How the conflict began
On the 6th of May, the Palestinians started to protest against the decision taken by the Supreme Court of Israel on the eviction of Palestinian people that live in the Palestinian, predominant neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Israel. The protest that happened in Jerusalem, at the Damascus Gate, and in the neighborhood in question quickly became violent between the two conflicting groups. The hearing on the eviction was postponed by Israel’s Supreme Court and a new date will be established within 30 days.
Moreover, Palestinians have complained about the restrictions imposed by the Israeli government during the month of Ramadan, which contributed to the tensions that have increased quickly. Also, the beginning of May saw more killings of Palestinians, by Israeli authorities, especially in the West Bank, but in the village of Burin.
The following night, on the 7th of May, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered at the al-Aqsa Mosque, in the Old City of Jerusalem, for the weekly prayers. Israeli police forces rioted around, which ignited the fury of Palestinians, and violence unfolded. That night, more than 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers were injured, with 88 Palestinians and half of the wounded Israeli policemen being hospitalized. There are two different points of view: while the Israeli police claim that the violence started with the Palestinian throwing rocks, shoes, and chairs at them, the Palestinians say that it started due to the fact that the police prevented them from entering the mosque.
Unfolding of the conflict
Since then, the conflict is ongoing between the Israeli people and Palestinians. On the 10th of May, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched rockets that hit Israeli territories, including Jerusalem. They were fired from the Gaza Strip, a self-governing Palestinian territory. According to the Israel Defense Forces in the first 24 hours since the rocket attacks were first launched, more than 200 were fired towards Israel, but with 90% of them being intercepted. As the violence unfolded, the Gaza Strip Erez crossing point was closed by Israel.
The Israeli forces responded to the attacks, with ground attacks, airstrikes, rockets, and bombs. It conducted more than 150 strikes on the Gaza region since the violence began there until the 11th of May and displaced up to 7000 reserve troops to fight in Gaza. Therefore, the fights are now taking place in many parts of the state, including the capital of Israel, Tel Aviv, but the most intense ones are in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and Gaza. Also, the Knesset members have been evacuated from the parliament when the sirens started in Jerusalem.
On the 12th of May, Israel declared a state of emergency in Lod, a city where both Palestinians and Israeli populations can be found. The Jewish homes, a Jewish school, and a synagogue were attacked by the protestors.
The attacks have increased to 1050 rockets fired from Gaza until the 12th of May, with 200 that did not reach the Israeli territory. Border police battalions were displaced by Israel in the endangered areas.
Beginning with the night of the 14th of May, the Israeli army launched heavy artillery fire, while continuing with the airstrikes on Gaza. More buildings were bombed, some entirely collapsing, while others have only resulted in massive damage. Also, those attacks caused major casualties. As of 14th of May, the UN declared that more than 200 homes and 24 schools were destroyed or damaged only in the Gaza Strip.
As attacks continue, the United Nations officials in Gaza stated that many Palestinians fled their homes, heading to safer regions, for example to the north and the east and seek refuge in schools. Similarly, Israeli people, especially those that are close to the border with Gaza, for example from Ashkelon are going to their bomb shelters.
The Israeli perspective
Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, said that they will not stop attacking Palestinian forces and that the intensity of the attacks in Gaza would be increased. He also vowed that both Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad “will pay a very heavy price for their belligerence”. The prime minister also blamed Hamas for attacking both from Gaza and in the outskirts of Jerusalem during Jerusalem Day.
As external actors are trying to reach an agreement on the resolution of the conflict, the Israeli Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, declared: “Israel is not preparing for a ceasefire. There is currently no end date for the operation. Only when we achieve complete quiet can we talk about calm.”
The Palestinian perspective
The Palestinian Authority declared that what Israel aims to do in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood as an act of ethnic cleansing that they want to lead to “Judaizing the holy city”, according to the official Palestinian news agency.
The leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, stated on the 11th of May that the rocket attacks will not stop until Israel would put an end to all the violence and all acts of terrorism. Hamas declared that they have the right to “respond to the Israeli offensive and protect the interests of our people as long as the Israeli occupation continues the escalation.”
The Palestinian Health Minister, Ashraf al-Qidra, accused the Israeli authorities of intentionally targeting the homes of civilian people, as well as places and neighborhoods that are known to be crowded.
Palestinian people living in some of the Israeli cities and villages began protesting, to show solidarity with the Palestinians that are caught and that are fighting in Gaza and Jerusalem. Police troops intervened against the 150 protests that took place, with victims resulting from the brutal police actions.
External statements, perspectives, and action
Since the clash at the al-Aqsa Mosque began, the United States called for peace, while claiming to be deeply concerned by the situation. The US State Department spokesman, Ned Price, stated: “The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations […] We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount – in word and in practice.”
The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, called for the de-escalation of the conflict. He showed sympathy for Israel, stating that they have the right to defend their territory and that the attacks against Israel have to stop as soon as possible. But he also stated that international law, as well as the rights of Palestinians, have to be respected.
This crisis is considered a first test for the new administration in Washington. On the 13th of May the United States president, Joe Biden, spoke for the first time about the conflict going on in Israel. Without mentioning the Palestinians, he said that he discussed with prime minister Netanyahu, that Israel has the right to defend its territory and expressed his hopes that the violence will soon come to an end. The United States also sent a diplomat, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, who will meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East also issued a declaration on the situation in Israel: “The Envoys noted with serious concern the possible evictions of Palestinian families from homes they have lived in for generations in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and voice opposition to unilateral actions, which will only escalate the already tense environment. […] We call upon Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and to avoid measures that would further escalate the situation during this period of Muslim Holy Days. We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites.”
Furthermore, a UN Security Council meeting was called on Wednesday, by the Norwegian, Tunisian, and Chinese representatives. Pressures on the UN to intervene for peace are increasing.
The European Commission adopted a similar attitude, condemning the violence and urged the Israeli authorities to protect the Palestinians and to respect their right to freely exercise their religion.
The European Union, the United States, and other political actors consider that Hamas is a terrorist group.
As the Australian government is considering the strengthening of its trade agreement with Israel, both Australian and Palestinian human rights groups demand that such purposes should stop and that the fundamental rights of Palestinians be taken into consideration. This should be realized by condemning the actions in the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and also by refusing a possible free trade agreement.
Some Middle Eastern countries came in support of the Palestinian people. For instance, Iran described the clash on the 7th of May as an attack on the Mosque in Jerusalem. Egypt’s Foreign Minister also condemned Israel for the “storming of the mosque” and voiced that they should respect the fundamental rights of the Palestinians. Also, Jordan’s Foreign Ministry took the side of Palestinians: “the storming of the sanctuary and the assault on the peaceful worshipers is a grave violation, a barbaric act, and is strongly condemned and rejected”.
Some Egyptian mediators are present in the conflict zone, trying to reach a ceasefire agreement between the two sides.
Until now, on the 14th of May, the Israeli bombings on Gaza killed at least 119 people, including 31 children and 19 women, and injured more than 830 Palestinians. On the side of Israel, it has 7 people dead and more than 200 wounded, including a six-year boy killed on Wednesday by an attack fired from Gaza.
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About the author:
Delia-Maria MOTAN is Intern research at MEPEI, and her research interest lies in international relations and political science in the Middle East. Currently, she is studying at the Faculty of the Political Science / University of Bucharest.