Although it is very difficult, one might say impossible, to summarize the Palestinian issue, this blog will attempt to tackle it as much as possible. One thing to note, before delving in, is the fact that no matter what approach is taken to study or understand this topic, no one can deny that the Palestinian issue is deeply rooted in a very complex history. This week we have all seen some pretty horrific pictures and news about the destruction and loss of life caused by a recent increase in violence and missile attacks in the Israel-Palestinian region. Before explaining why these attacks happened and what could happen from here let us go through a very brief history of the region and why this contentious violence exists.
History of Palestine and Creation of Israel
While we could go back hundreds of years let’s start around the First World War. The Ottoman Empire had been controlling the region in question for 4 centuries, with a diverse population. The land of Palestine, or Falestin according to the Ottoman records, inhabited a Muslim majority population with Arab Christians and Orthodox Jews minorities (Morris, 2001, p. 4). With the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War I, the future of Palestine changed its course. In the background, the British government, a year before the war ended declared under the Balfour Declaration of 1917 that Palestine was to be a “national home” (Said, 1980, p. 13) for the Jews.
In the decades that followed World War I, there was a huge influx of Jews to Palestine increasing the violence between the migrant Jews and the Palestinians, only grew, with both sides claiming the land as theirs. The new Jewish population of course had many arguments for this claim, but the argument of the Palestinians was plain and simple, it was their land which they and their ancestors had lived upon for as long as they knew and no one had the right to forcefully take it from them. By 1947 the British, who were still in control of the region, realized that they could no longer contain the violence. This was followed by the UN voting to split the land into two countries Israel and Palestine. While Israel accepted this plan, the Palestinians did not as they saw it for what it was, an illegitimate attempt to try and push them out of their own home-land. With the support of Western powers, and the backing of the UN ruling, a state called Israel was created in 1948 (Said, 1980, p. 101). The creation of Israel led to the Palestinian exodus of 1948, where 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their home, an act that is known as el-Nakbah by Palestinians. This immediately led to the Conventional War between the State of Israel and Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and Iran. A small number of forces from Yemen and Saudi Arabia also participated.
By the end of the war, Israel controlled a lot more of the land than it did previously; they now controlled 77 percent of the Palestinian land. Some of the Arab states that intervened also gained control of parts of the region with Jordan now controlling the West Bank and Egypt controlling Gaza. Fast forwarding to a couple of decades later, in 1967 Israel attacked both Egypt and Syria, the Arab nations who fought them back in 1948, and successfully captured the Sinai desert region alongside Gaza (the South of Palestine) from Egypt, the Golan Heights (North of Palestine) from Syria and the West Bank (East of Palestine).
Today these occupied areas are still key: The West Bank which includes east Jerusalem, where the Palestinians want their capital to be and the Gaza strip, both areas are home to large Palestinian populations. But since the 1967 war, Israel has occupied these remaining Palestinian settlements. These occupied territories have been victims of limited food and energy supply, with multiple human, civil, and political rights violations. The illegal Israeli occupation also limits the socio-economic opportunities that the Palestinians living in these settlements have.
What is Happening Now?
Now that we have covered the history of the region, let us jump forward to today and to three of the major events which led to the violence we are watching unfold. These three events can be titled, “The Damascus gates”, “Forceful removal of Palestinians from their homes”, and “al-Aqsa mosque”.
The Damascus gates: In mid-April this year, Palestinians tried to gather at the Damascus gates which is usually where Muslims gather during Ramadan. The Israeli police blocked it off and violence ensued. The police claimed this was to maintain order although many Palestinians saw this as a restriction on their right to assemble.
Forceful removal of Palestinians from their homes: On the 6th of May, a number of Palestinian families faced forced and illegal eviction from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem by Israeli authorities (Middle East Eye, 2021). This was despite many generations having lived there. The region had been used by Palestinian refugees ever since the catastrophe in 1948. The forceful removal of Palestinians from their homes prove the on-going plan (on-going since the creation of Israel) of Israel to deprive the Palestinian right to land and to illegally occupy their lands. These evictions were backed by the Israeli county court and was set to escalate by Israel’s Supreme Court, but were postponed. These talks and attempts of illegally occupy their homes, and spread the illegitimate Jewish housing societies led to Palestinian protests for their right to land, ultimately leading to clashes between the Israeli police and protesters in which the police were criticized for using rubber bullets and tear gas on unarmed Palestinians.
Al-Aqsa mosque: The following day at al-Aqsa mosque, which sits in the occupied Palestinian territory of East Jerusalem, violence broke out between police and Palestinian worshippers once again. It is unclear how the violence started but videos shared online show police officers firing stun grenades and rubber bullets at unarmed Palestinians worshipping at the mosque.
In response Hamas, the de facto Palestinian governing authority of Gaza issued an instruction to Israel: ‘remove the Israeli forces from the mosque by 6 pm on the 10th of May. Minutes after the deadline passed 150 rockets were sent into Israel from Gaza, to show the Palestinian retaliation to the constant oppression. This oppression is not only what we see today in the online videos, but it has been a part of the Palestinian lives for nearly four decades. Israel then launched airstrikes into Gaza. The missile strikes continued to escalate for the following days and at the time of writing, seven people in Israel and 83 people, including 9 children in Gaza have died. It is also important to note here that the reason the Israeli death count has been so much lower is because of the iron dome system. This is the air defence system Israel uses to intercept missiles fired at them and it is a defence system that Palestine does not have. Moreover, following this exchange of missiles between Israel and Palestine, it was reported on the 13th of May that the Israeli army was putting forward plans for a ground invasion of Gaza, claiming that they were preparing for all eventualities and an escalation (Goodwin, 2021).
Then early on Friday morning the Israeli military briefed claiming that their air and ground troops were currently attacking in the Gaza strip. This was seen as confirmation that the Israelis had invaded. However, an hour later the Israeli army claimed that there was an internal communication error and issued a clarification that there are currently no IDF ground troops inside the Gaza strip. IDF air and ground defences are carrying out strikes on targets in the Gaza strip, however it is not the Israeli-claimed “dangerous” areas which have been the targets, rather hospitals, schools, homes, and shops along with the lives of innocent people and children have been at the receiving end of Israeli attacks. The violent Israeli attacks have not only taken away from the limited infrastructure that Gaza has, but it had taken away the lives of many families. The attacks by Israel have made many children orphans and many parents childless. Israel is on the border of Gaza and it is been reported that around 9000 Israeli reservists (Israeli residents who have completed military service) have been called up (Vinograd, 2021).
All around the world, thousands of protestors from all backgrounds and religions have come on the roads to protest for the Palestinians lives and rights. Countries such as Turkey and Pakistan have shown their open support to Palestine (The Express Tribune, 2021). Amidst a deadly pandemic, thousands of people are leaving their homes to remind the world, especially Western leaders, that no politics justifies killing and oppressing the rights of innocent people. It is also important to note that these protests aren’t against the Jews and their right to live, they are not forced by the notion of “anti-Semitism”, rather they are for the rights of Palestinians and for the end of oppression on innocent lives as well as the illegal occupations by Israel on Palestinian land.
On the other side of things, Palestine has made clear that they would be open to sign a reciprocal peace treaty on the condition that the international community ensures that there is no Israeli military presence at the al-Aqsa mosque. On the 20th of May, late last night, both Israel and Hamas have declared ceasefire, after almost 11 days since the Israeli officers attacked the Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque (Al Jazeera, 2021). This ceasefire however, does not guarantee freedom and relief for the Palestinians. In the words of Omar Baddar, the deputy director of Arab American Institute, “Ceasefire= temporary halt to the mass slaughter & a rerun to the lower intensity violence of Israeli occupation, ethnic cleansing & apartheid that deprives Palestinians of freedom, dignity, security, or the pursuit of happiness. We remain far from justice” (Twitter: @OmarBaddar). That is how things stand at the moment though and obviously, things are even more complicated and messier than we have implied.
If you want to check out what is happening in Palestine right now visit: https://www.aljazeera.com/israel-palestine-conflict
Al Jazeera. (2021). Israel and Hamas agree Gaza ceasefire after 11 days of fighting. Retrieved 20 May 2021, from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/20/israel-and-hamas-annouce-gaza-ceasefire.
Goodwin, H. (2021). Israel plans ground invasion of Gaza as death toll spirals. The London Economic. Retrieved 20 May 2021, from https://www.thelondoneconomic.com/news/world-news/israel-plans-ground-invasion-of-gaza-as-death-toll-spirals-269340/.
Middle East Eye. (2021). Sheikh Jarrah explained: The past and present of East Jerusalem neighbourhood. Retrieved 20 May 2021, from https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-palestine-sheikh-jarrah-jerusalem-neighbourhood-eviction-explained.
Morris, B. (2011). Righteous victims: a history of the Zionist-Arab conflict, 1881-1998. Vintage.
Said, E. W. (1980). The Palestine question and the American context. Vintage.
The Express Tribune. (2021). Pakistan, Turkey join hands to stop Israeli atrocities on Palestinians. Retrieved 20 May 2021, from https://tribune.com.pk/story/2299682/pakistan-turkey-join-hands-to-stop-israeli-atrocities-on-palestinians.
Vinograd, C. (2021). Israel airstrikes kill 8 children, flatten building housing Associated Press, Al Jazeera offices. NBC News. Retrieved 20 May 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-airstrike-gaza-kills-8-children-u-s-envoy-arrives-n1267490.