A new eruption of Israeli-Palestinian violence was set off on Tuesday night, with rockets being fired from Gaza, and Israeli and Palestinian forces exchanging air strikes. At least 30 Palestinians and five Israelis have been killed so far, and over 300 more were wounded. On Friday, the conflict further escalated when Israeli ground and air forces targeted Hamas tunnels beneath Gaza’s streets.
Since the beginning of these attacks, the media has been in a frenzy, with people all over the world reporting on the causes of the conflict, who is to blame, and how this might shake out in the end. In much of professional news reporting, Palestinian organizations such as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have been blamed for this round of violence, since the first rockets fired into Israel were sent by Hamas.
Little Interest In Ending Violence
However, on social media, blame is trending in the opposite direction, with people claiming that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is to blame, and these attacks are essentially self-defense. For example, Islamic Relief USA has started a fundraising campaign for Palestinians in response to the current violence. In their call for aid, although they condemn Israel’s aggression against Palestinian citizens, they fail to mention the aggression being returned by Palestinian groups.
To be clear, neither side is blameless in this violence. Both have escalated tensions, and more concerning, neither have expressed any interest in ending the violence. When Jonathan Conricus, a spokesperson for the Israeli army was asked by the Guardian about the possibility of a ceasefire, he said, “I don’t think my commanders are aware, or particularly interested.” A spokesperson for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza similarly stated that “if [Israel’s] aggression does not end, there is no point to diplomatic efforts to reach a cease-fire.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas have been bolstered by the nationalism being evoked by this conflict, so it’s important to understand how each party contributed to this violence before flocking to one side, and escalating tensions.
How Tensions Escalated
Several key events built up tensions to the bursting points in recent weeks: a canceled election, a Supreme Court case, and protests at the Damascus gate, all leading up to rockets being fired and civilian casualties. Tensions have been high in Israel for over 70 years, since the Arab-Israel conflicts of the mid-19th century.
In a series of wars, Israel occupied and decreased the size of Palestinian territories, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Their occupation has been filled with conflicts over human rights issues for their treatment of Palestinians. Currently, three governments control different parts of the Palestinian Territories. Hamas, a group that is considered to be a terrorist organization by the US, Israel, the European Union, Canada, Australia, and Japan, and has been in control Gaza since 2007; The Palestinian Authority; and Israel itself. There have been many military conflicts between these parties, the last large one being the 2014 Gaza War. Tensions between Israel and Palestine have remained relatively steady since then, with several recent events causing a dramatic uptick.
Near the end of April, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority canceled the Palestinian parliamentary elections. They had been scheduled for May 22, but he postponed them indefinitely, blaming the delay on Israel. Specifically, he blamed Israel’s refusal to officially announce if it would allow voting in Jerusalem, saying he would not allow the election to go through until everyone was ensured a voice.
However, it is not difficult to see that he might have had ulterior motives. The last election was in 2006 (no Palestinian younger than 34 has ever participated in a national election). Citizens were very excited to vote, and be able to make change. However, Mahmoud’s party lost to Hamas in the last election, and he himself has been ruling on decree since he was elected in 2005, 10 years after his mandate expired.
A Delay to Stay in Power?
Many believe he simply delayed the elections to stay in power, and is shirking the blame onto Israel. For those Palestinians who were excited to vote and now think it was Israel’s fault that they cannot, this has been a source of heightened tension, further laying the groundwork for escalation.
A court case between four Palestinian families and Jewish plaintiffs over property has added wood to the flames of conflict. Palestinians have been rallying around these families as they face eviction from their homes in Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood in Jerusalem. What happened was that in the 1870s, pre-Israeli statehood, a pair of Rabbis purchased the land and established a Jewish community. Then, when the State of Israel was established in 1948, East Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control, and displaced Palestinians began living there. In 1956 the UN Relief and Works Agency and the Jordanian government gave 28 Palestinian families property in Sheik Jarrah in exchange for forfeiting their refugee status.
Over a Half Century of Disagreement
In 1972, once Jerusalem was reunified, the Jewish settlers filed a court case that proved they did own the land, and they reached an agreement where the Palestinian families have to pay rent, but since that agreement has not been entirely honored, they’ve now filed another suit. If they were to win, Palestinian families that had lived in Jerusalem for many years would be kicked out. Israel continues to try and minimalize the protester’s cause, with the Israeli Defense Ministry even calling the situation a “real estate dispute.” The case has gone to the Israeli Supreme Court, which delayed the hearing because of growing tensions the day before violence erupted. This case has contributed to waves of civil unrest amidst an already turbulent political atmosphere.
A Tipping Point
Finally, on May 9, after several nights of protests at the Damascus gate, a major clash at the Al-Aqsa Mosque occurred, where tens of thousands of protesters hurled rocks at police, officers responded with crowd control measures and at least 10 Palestinians were arrested. Taking advantage of the current tensions to advance its anti-Israel agenda, Hamas launched rockets and incendiary balloons at Israeli civilians. In response, Israel launched retaliatory airstrikes at Gaza, and the fighting has escalated from there.
The violence is the worst Israel has seen in years. Both Israel and Palestine have contributed to the events that led to this escalation in conflict, and conclusively blaming only one side is short-sighted.
The overwhelmingly anti-Israel, pro-Palestine position on social media is both concerning and dangerous, as we have seen that social media can stir up riots and violence. Before sharing your opinion on the current situation in Israel, it is vitally important that you understand the situation and what your words really mean.
The violence in Israel was caused by civilian unrest. Stirring up more will only increase the destruction.
Above photo, screen capture from CNN’s Friday report on escalating violence in the Middle East.