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The beginning of a new intifada?

Posted By on May 17, 2021 @ 13:10

The latest round of Palestinian unrest and the de facto state of war between Israel and Hamas is the most serious flare up on the Israel–Palestine front since the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014. According to reports [1], 197 Palestinians in Gaza have now lost their lives due to Israeli airstrikes and 10 Israelis have been killed by Hamas’s rocket attacks.

While the ferocity of the confrontation and the rapidity with which it escalated may have come as a surprise, this turn of events should not have shocked any seasoned observer of the conflict. Given the current trajectory of Israeli policy and the reaction that it has produced, it was inevitable that this scenario would unfold sooner or later.

The roots of the conflict go back at least to 1948, if not to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Israeli refusal to relinquish the West Bank, which it occupied in 1967, the deliberate planting of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands, and the often-brutal treatment of the occupied population accentuated the problem. However, the proximate cause of the latest conflagration is a confluence of factors that highlight the deep-seated contradictions undergirding the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and the discriminatory treatment meted out by Israel to the Palestinian citizens who form a fifth of the country’s population.

The current Israeli attempt to evict Palestinian residents of the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in Jerusalem epitomises the Palestinian plight and is reminiscent [2] of the first war over Palestine in 1948–49, when large parts of what is now Israel was forcefully denuded of its Palestinian inhabitants. Sheikh Jarrah threw into sharp relief the discrimination enshrined in Israeli law that allows Jews to reclaim land in East Jerusalem that they owned before 1948 but denies descendants of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians expelled from their homes in the same year any legal means to reclaim their families’ land. The attempt to evict six Arab families (which is dependent a now-delayed appeal [3] to Israel’s Supreme Court) led to demonstrations of support not only in the Arab parts of Jerusalem and the occupied territories but also in several Israeli towns with substantial Arab populations.

The tension was exacerbated by the Jerusalem police’s decision to prevent Arabs from entering the plaza around the Damascus Gate in the midst of Ramadan, thus impeding access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This led to daily clashes between Arab youths and police. The latter’s incursion into the Haram-al-Sharif that houses Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock on 7 May, the last Friday of Ramadan (an important day in the Islamic calendar), added a religious dimension to the Palestinians’ nationalist grievances. Islamist group Hamas jumped into the fray in support of Palestinian demands in Jerusalem and launched rocket attacks on Israel, leading to heavy Israeli retaliation by air and the threat of a full-fledged invasion of Gaza.

Unlike the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2014, this time an Israeli ground attack could very well coincide with a new intifada which will not be limited just to the West Bank. There are indications that Palestinian citizens of Israel may also become involved in such a movement. Israeli Arab anger has boiled over after decades of discrimination in arenas including health, education and housing.

Adding insult to injury was the law passed by the Knesset in July 2018 designating Israel [4] as Jewish nation-state, legally making Israeli Arabs second-class citizens. Diana Batutu, a Palestinian political analyst from Haifa, summed up the feelings of Palestinian citizens of Israel, saying [5] ‘We are the people who they mistakenly did not ethnically cleanse from this place.’

The Israeli Arab feeling of alienation, especially after the nation-state law, has prompted them to identify with the cause of the Palestinians in the occupied territories even more than they did earlier. Demonstrations and large-scale rioting in Lod, Ramla and other cities with mixed Arab and Jewish populations, and the participation of Israeli Arabs in the Damascus Gate and Sheikh Jarrah protests provide a preview of what could happen during the next intifada.

The uncertainty over government formation in Israel after the last election has led to competitive extremism among rival political blocs and exacerbated the volatile situation. Extremist Jewish groups have engaged in highly provocative marches through the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem, shouting incendiary slogans, including ‘death to the Arabs’. They have also randomly attacked Palestinians in cities with mixed populations thus further inflaming Palestinian passions both in Israel and the occupied territories.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, has taken the opportunity provided by the Sheikh Jarrah and Damascus Gate incidents to increase its appeal [6] among Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank at the expense of the Palestinian Authority, and has succeeded in great measure. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision in March to postpone elections [7] to the Palestinian parliament demonstrated his apprehension that his party Fatah would be defeated at the polls. It also dismayed Hamas because it deprived it of the chance to demonstrate its popularity in the West Bank.

This cycle of violence seems to be inexorably leading to a full-scale war between Israel and Hamas. All signs indicate that the present crisis, if left unchecked, could act as the trigger for an impending intifada that would encompass Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as Arab-populated regions of Israel. The Israeli government’s assumption that thanks to American support it could continue to dispossess Palestinians and treat Israeli Arabs as second-class citizens seems to be unravelling slowly but surely. Even the decision of US President Joe Biden’s administration to endorse [8] Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ in the current phase of the conflict is unlikely to reverse this trend.

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URL to article: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/the-beginning-of-a-new-intifada/

URLs in this post:

[1] reports: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57131272

[2] reminiscent: https://www.amazon.com/Palestinian-Refugee-Problem-1947-1949-Cambridge/dp/0521338891

[3] appeal: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-05-15/palestinian-families-living-in-sheikh-jarrah/100133672

[4] designating Israel: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-44881554

[5] saying: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/12/world/middleeast/israeli-palestinian-conflict-gaza-hamas.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

[6] increase its appeal: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.HIGHLIGHT-looking-for-victory-in-its-war-against-hamas-israel-has-lost-the-jerusalem-battle-1.9809379?utm_source=mailchimp&utm_medium=content&utm_campaign=weekend&utm_content=af8a90d794

[7] postpone elections: https://www.aspistrategist.org.au/cancelled-elections-overshadowed-by-renewed-israeli-palestinian-conflict/

[8] endorse: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/12/us/politics/biden-israel-palestinians.html

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