Israel-Palestine conflict escalates, leaves 59 dead: A look at what sparked latest wave of violence

The recent nightly clashes began at the start of Ramadan, when Israeli police placed barriers outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem's Old City

FP Staff May 12, 2021 15:30:45 IST
Israel-Palestine conflict escalates, leaves 59 dead: A look at what sparked latest wave of violence

An Israeli firefighter walks next to cars hit by a missile fired from Gaza Strip, in the southern Israeli town of Ashkelon. AP

For weeks now, Palestinian protesters and Israeli police have clashed on a daily basis in and around Jerusalem’s Old City.

Until Wednesday, about 1,000 rockets have been fired at Israel, while the Gaza Strip has been pounded by relentless air strikes.

The death toll in Gaza rose to 53 Palestinians, including 14 children and three women, according to the Health Ministry, an AP report said. At least 320 have been wounded, including 86 children and 39 women.

Six Israelis were killed by rocket fire, including the first death of an Israeli soldier in this round of conflict, along with three women and a child. Dozens in Israel have been wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday declared a state of emergency in the central city of Lod as police accused Arab residents of waging "wide-scale riots".

Meanwhile, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court voiced concern at the escalation of violence between Israel and the Palestinians and said "crimes" may have been committed.

"I note with great concern the escalation of violence in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as in and around Gaza, and the possible commission of crimes under the Rome Statute," which was founded the ICC, Fatou Bensouda said on Twitter.

Here is an overview of why tensions have escalated in the region:

Immediate trigger for violence

The recent nightly clashes began at the start of Ramadan, when Israeli police placed barriers outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a popular gathering place after the evening prayers during the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. They later removed the barriers, but then protests escalated over the threatened eviction of dozens of Palestinian families from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, as noted by The Associated Press.

The families have been embroiled in a long legal battle with ideological Jewish settlers who seek to acquire property in crowded Palestinian neighborhoods just outside the Old City. Israel portrays it as a private real-estate dispute, but the families’ plight has attracted global attention.

Confrontations also erupted last weekend at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is the third-holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Over four days, Israeli police fired tear gas and stun grenades at Palestinians in the compound who hurled stones and chairs at the forces. At times, police fired stun grenades into the carpeted mosque.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, has called for a new intifada, or uprising, like the one triggered by an Israeli politician’s visit to Al-Aqsa in 2000. Gaza militants have fired rockets and balloons with incendiary devices attached to them in support of the protesters as an informal cease-fire with Israel has started to fray.

Protests have been held in the occupied West Bank and in Arab communities inside Israel. A series of deadly shootings in the West Bank last week has also heightened tensions.

Historical context

The West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories held by Israel since 1967, are at the centre of much of the conflict in the region.

At the end of World War 1, both the regions became part of British-mandated Palestine. However, at the end of World War 2, Jews fleeing Nazi Europe voiced the demand for a homeland within Palestine, an Arab-dominated region, as noted by an article in The Print. Jerusalem, a city considered holy by Jews, was inside British-mandated Palestine. Israel today views Jerusalem as its “unified, eternal” capital.

Israel had captured east Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, in the 1967 Mideast war, along with the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians want those territories for their future state, with east Jerusalem serving as their eventual capital. But Israel annexed the eastern part of the city in a move not recognized internationally.

According to a UN partition plan in 1947, Jerusalem was proposed to be an international city. But in the first Arab Israel war of 1948, the Israelis captured the western half of the city, and Jordan took the eastern part, including the Old City that houses Haram al-Sharif. The Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, another Islamic shrine, are situated within Haram esh-Sharif (Noble Sanctury), as noted by The Hindu.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six-Day War and annexed it later. Palestinians want West Bank and Gaza for their future state, with east Jerusalem serving as their eventual capital.

'Discriminatory' policies

Jews born in east Jerusalem are Israeli citizens, while Palestinians from east Jerusalem are granted a form of permanent residency that can be revoked if they live outside the city for an extended period. They can apply for citizenship, but it’s a long and uncertain process and most choose not to because they don’t recognize Israeli control.

Israel has built Jewish settlements in east Jerusalem that are home to some 220,000 people. It has severely limited the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods, leading to overcrowding and the unauthorized construction of thousands of homes that are at risk of demolition.

The Israeli rights group B’Tselem and the New York-based Human Rights Watch cited the discriminatory policies in east Jerusalem in recent reports arguing that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid. Israel rejects those allegations, saying Jerusalem residents are treated equally.

With inputs from agencies

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