Shortcuts / 19 May 2021

The Israel-Gaza Conflict

The latest eruptions of long-running tensions between Israel and the Palestinian Territories have prompted the UN to warn of a “full-scale war”. It’s followed a month of simmering tensions in Jerusalem, over a conflict that is deep-rooted in history and has been ongoing for decades… So in this Shortcut, we are going to rehash the history between Israel and Palestine, go through what’s happening now and why the international community is getting involved.

Where do we start?
It’s a fair question because there is a long history to this. For our purposes, let’s start with Britain taking control of the area known as Palestine at the end of WW1 following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. That paved the way for the region to be carved up in a way that is still causing problems today.

The region also has deep religious significance, right?
Indeed. It’s considered holy ground – particularly the city of Jerusalem which is the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity and also where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Back to the tensions…
Fast forward to 1947 when the United Nations voted on establishing a ‘national home’ in Palestine for the Jewish people. It was decided that the land would be split into an Arab state, a Jewish state and the Special International Regime for the City of Jerusalem.

How did that go down?
Jewish leaders agreed but Palestinian Arabs opposed the move. And, as more Jews arrived seeking a homeland after the atrocities of WWII, Palestinians and Egypt, Jordan, Iraq and Syria declared war on Israel. That saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians flee.

And where did that leave things?
Israel ended up in control of most of the territory. And then in the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel took control of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, most of the Syrian Golan Heights, Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula.

Any attempts to smooth things over?
Peace talks came and went, and a solution has never been reached. Part of it is that claims on the city of Jerusalem are complex… Israel claims the whole of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

What are Palestinians concerned about?
They say Israel has for decades illegally imposed control over the places where they live. That’s fuelled Palestinian anger and when it reaches a flashpoint, they say Israel’s military inflicts disproportionate damage.

And what does Israel have to say?
Israelis say they are fighting for their survival and militant groups like Hamas pose an existential threat.

What’s Hamas?
It’s the Palestinian militant group that has run Gaza since 2007. It is classified as a terrorist organisation by Israel, the US, the European Union and Australia.

And what’s the political environment like in Israel?
Israel has had 4 elections in 2 years because voters have not given any leader or party a clear mandate to govern. But PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who is currently facing corruption charges, has continued in the role throughout this time. But to get a sense of his politics, he’s the leader of Likud, which is the major centre-right to right-wing political party in Israel.

Which means…
Last year, Netanyahu threatened to annex large swathes of the Palestinian occupied West Bank – something the UN and many nations have said would be illegal and devastating to any chance of peace.

So what kicked the recent round of violence off?
Last week, an Israeli court was deliberating on whether authorities could evict Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighbourhood and give their homes to Jewish settlers. The court date was delayed.

Anything else?
Yes – Israeli police raided the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem leaving hundreds of Palestinians and some police officers wounded. Adding insult to injury, it happened during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

And then what?
Hamas gave Israeli forces a deadline to be out of East Jerusalem and when that lapsed, it fired rockets into Israel from Gaza. Since 10 May, Hamas has launched more than 3,700 rockets from the Gaza Strip into southern and central Israel. And the Israeli military has sent more than 1,500 rockets Gaza’s way.

And that’s been deadly?
At least 227 people, including more than 100 women and children, have been killed in Gaza so far. In Israel, 12 people have died including 2 children.

What about the violent clashes we’ve seen?
There have been clashes on the streets of Israel’s cities. Reports say ultra-nationalist Israelis have targeted Israeli Arabs, their businesses, homes and places of worship. That’s something Netanyahu says is a more dangerous threat than the rockets from Gaza.

And it’s not stopping?
Not at this stage. PM Netanyahu says Israel won’t back down and “this is just the beginning”. As for the Palestinians, they argue they are not the instigator of the violence and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said “the confrontation with the enemy is open-ended”.

Is there a precedent for this?
In 2014, Israel’s seven-week invasion of Gaza and rocket fire on Israel by Hamas militants ultimately claimed 2,200 lives.

Geez. Is that where this is going?
That’s the question, and it’s not clear when the missile attacks and bombings will stop or if conflict will escalate into a ground war.

What’s being done to calm things down?
There are a few people on the ground, including representatives from the UN, US, Qatar and Egypt, calling for calm. But so far to no avail. The United Nations Security Council has held emergency meetings, but there is little they can practically do. And all eyes are on US President Joe Biden to play a role in cooling things down.

Why look to Biden?
Because US President, he’s a man who holds clout with Israel. The US is a staunch ally and funder of the state, and the international community wants Biden to use his influence to persuade Israel to focus on a ceasefire.

How’s that going?
Well, they aren’t there yet…


Squiz recommends:

Squiz Shortcuts – Israel and Palestine

Washington PostA timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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