Conflict Alerts # 375, 12 May 2021
In the news
On 07 May, a series of skirmishes started between the worshippers and the Israeli police in the Al Aqsa mosque compound, with an exchange of stones, stun grenades and rubber bullets. The Palestinians had been protesting against any possible eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem that would follow a Court verdict and the Israeli government's settlement policies.
On 10 May, riots broke out in the Old City of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount as Israelis celebrated Jerusalem Day. On the same day, rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip by Hamas, targeting Israeli settlements in Jerusalem. A spokesperson for the Hamas said that they had launched "a rocket strike against the enemy in the occupied Jerusalem in response to their crimes and aggression against the holy city and its aggression against our people in Sheikh Jarrah and Al-Aqsa mosque." In an immediate response to the attack, the Israeli military attacked the Gaza Strip with airstrikes, killing nearly twenty. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also made a stern statement after the attacks saying: "Israel will respond very forcefully. We will not tolerate attacks on our territory, our capital, our citizens and our soldiers. Whoever strikes us will pay a heavy price."
During 11-12 May, the rocket attacks by Hamas and Israel continued, targeting each other, with casualties increasing. According to a BBC report, violence is being witnessed in many parts, with Benjamin Netanyahu, stating his plan to send in "military forces to help police maintain order in cities ruptured by violence."
Issues at large
First, the immediate trigger behind the violent clash. Minor confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinians had started a month ago when the Israeli police erected barriers to stop people from sitting in the Damascus Gate Plaza and after the Israeli government imposed a 10,000-person limit for the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The attempt to evict Palestinians in East Jerusalem to expand Israeli settlements has also been a primary trigger. Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah area had been ordered by a district court earlier to vacate their homes which in turn fuelled protests. The simmering tension erupted into uncontrollable violence after Israeli forces entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque and began using stun grenades and rubber bullets to suppress protests. On 9 May, despite the Israeli Supreme Court's decision to delay the order for eviction, clashes between protestors and Israeli forces have only intensified.
Second, the long-term issues plaguing East Jerusalem. Since the 1990s, the Israeli settlement plans have allowed the government to build settlement blocs within Palestinian majority areas of Jerusalem pushing nearly 1,40,000 Palestinians out of the city. In 2020, 170 Palestinian structures were demolished, and 385 people were displaced by the Israeli government to accommodate Israeli settlements. This increase in Israeli settlements have left Palestinians vulnerable and threatened despite international law stating that an occupying power cannot confiscate private property in the occupied territory. Israeli citizens, on the other hand, are pushed into confrontations with Palestinians despite being legally entitled by Israeli law to own land in the East Jerusalem region.
Third, the Israeli and Palestinian position and politics on the matter. Prime Minister Netanyahu clearly stated that Israel would firmly resist the pressure put on it not to build or expand in Jerusalem. He went on to say that "just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem". Conversely, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vehemently opposed the Israeli government's crackdown on the Palestinian population and has urged the UN Security Council to have a session on the ongoing issue. Due to the recent attacks carried out by Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip, President Abbas had to cancel celebrations for Eid al-Fitr.
Fourth, the sudden escalation with the Hamas intervening with the rocket attacks and Israel responding with a larger force. What was a local issue, related to a neighbourhood in East Jerusalem has now expanded into a full-scale conflict between Hamas and Israel.
The recent escalation in violence has increased international support for the Palestinians living in Jerusalem. Countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Germany and France have shown concerns over Israel's policies towards Palestinians.
On a national level, the recent events could garner more support for PM Netanyahu, who needs public and political support to retain his position. PM Netanyahu could use the attacks by Hamas as an opportunity to increase Israeli presence in the Gaza Strip. On the local level, the confrontation between Jewish settlers and Palestinian residents in East Jerusalem would continue even after the large-scale clashes in the city subside.