Q&A: Israel’s Jerusalem crackdown, Gaza offensive

Elham Sherif , Friday 14 May 2021

Below are a number of basic facts about the crisis that has taken the attention of the whole world

Palestinians assess the damage caused by Israeli air strikes, in Beit Hanun in the northern Gaza Strip, on May 14, 2021. AFP

During the past couple of days, Gazan factions launched rocket attacks towards Israel in response to the latter’s crackdown on Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

More than 80 Palestinians have been killed as Israel responded with heavy airstrikes. Hundreds others were injured in each of Gaza and Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, in addition to ongoing acts of violence committed by both Israeli settlers and forces against the Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Israel plans to evict several Palestinians families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem.

Below are a number of basic facts about the crisis that has taken the attention of the whole world.

How did Israeli crackdown on Palestinian protesters in East Jerusalem begin?

Israel wants to evict almost 40 Palestinians families from their homes in East Jerusalem.

Since early April, the Palestinians have been protesting against Israel’s willingness to capture their houses that both their predecessors and themselves have been living in for long decades.

The Palestinians also resorted to contentious politics due to the fact that they faced violence: Israeli security forces and settlers regularly attack them. Many Knesset members, extreme-right wing groups and settlers have adopted an aggressive, anti-Palestinian discourse.

Slogans such as “Go Back to Jordan '' or “Death to Arabs” have been continuously heard by the people of Sheikh Jarrah during the past month.

During Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, Israel took some provocative measures that catalysed the growth of Palestinan anger.

Although removing it a few weeks later, Israel put barriers outside Damascus Gate to prevent Palestinians from entering Jerusalem’s Old City. As a tradition, thousands of Palestinians normally gather in this area after night-time prayers.

Worshippers were also prevented from entering Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a holy site for Muslims.

Why does Israel want to evict Palestinian residents from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah?

The Palestinians are fighting both political and legal battles.

On 9 May, Israel’s Supreme Court postponed a hearing on whether four Palestinian families in Shiekh Jarrah will be evicted. Israel counts on the 1950 and 1970s laws to legitimize this process, which the Palestinians consider as tools of oppressing them.

On 22 April, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi gave the Palestinian Authority (PA) documents, which proves that the ministry of development built and finalised lease agreements for homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

“According to publicly available information released by UN OCHA, nearly a thousand Palestinians - almost half of whom are children - are at risk of forced eviction across East Jerusalem. In many cases in East Jerusalem, including in Sheikh Jarrah, the forced eviction of Palestinians is occurring within the context of Israeli settlement construction and expansion, [which is] illegal under international humanitarian law,” UNRWA said on Monday.

On the political level, Israel wants to extend its control to East Jerusalem which the Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

The Palestinians have boycotted the former US administration for Donald Trump for moving the US embassy to Jerusalem and recognising it as Israel’s undivided capital.

This explains a lot about why Israel is escalating against the Palestinians at such a point in time.

Why did the tensions reach the Gaza Strip?

In past years, Gaza has always been affected by any Israeli crackdown on the occupied West Bank.

For instance, following the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, border clashes erupted between tens of thousands of Gazan protesters and Israeli soldiers.

Dozens of protesters were left killed then, while more than 3000 others were injured.

This time, Hamas warned Israel to withdraw its forces from Sheikh Jarrah by 6 pm on 5 May. The Islamist militant group, which rules Gaza, also wanted the release of the Palestinians protesters who were detained during protests in East Jerusalem.

But this did not happen, resulting in a series of endless rocket attacks on Israel by Gazan factions. Israel responded by an aggressive, aerial campaign on the coastal enclave that left 83 Gazans killed and hundreds others wounded.

Hamas has launched more than 1,600 rockets towards Israel since last Monday, the Israeli army said.

Israel had to close Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport, transferring all flights to Ramon airport. The latter was attacked on Thursday as Hamas has sought to halt “all international airlines immediately to any airports” in Israel.

A ceasefire seems far from near in the meantime, for leaders on both sides stress their willingness to resume fighting till they meet their objectives.

While Hamas primarily wants Israel to stop its escalatory moves in Jerusalem, Israel wants to punish the former for deciding to fight its troops.

"This is just the beginning," Israel’s defence minister Benny Gantz said on 11 May. "Terror organisations have been hit hard and will continue to be hit because of their decision to hit Israel. We'll return peace and quiet, for the long term."

How did the world respond? 

The United Nations Human rights office has stated that it is “deeply concerned” over the violence escalation. The Spokesman of OHCHR Rupert Colville “We condemn all violence and all incitement to violence and ethnic division and provocations,” told reporters in Geneva.

Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State also stated that “all sides need to de-escalate, reduce tensions, and take practical steps to calm things down”. He highly condemned Hamas for the rocket attacks and said, “They need to stop immediately”.

Russia condemns attacks on civilians in East Jerusalem and called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) all the parties to refrain from any steps fraught with the escalation of violence. Moscow also reaffirmed its position that “the expropriation of land and property located on it, as well as the creation of settlements by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem, has no legal force” “Such actions are a violation of international law and impede the achievement of a peaceful settlement based on the creation of two states Palestine and Israel.”

Turkey characterized Israel as a ‘Terror State’ and called on Muslim leaders and nations to take strong position against Israel.

The Arab League has formed an Arab ministerial committee comprising Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco and Saudi Arabia to “move and communicate with the permanent members of the Security Council and other internationally influential countries to urge them to take practical steps to stop Israel's illegal actions and policies in Jerusalem”.

Arab League General Secretary Ahmed Aboul Gheit condemned Israel’s Gaza strikes as “indiscriminate and irresponsible and a miserable display of force at the expense of children’s blood”. 

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