Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, has been plunged for weeks into terrible violence between Palestinians and the Israeli forces of law and order. The internal situation, which is extremely complex due to religious discussions and the historical context, is being exploited by the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas, who are using the situation to escalate the conflict against their bitter enemy, Israel itself.
The starting point of the new chapter of the armed conflict between Israel and Palestine was triggered by a property claim in a long-standing court dispute by Jews against 4 Palestinian families in the Shaikh Jarrah district of Jerusalem just in the month of Ramadan, the holy month for Muslims.
The eviction controversy is much more complex than is widely known
Despite the fact that many media outlets have instilled the idea that the legal battle in Shaikh Jarrah is an outrage by Jewish settlers against Palestinian families, in reality, it is much more complex than that. Shaikh Jarrah is a historic Arab neighborhood and was established in 1865, but it is also very important for Judaism because within this neighborhood there was a small area called “Shimon HaTzadik”, in honor of Simon the Just, which before 1949 had more than 2000 years of settlement.
The tomb of Simon the Just, a great figure in Judaism, is in Shimon Hatzadik. In the same area, many Jewish families settled until 1936 and 1938, but the British Empire in 1948 helped Arabs to displace the Jews who lived there. A year later, the neighborhood was cleansed after Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) invaded Israel.
Two decades later, Israel reclaimed Jerusalem after winning the Six-Day War, after which the Israeli state passed a law allowing Jews to reclaim the homes of their displaced ancestors if they can produce authentic title deeds and if the current residents do not have a valid purchase or transfer deed.
The eviction of the families seems imminent, as it has been a giant court battle that even reached the Israeli Supreme Court, an institution that was scheduled to hold a hearing on this case on May 10, but the riots caused the cancellation of the session.
The case generated anger and indignation among Palestinians and also led to a major media movement; even a hashtag called #SaveSheikhJarrah was created and went viral. Unfortunately, tensions were in crescendo, and in the last few days — especially on Friday, May 7, Saturday, May 8, and Monday, May 10 — clashes between law enforcement and Palestinians left a toll of over 300 injured, mostly Palestinians, but also a couple of dozens of policemen who had to face violent mobs.
Palestinians threw stones, bottles, and homemade bombs over the weekend, while policemen responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. Violent riots were also prevented, according to police, after entering a mosque in Jerusalem on Monday.
A new stage of the armed conflict between Israel and Palestine
According to the BBC, “Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces over the weekend escalated on Monday around the Al Aqsa mosque. The mosque sits on an esplanade known to Muslims as Haram al Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as the Temple Mount.”
The historical context exacerbates a delicate situation, as every May 10 Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day, a traditional holiday commemorating the reunification of the city after the historic triumph in the Six-Day War.
Prior to the classic “Flag March”, the Israel Police reported that thousands of Palestinians barricaded in the Al Aqsa Mosque overnight with stones and Molotov cocktails, which led to an irremediable clash between Palestinians and law enforcement.
Jerusalem is the most important holy city for the Jewish and Christian communities, and the third most important for Muslims, due to the sacred religious temples separated by only a few streets. In this city, there is the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, of fundamental importance for Muslims, the Temple Mount and the Wailing Wall, sacred to Jews and the Holy Places, considered sacred by Christians.
The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, congratulated the actions of the police in defense of the historic Israeli date by entering the Al Aqsa Mosque where the Palestinians were allegedly barricaded. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), said through his spokesman that “The brutal assault by Israeli occupation forces on worshippers at the holy Al Aqsa Mosque and its esplanade is a new challenge to the international community.”
Hamas attacks, Israel reacts
Amid religious tensions, Hamas launched rockets from Gaza. On April 24, the Israel Air Defense intercepted a total of 36 rockets. The Israeli army responded with an attack on the north of Gaza.
Hamas continued to seek an escalation of the conflict by conducting airstrikes against Israel, which responded by reducing the fishing zone in the Gaza Strip to 9,000 miles, attempting to dissuade Palestine from ceasing attacks. Since this didn’t work, Israel decided to close the fishing strip completely on April 25.
While clashes continued in Jerusalem, Israel lifted the closure of the strip five days later on the condition that there would be no further attacks by Hamas or the Palestinian National Authority.
There was no further retaliation between the parties until May 7-8, when violence returned to Jerusalem. On Monday, May 10, in the middle of Jerusalem Day, it got worse when police defused a Palestinian barricade inside the historic Al Aqsa Mosque.
The situation was exploited by Hamas, considered a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union and supported by the Iranian theocracy, who launched 3 rockets against Israel that were intercepted by the Iron Dome, the sophisticated defense system of the Israeli state.
Even Fathi Hammad, the political leader of Hamas, called on the Palestinians to behead Jews. All this after attacking Israel again with 3 more rockets.
As the conflict between Palestinian civilians and Israeli police escalated, so did the number of detainees, mostly Palestinians. Hamas demanded the release of those captured by the authorities, giving Israel an ultimatum: if they were not released, they would respond with rockets against Jerusalem.
Why are Hamas and the Palestinian National Authority seeking an escalation of the armed conflict?
It all got worse when the Hamas terrorist group attacked Jerusalem with at least 10 rockets. For the first time in three decades, the Flag March, on the historic Jerusalem Day, was canceled because of the danger triggered by the airstrike.
The Palestinian rockets did not cease and Israel’s reaction, in retaliation, was forceful: bombardment of the Gaza Strip, leaving at least nine dead, including several children and a member of Hamas.
Despite this, airstrikes against Jerusalem reached 150. Israel kept its promise and attacked military bases and several Hamas armed groups. Authorities in Gaza said that the Israeli reprisals claimed the lives of at least 20 people, nine of whom were children.
While the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas claim to look after the rights of Palestinians in Israel, the Palestinian interest in provoking an escalation of the armed conflict appears to be to alleviate the difficult political situation in their territory.
Last January, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for elections after 15 years without a democratic process in the Palestinian state. This announcement comes in an attempt to alleviate internal divisions in the country.
However, there have been similar agreements in the past that were never fulfilled. In fact, the very elections announced in January are in jeopardy, as the Palestinian president announced in April the suspension of the elections until Jerusalem agrees to host them. According to the Palestinian constitution, elections should be held every 4 years.
For Jesús Manuel Pérez Triada, an intelligence and defense consultant, “The launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip is a way for the radicals to establish themselves as relevant actors in Palestinian politics, territorially and politically fractured,” all this in the midst of a call for elections that does not suit the Palestinian Authority.
According to Perez Triada, consulted by El American, the upcoming elections are a challenge for the leadership of the Palestinian National Authority since its popularity is low and this escalation of the armed conflict with Israel “is a gift from heaven” because it is “a crisis that draws attention away from the elections.”
Eduardo Zalovich Mokobocki, a history graduate living in Israel, also spoke to The American and commented that the violence in this conflict comes, above all, from the Palestinian authorities who have a complex political context:
“The violence is directly incited by the Palestinian authorities who govern the autonomous areas of the West Bank, the Abu Mazen regime. Simultaneously the Hamas group, which governs Gaza, makes the same propaganda in its media. “The excuse is an old one: ‘the Al Aksa Mosque is in danger,'” Zalovich said. “This claim is ridiculous, no one would think of touching the mosque. The incitement has a lot to do with the rivalry between Hamas and Al Fataj, and with Abu Mazen’s new suspension of elections (they haven’t voted for 15 years).”
On the other hand, Gaza is also taking advantage of a complex institutional moment for Israel because, in addition to the wave of violence, Israel also has a serious problem in forming a government.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was unable to form a new government within 28 days. Therefore, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin called on opposition leader Yair Lapid to negotiate with the other sectors of the opposition to form a government, a very complicated task, since he has to reach an agreement between parties that are diametrically opposed, such as Muslim and Orthodox Jewish parties, for example.
If Lapid fails in his mission to form a government, Israel would have to return for the fifth time to the polls in only two years. This, while fundamentalists threaten an escalation of the armed conflict.