What is Happening in Israel?

IDF captures a building destroyed by a Hamas rocket in 2014. Like it did back then, the security situation escalates again in Israel.

What is Happening in Israel?

Commentary by Aynur Bashirova

May 13, 2021 

For several days, Israel and Palestine have been on the news about clashes that risk escalating into a full-out war. There are causalities on both sides. Israel and Palestine are blaming each other, with the world community either calling for retaliation and sanctions against Israel or demanding both sides to refrain from aggression. But what is happening in Israel?

More than a thousand rockets have been fired into Israel by Hamas from the Gaza Strip since the outbreak of the war. Most of these rockets were intercepted and neutralized by the Iron Dome air defense system. Otherwise, so many rockets fired into a country as small as Israel, 22.145 km squares, could have easily destroyed the country and death of almost all of its residents. The Israeli response to Hamas was hundreds of airstrikes. More than 40 people have been killed in Gaza and more than 30 in Israel.

Rockets fired by Hamas are thrown all over civilian areas in Israel. Taking into consideration that 20% of the Israeli population are Arab, with 70% being Jewish and 4% others, the rocket attacks are putting into danger also the Arabs living in Israel, which Hamas has vowed to protect. Gazan civilians are also not immune from the attacks from the Israeli side, though the latter’s attacks are more targeted toward military posts and Hamas leaders’ residences. Two multi-story residential buildings in Gaza collapsed in the Israeli airstrike after Israeli forces asked its residents to evacuate in advance.

Events Leading to the Escalation

Two events preceding the clashes were paramount in leading to the spike in violence. In the first case, a riot broke out in Jerusalem due to the Israeli prohibition of sitting on the Damascus Gate stairs during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Gathering around the Damascus Gate during Ramadan is a custom among Palestinians. This led to clashes between Palestinian and Jewish protesters and police. Eventually, the Israeli security agency Shin Bet pressed the Israeli police to remove the barricades allowing Muslim worshippers to gather together and sit on the Damascus Gate stairs in a bid to prevent violent riots and gesture of goodwill. Palestinians gathered at the Damascus gate to celebrate the decision and police allowed them to remove the barricades.

The second story is related to a land dispute between Jewish and Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Jewish families acquired their leasehold rights over the properties in question in the 19th century and passed them through a chain of transactions from predecessors. Between 1948 and 1969 when East Jerusalem was under Jordanian rule, Palestinian Arab families were settled in these properties, but Jordan did not give these families a title over these lands. In 1967, East Jerusalem fell under Israeli rule. Through lengthy court battles over the ownership, the Israeli court decided in favor of Jewish families. The Palestinian families appealed to the Israeli supreme court, which postponed its decision because of the riots.

Current Situation

The current situation between the conflicting sides is worrying. Protesters have been throwing fireworks, rocks, and bottles at police and hiding in the Al Aqsa mosque. Protesters have also been calling for an intifada against Israel and throwing down objects at the Jewish worshippers in the Western Wall. A tree next to the Al Aqsa mosque cough fire, but it was put down before the fire could spread to the mosque itself. With these developments, Israeli police had to organize a raid into the mosque to conduct arrests. In such a way, the confrontation turned into the instrumentalization of religion. Israeli-Palestinian conflict, at its root, is a territorial ethnic issue. Current escalation also has the same roots.

The streets of Israel also saw confrontations between Arab and Jewish citizens. Extremists from both sides engaged in lynches. Arab-Israeli mixed city of Lod declared a state of emergency. Heavy protests started in the city after the funeral of an Arab-Israeli man shot by a Jewish resident. Suspects in the shooting are under detention. Synagogue, Muslim cemetery, and vehicles have been set on fire. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the lynching of an Arab man by Jewish rioters in the Israeli city Bat Yam:

“To the citizens of Israel, I say this, I do not care if your blood is boiling, You cannot take the law into your own hands. You cannot take a simple Arab citizen and try to lynch him, just as an Arab citizen cannot simply lynch a Jewish person.”

Mayor of Lod Yair Revivo commented:

“The day after, we still have to live together… Hamas missiles do not differentiate between Jews and Arabs” referring to Israeli Arabs who died from rockets fired from Gaza.

Most of the Israeli residents are spending their nights in bomb shelters. Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken that Israel reserves the right to defend its sovereignty, referring to intensive rain of shelling from Gaza.

With causalities rising on both sides, confrontation is risking turning into a war. How would it affect hopes of fragile coexistence and recent Israeli successful attempts of forging links with Arab countries is hard to say. Palestinians in Gaza, Arabs in Israel, as well as Jews and other nationalities and religions residing in the Israeli territories, none are immune from falling victim to the rocket attacks and violent clashes.

What is also frightening is that the conflict can have spillover to other countries, dragging in different states and communities. According to allegations, three rockets have been fired toward Israel from Lebanon. In addition, in many other countries, there are big Jewish and Arab populations and recent escalation has a risk of bringing violence into their streets as well. In Germany, two synagogues and a memorial site have already been vandalized.