in Ramat Gan near the coastal city of Tel Aviv, on May 16, a day after an Israeli man was killed by rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza. Photo: Getty

In response, Israel launched hundreds of air strikes in Gaza, destroying three tower blocks and killing senior Hamas officials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government would use all its strength to protect Israel from enemies on the outside, and rioters on the inside.

Since the latest violence began a week ago, at least 192 Palestinians, including 58 children, have been killed in the Gaza Strip.

Israel has reported 10 dead, including two children.

Why the fighting is different this time

In an opinion piece for The New Yorker magazine, Palestinian lawyer and author Raja Shehadeh described the clashes as the worst since the 2014 war in Gaza.

“As the governments of Israel have moved further to the right, and become more influenced by hard-line settler groups, the inequities have become increasingly glaring,” he wrote.

“Deepening frustration among Palestinians has led to increased violence.”

Dr Lana Tatour, a Palestinian academic and expert on settler colonialism at UNSW, agreed this recent escalation differed from previous ones.

“There have been moments where Palestinians have risen as a collective, but certainly what is happening in the last week is unprecedented in its density, extensiveness and the ways in which Palestinians are rising,” she said, pointing to widespread protests across Palestine and overseas, including in Australia.

“Palestinians are mobilising together. It’s a moment they can potentially use to create a clear political agenda that can transcend the fragmentation of the Palestinian people and their different causes.”

Link to original source