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ISREALI – PALESTINIAN CONFLICT IN 2021

The long-running dispute over land in Sheikh Jarrah is considered a microcosm of the Israeli–Palestinian disputes over land since 1948. Israel’s laws allow Jews to file claims over land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem which they have owned prior to 1948, but reject Palestinian claims over land in Israel which they owned.

According to Ottoman documents presented by the settler organizations, the land in Sheikh Jarrah was bought by Jewish trusts from Arab landowners in the 1870s. The authenticity of these documents has been challenged by Palestinian claimants in Israeli courts. In 1956, the Jordanian government, in cooperation with the United Nations’ organization for refugees, UNRWA, housed 28 Palestinian refugee families with tenancy rights in a compound on land that Jordan managed as .

After the Six Day War, the area fell under Israeli Occupation. In 1972, the Israeli Custodian General registered the properties under the Jewish trusts, which in turn demanded that the Palestinian tenants there pay the trusts rent. Eviction orders began to occur in the 1990s.

The Jewish trusts sold the homes to a right-wing settler organization, which has since made repeated attempts to evict the Palestinian residents. Under Israeli Land Property Laws, Israelis have the right to reclaim properties in East Jerusalem owned by Jews before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, but no similar law exists that would allow Palestinians to claim their lost property inside Israel during the hostilities.

The Sheikh Jarrah district houses the descendants of refugees expelled or displaced from their homes in Jaffa and Haifa in the Nakba of 1948. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, this approach to property rights is unacceptable in international law.

Settler groups mostly funded by US donors succeeded in having 43 Palestinians evicted from the area in 2002, followed by the Hanoun and Ghawi families in 2008, and the Shamasneh family in 2017.

In 2010, the Supreme Court of Israel rejected an appeal by Palestinian families who had resided in 57 housing units in the area of Sheikh Jarrah, who had petitioned the court to have their ownership to the properties recognized. An Israeli court had previously ruled that the Palestinians could remain on the properties under a legal status called “protected tenants” but must pay rent. The move to evict them came after they refused to pay rent and carried out construction on the properties unauthorized by those who the courts had recognized as the owners.

In 2021 Israel’s Supreme Court was expected to deliver a ruling on whether to uphold the eviction of six Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood on 10 May 2021, after a court ruled that 13 families, 58 people including 17 children: 6 families by 2 May, and a further 7 by 1 August. On 9 May 2021, the Israeli Supreme Court delayed the expected decision on evictions for 30 days, after an intervention from Attorney General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit..

On 6 May 2021, Palestinians began protesting in Jerusalem over a forthcoming decision of Israeli Supreme Court regarding the eviction of four Palestinian families from Sheik Jarrah, a neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. The area is informally annexed to Israel but under International Law remains part of the Palestinian territories which Israel administers under belligerent occupation. The protests quickly escalated into violent confrontations between Jewish and Palestinian protesters. The following day, the major Islamic holy site and the holiest to Judaism, known as Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or Temple Mount, was stormed by the Israeli Police using tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades against firecrackers and stone-throwing Palestinians.

The violence coincided with Qadr Night, observed by Muslims, and Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday. The confrontations occurred ahead of a planned Jerusalem Day march by far-right Jewish nationalists that was later cancelled. More than 300 people were injured, mostly Palestinians, drawing international condemnation. The Supreme Court ruling was then delayed for 30 days as the Attorney General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit, sought to reduce tensions.

On 10 May, two Palestinian militant groups, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, began firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, hitting multiple residences and a school. Israel launched airstrikes against Gaza, including airstrikes targeting multiple apartment buildings, a refugee camp, and a news office building.

Since the rocket launches and airstrikes began, at least 214 Palestinians have been killed, including 31 children, while ten Israelis have been killed, including one child. On 11 May, the Israeli Defense Forces claimed that at least 15 of the Palestinian casualties were confirmed members of Hamas, and also claimed that some Palestinian civilian casualties were caused by errant rocket launches within the Gaza Strip.

As of 12 May 2021, both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority reported injuries for at least 300 Palestinians and 200 Israelis. As of 14 May 2021, at least 10,000 Palestinians have been displaced.

The conflict is said to have reached a level unseen since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s.

APRIL–MAY 2021 RAMADAN EVENTS

At the start of Ramadam in April 2021, Israeli Police blocked off access to the Damascus Gate where Muslim worshippers usually congregate during the holiday.

President Reuvin Rivlin was speaking at the Western Wall for Memorial of  Israeli officials were concerned that the call for prayers from the minarets of the Al-Aqsa Mosque would drown him out. A squad of Israeli Police officers raided the Mosque and cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to Muslims.

In the wake of protests, Israel removed the barriers at the Damascus Gate two weeks later.

On 15th of April, a TikTok video of a Palestinian teen slapping an ultra-orthodox Jewish man went viral, leading to several copycat incidents. The next day, tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers were turned away from Al-Aqsa, on the first Friday of Ramadan when Israel imposed a 10,000-person limit on prayers at the mosque. On the same day, a Rabbi was beaten in Jaffa causing two days of protests.

On 22nd of April, the far-right Jewish supremacist group Lehava held a march through Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs”.

On 23rd of April, after fringe military groups fired 36 rockets at Southern Israel, the IDF launched missiles at Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

In the following days, a Palestinian boy and a 19-year-old Israeli settler were killed.

On 6 May, incendiary balloon attacks launched from Gaza set off 6 fires.

Ben-Gvir visited Sheikh Jarrah shortly before the clashes began, where he said that the houses belonged to Jews and told Police to “open fire” on protesters.

Agence France-Presse reported that Israeli settlers had been seen in Sheikh Jarrah openly carrying assault rifles and revolvers leading up to the clashes.

A video was posted of Ben-Gvir, in a joking exchange with the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Arieh King, mocking a Palestinian resident shot by Israeli Police during a protest.

ESCALATION

Palestinian protests began on 6th of May in Sheikh Jarrah, but clashes soon spread to Al-Asqa Mosque, Lod and other Arab localities in Israel and the West Bank. Between 10 and 14 May Israeli security inflicted injuries on approximately 1,000 Palestinian protestors in East Jerusalem.

SHEIKH JARRAH

Palestinians and Israeli settlers first clashed on 6 May in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families are at risk of being evicted. Palestinian protesters had been holding nightly outdoor iftars.

On 6 May, Israeli settlers and Otzma Yehudit set up a table across the street from Palestinians. Social media videos showed both sides hurling rocks and chairs at each other. Israeli Police intervened and arrested at least 7 people.

AL-AQSA MOSQUE

On 7 May, large numbers of Police were deployed on the Temple Mount as around 70,000 worshippers attended the final Friday prayers of Ramadan at Al-Asqa Mosque. After the evening prayers, some Palestinian worshippers began throwing previously stockpiled rocks and other objects at Israeli Police officers. Police officers fired stun grenades into the mosque compound, and into a field clinic. A Mosque Spokesman stated the clashes broke out after Israeli Police attempted to evacuate the compound, where many Palestinians sleep over in Ramadan, adding that the evacuation was intended to allow access to Israelis. More than 300 Palestinians were wounded as Israeli Police stormed the Mosque compound. Palestinians threw rocks, firecrackers, and heavy objects, while Israeli Police fired stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets at worshippers.

The storming came ahead of a Jerualem Day flag march by Jewish nationalists through the Old City. At least 215 Palestinians were injured, 153 of whom were hospitalised.

Militants in Gaza fired rockets into Israel the following night.

More clashes occurred on 8 May, the date of the Islamic holy night of Laylat Al-Qadr. Palestinian crowds threw stones, lit fires, and chanted “Strike Tel Aviv” and “In spirit and in blood, we will redeem al-Aqsa”, which The Times of Isreal described as in support of Hama.

The Israeli Police, wearing riot gear and some on horseback, used stun grenades and water cannons. At least 80 people were injured.

On 10th of May, a video showing a raging fire on the al-Haram al-Sharif, caused by the conflagration of a tree near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, began to circulate on social media. Below in the Western plaza, a packed group of Jewish Israelis chanted what Yair Wallach called ‘genocidal songs of vengeance’ while cheering the flames with words from a song from Judges 16:28 in which Samson cries out before he tears down the pillars in Gaza, “O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!”

ISRAELI POLICE OFFICERS IN LOD

During the evening and night of 10 May, Arab rioters in Lod threw stones and firebombs at Jewish homes, a school, and a synagogue, later attacking a hospital. Shots were fired at the rioters, killing one and wounding two; a Jewish suspect in the shooting was arrested.

Widespread protests and riots intensified across Israel, particularly in cities with large Arab populations.

In Lod, rocks were thrown at Jewish apartments and some Jewish residents were evacuated from their homes by the Police. One man was seriously injured after being struck in the head by a rock. In the nearby city of Ramle, Jewish rioters threw rocks at passing vehicles.

On 11 May, Mayor of Lod Yair Revivio urged Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu to deploy Israeli Border Police in the city, stating that the city had “completely lost control” and warning that the country was on the brink of “civil war”. Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod on 11 May, marking the first time since 1966 that Israel has used emergency powers over an Arab community. Minister of Public Security, Amir Ohana announced the implementation of emergency orders.

Unrest continued on 12th of May. In Acre, a Jewish man was attacked and seriously injured by an Arab mob armed with sticks and stones while driving his car. In Bat Yam, Jewish extremists attacked Arab stores and beat pedestrians. An Arab motorist was also beaten in the street, which was caught live by an Israeli news crew.

As of 13th of May, communal violence including “riots, stabbings, arson, attempted home invasions and shootings” was reported from Beersheba, Rahat, Ramla, Lod, Nasiriyah, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Haifa and Acre.

GAZA

Hamas demanded Israel remove its forces from Al-Aqsa Mosque by 10th of May, 6pm. Minutes after the deadline passed, Hamas fired more than 150 rockets into Israel from Gaza.

The Isreali Defense force (IDF) said that seven rockets were fired toward Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh and that one was intercepted. An anti-tank missile was also fired at an Israeli civilian vehicle, injuring the driver.

Israel launched air strikes in the Gaza strip on the same day.

On 1th of May, the 13-story residential Hanadi Tower in Gaza collapsed after being hit by an Israeli airstrike. The tower housed a mix of residential apartments and commercial offices. IDF said the building contained offices used by Hamas, and said it gave “advance warning to civilians in the building and provided sufficient time for them to evacuate the site.”

Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad fired 137 rockets at Tel Aviv in five minutes. Hamas stated that they fired their “largest ever barrage”. In addition, an Israeli state-owned oil pipeline was hit by a rocket.

ISRAELI BOMBING OF THE GAZA STRIP

On 12th May, the Isreali Air Force destroyed dozens of Police and security installations along the Gaza Strip.

Hamas said its Police Headquarters were among the targets destroyed. Over 850 rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel on 12th May. According to the IDF, at least 200 rockets launched by Hamas failed to reach Israel, and fell inside the Gaza Strip.

On 13 May, Israeli forces and militant groups in Gaza continued to exchange artillery fire and airstrikes. Hamas attempted to deploy suicide drones against Israeli targets, with an Israeli airforce F-16 engaging and shooting down one such drone. Iron Dome is destroying many but not all dangerous rockets fired at Israel.

On 14th May, Israel Defense Forces’ ground and air troops claimed they had troops on the ground and in the air attacking the Gaza Strip, although this claim was later retracted and followed with an apology for misleading the press. That same day, the Israeli Air Force launched a massive bombardment of Hamas’ tunnel network as well as above-ground positions, reportedly inflicting heavy casualties. It was suspected that the reports of an Israeli ground invasion had been a deliberate ruse to lure Hamas operatives into the tunnels and prepared positions above ground to confront Israeli ground forces so that large numbers could then be killed by airstrikes. According to an Israeli official, the attacks killed hundreds of Hamas personnel, and in addition, 20 Hamas commanders were assassinated and most of its rocket production capabilities were destroyed. Also on 14th May, a Hamas drone was downed by Israeli Air Defense forces. In total 160 aircraft were used in the Israeli Air Force’s operation.

As of 16th May, according to the IDF, over 2,000 rockets have been fired into Israel; approximately half were intercepted by Israeli missile defences, and 350 fell inside Gaza.

AL-JALAA MEDIA BUILDING BOMBING

On 15th May the IDF targeted the Al-Jalaa building in Gaza, which housed Al Jazeera and Associated Press journalists, and a number of other offices and apartments. The building was hit by at least 4 missiles, approximately an hour after Israeli forces called the building’s owner, warning of the attack and advising all occupants to evacuate.

Gary Pruitt, CEO of Associated Press, said the news agency was “shocked and horrified that the Israeli military would target and destroy the building housing AP’s bureau and other news organizations in Gaza.” He added that “the world will know less about what is happening in Gaza because of what happened today.”

An Israeli Military Spokesperson confirmed the Army struck the media building, saying it contained “Hamas military intelligence”. Israel says they have shown the United States evidence that Hamas operated inside the building.

WEST BANK

On 14th May, 11 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops, including one who attempted to stab a soldier, and more than 100 Palestinians were injured. There have been daily demonstrations since the escalation in Gaza. As of 16 May, a total of 13 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank.

ISRAELI–LEBANESE BORDER

On 13 May three rockets were fired from the al-Rashidiya Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon across the Israeli-Lebanon, landing in the Mediterranean Sea. Hezbollah denied responsibility for the rocket launches and Lebanese Army troops were deployed to the refugee camp, finding several rockets there.

ISRAELI-SYRIAN CEASEFIRE LINE

On the evening of 14th May, three rockets were fired from Syria, while two of them hit the Israeli occupied Golan Heights but fell in uninhabited places.

CASUALTIES

As of 16th May, according to the Gaza Health Ministry, 197 people have been killed in Gaza, including 58 children, and more than 1,235 others wounded. 10 deaths in Israel were reported, including one Indian woman living and working in Israel.

A Hamas commander, identified as Mohammed Abdullah Fayyad, as well as three high-ranking Islamic Jihad commanders were also killed. Another Hamas member was killed on 11th May. The deaths of the five commanders were confirmed by official statements of both the groups. The deaths of other militants are suspected, but not however confirmed. It is disputed whether some of the first victims on 10th May died as a result of an Israeli airstrike or an errant Palestinian rocket.

On 11th May, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched hundreds of rockets at Ashdod and Ashkelon, killing two people and wounding more than 90 others. A third Israeli woman from Rishon LeZion was also killed, while two more civilians from Dahmash and a soldier died the next day.

Bassem Issa, a top Hamas commander, was killed.

Magen David Adom reported that as of 16th May, 10 people have been killed by rockets within Israel and they have treated 675 people, including 204 for stress, 171 injured while running to shelter, and 189 injured during riots.

DIPLOMACY

China, Norway and Tunisia requested a public United Nations Security Council meeting for 14th May while the United States objected.

The Council has met privately twice but has not been able to agree on a statement over United States objections.

On 12th May, it was announced that Hady Amr, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs and Press and Public Diplomacy, would be sent to the region “immediately”.

Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have so far offered no sign of progress.

On 13th May, Hamas made a proposal for a ceasefire, stating that it was prepared to halt attacks on a ‘mutual basis’.

Netanyahu informed his cabinet that Israel had rejected the overture.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an immediate ceasefire, “out of respect for the spirit of Eid”, making reference to Eid al-Fitr, an Islamic festival which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

On 16th May, US President Joe Biden held telephone calls with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli and Palestinian reactions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the actions of the Israeli police and said that Israel “shall not allow any radical element to undermine the calm”. He also said “we firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem”. Israeli officials asked the Biden administration not to intervene in the situation.

On 10 May 2021, Mahmoud Abass, the President of the Palestinian, issued a statement that the “brutal storming and assault on worshipers in the blessed al-Aqsa Mosque and its courtyards is a new challenge to the international community”.

Israel’s Minister for Public Security Amir Ohana, called for the release of the Israeli man arrested for the shooting of an Arab in Lod, arguing without providing evidence that the suspect was acting in self-defense and law-abiding citizens bearing arms assist the authorities. According to a Guardian report, the statement seemed to encourage mob violence.

A spokesman for Palestinian Islamic Jihad said that Israel “started the aggression on Jerusalem. If this aggression does not end, there is no point to diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire”. Hamas gave an ultimatum to the Israeli government, saying if they did not remove forces from the mosque by 2 a.m. on 11 May, then they would conduct another rocket strike.

Netanyahu convened an emergency security meeting on 11 May, and schools in several parts of Israel were closed.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin condemned the riots in Lod, describing them as a pogrom.

David M. Weinberg, vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, opined that Israel need not apologize for the tragic civilian casualties in Gaza. Hamas, he argues, is a catastrophe and Israel has no option but to take on the hard work of frequently ‘mow(ing) the grass’ in Gaza. Unless one does that as in gardens, weeds flourish and ‘snakes begin to slither around in the brush.’ ‘Mow the grass’ is an Israeli military metaphor for a strategy of resorting to displays of overwhelming military force in Gaza. The strategy is criticized by Zehava Gal-On as only resulting in perpetual war, and for assuming talking with Palestinians is pointless.

The conflicts continues as we go to press.

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