The tense political situation in Palestine and Israel has again escalated militarily in recent weeks; despite the „ceasefire“, the military confrontations do not seem to be over yet. Leah R.* (name changed), Israeli coordinator of the partner organization working in the Trialogue, describes the background and context of the events. A shortened version of the text can also be found in our Summer Bulletin.
(Text: Leah R.) Allegedly, the increasing tensions and violence between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem over the past weeks were the trigger for the military escalation. However, both the events in Jerusalem and the activities of Hamas cannot be separated from domestic politics – the formation of a government in Israel and the struggle for public opinion on the Palestinian streets. Also, it is important to take into account the common interest of right-wing parties in Israel and Hamas in preventing a two-state solution.
So what happened? During Ramadan, traditionally tens of thousands of Muslims gather at the Nablus Gate (Bab al-Amud) in Jerusalem every evening at the end of fasting and especially during Iftar celebrations. This year, however, the so-called „Jerusalem Day“ also took place during the fasting month: traditionally, far-right young people celebrate the day of the „liberation of Jerusalem“ with mass marches in the Old City. These marches usually lead to violence against Palestinians; the marches were severely restricted by the government this year to prevent riots.
In addition, this month Palestinian residents were again evicted from Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in order to house Jewish families in their place. This time it was eight families who were deported from the west of the city in 1948. The evictions are part of the settlement expansion in East Jerusalem, driven by rich settler associations that have been operating in the city for decades – with the aim of bringing the city under the control of nationalist Jews. Moreover, Israeli law allows Jews to claim land and buildings that were Jewish-owned before 1948, but at the same time prevents Palestinians from claiming ownership of property that was in their possession at the time. Since 1967, residents of East Jerusalem have held a blue Israeli identity card with permanent residency status, most of them without citizenship. The extreme right-wing groups on the Israeli side demand, on the one hand, the extension of control in the West Bank and, on the other hand, the restriction of the rights of Palestinian citizens of Israel. A demand that has found expression, among other things, in the Nationality Law passed in 2018, according to which in the Jewish state Jews precede others.
When police restricted gatherings of Muslims on the Temple Mount and at Nablus Gate and violently dispersed protests against these restrictions, the demonstrations against the eviction of Sheikh Jarrah were joined by Palestinian citizens who had been less involved in such protests before. After years of Israeli policies aimed at dividing Palestinian society, it seems that the identification of Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank with the suffering of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Gaza and the shared fear for the future of Al-Aqsa Mosque have actually helped strengthen ties between Palestinians. In general, the Arab and Jewish populations in Israel live in separate localities, but there are some mixed cities where there is partial separation, not only of neighborhoods but also in the separate education system for Arabs and Jews. The tensions that have been simmering under the surface for years occasionally erupt into violent incidents. Usually – and this time too – it is young people who are incited by cynical politicians or who simply give expression to frustrations resulting from their social and economic situation. The psychological impact of these events is far greater than the damage to human life and property: it crumbles the ties that are repeatedly forged between Jews and Palestinians who are citizens of Israel. This is also true of the consequences of the missile fire: although it resulted in relatively few deaths, it increased the sense of existential fear in Jewish society in Israel, a fear that reinforces extreme perceptions.
It is important to note here that Palestinians and Jews in the area between the sea and Jordan are watching different media. While the Palestinians are exposed to the full horrors of the killing and destruction in Gaza, the Israeli media focuses on attacks on Israeli territory and the attacks in Gaza are only visible from a distance, making many in Israel think the government is not doing enough to protect them and prevent missile fire.
Several waves of protests have swept the streets of Israel in recent weeks. One wave of protests in solidarity with the Palestinians in Jerusalem and Gaza, in which Palestinian citizens of Israel as well as many Jews participated. These demonstrations were severely suppressed by the police. At the same time, there was a right-wing Jewish wave of protest calling for a „tougher hand“ against Hamas and the „Arab rioters in Israel.“ The third wave was Jews and Arabs, sometimes separately, but mostly together, all over the country, calling for an end to the military operation in Gaza, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah and police violence, and promoting a shared life based on equality and justice.
In the Israeli government, that has ended its path, the discourse of peace and the end of the occupation seemed farther than ever. Can the new „government of change“ that unites parties from the right, center and left, including – for the first time – an Arab party, promote these issues?