- The start of May has seen a string of violent clashes, arrests, and killings in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
- The situation is set to get worse. Significant dates in the coming week signal further violence.
- An upcoming court verdict about Palestinian property evictions is already causing chaos.
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After a week of violent and sometimes deadly clashes between Jewish settlers, the Israeli military, and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, tensions and enmity are boiling over.
But the situation is only set to worsen, with several historically significant but politically sensitive dates forecast to add fuel to fuel the fire.
The advent of Jerusalem Day, Nakba Day, and the end of Ramadan – all taking place in the coming days – has prompted the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to bolster troop deployments in anticipation of further violence, The Times of Israel said.
And an upcoming Supreme Court hearing on Monday regarding the eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood threatens to exacerbate the tensions and add to the worst turmoil the region has seen in years.
Tensions have been rising during Ramadan
The Islamic month of Ramadan has been fraught with conflict in Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Violent clashes in the city have become a nightly occurrence during the holy period, the Associated Press reported in April.
The placement of barricades outside the Damascus Gate entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City – a popular nightly gathering point with local Palestinians after the end of the Ramadan fast – resulted in a confrontation with Israeli police and more than 100 Palestinian injuries on April 22, Insider reported.
On the same night, Israeli police blocked supporters of a far-right Jewish group, Lehava, as they marched through the Jerusalem streets towards the Damascus Gate. Some of the followers of the group chanted “death to Arabs,” CNN said.
-َ (@kmgcult) April 24, 2021
In other incidents, Palestinians filmed TikTok videos. They attacked ultra-Orthodox Jews, Jewish youths attempted to set fire to a Palestinian family’s home, and a video emerged of an Israeli motorist being beaten by a Palestinian mob before his car was set ablaze.
-גלעד כהן | Gilad Cohen (@GiladCohenJR) April 22, 2021
After the riots, Palestinian militants in Gaza shot rockets into Israel. Israel retaliated by launching strikes on Hamas targets there, Insider reported.
The chaos in the Palestinian territories coincides with increased violent attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians.
Settler violence in the occupied West Bank has risen markedly in recent months, according to a report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In the first three months of 2021, the OCHA recorded more than 210 incidents of settler violence in the territory.
One of the authors of the report, Michael Lynk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territory occupied since 1967, spoke to Insider about the motivations behind the attacks.
“There’s a very entrenched belief that’s probably shared by most settlers that this land is theirs that it has been historically and biblically granted to them,” Lynk told Insider. “Therefore, what they are carrying out is righteous violence in the name of both religion and nationalism.”
A week of violence – the timeline
The start of May has seen a string of violent clashes, arrests, and killings. Below is a comprehensive – but not exhaustive – list of recent events.
- On May 2, an Israeli soldier shot a 60-year-old Palestinian woman who tried to carry out a knife attack, the Israeli military said. She later died of her wounds, Reuters reported. Footage of the incident shows the woman slowly approaching soldiers with a sharp weapon before being fired at.
-Jack khoury.جاك خوري (@KhJacki) May 2, 2021
- Also on May 2, a Palestinian man carried out a drive-by shooting in the West Bank that killed a 19-year-old Israeli and left two other Jewish teenagers injured, France24 said.
-Inbar Cohen (@InbarCohen13) May 2, 2021
- After the drive-by shooting, the Israeli Defense Forces searched the occupied West Bank village of Beita for the suspect and Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails at Israeli soldiers who responded with live fire, The Jerusalem Post reported. Several Palestinians were injured and at least 19 were arrested, the Israeli newspaper said.
- Overnight, extremist Jewish settlers vandalized property and hurled stones in the West Bank village of Jalud, according to human rights groups.
- On May 3, settlers attacked two Palestinians and vandalized properties in three separate incidents in the West Bank, according to The Jerusalem Post.
- On May 5, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier. The killing followed Palestinians in Beita, hurling Molotov cocktails towards IDF soldiers, Sky News said. “The troops responded according to open-fire protocols, including firing towards the suspects. The incident is being investigated,” an IDF spokesperson told the media outlet. A second Palestinian was shot in the back and is being treated in hospital, according to Reuters.
- Three Palestinian gunmen shot at Israeli border police based in the occupied West Bank early on Friday, Reuters reported. Israeli fire killed two of the Palestinians and critically wounded the third, the news agency said.
- Israeli-Palestinian clashes have broken out nightly ahead of a Monday court hearing that could see Palestinian families evicted from Sheikh Jarrah – an East Jerusalem neighborhood.
- More than 200 Palestinian worshippers were injured after clashing with Israeli police outside the al-Aqsa mosque, a significant holy site that is sacred to Muslims and Jews, on Friday night, Insider reported.
- At least 90 people were injured as Palestinians and Israelis clashed in Jerusalem again on Saturday night, CNN said.
Several significant dates threatening a new wave of violence
The IDF has already beefed up its forces in anticipation of a week fraught with conflict, The Jerusalem Post said. An additional battalion and special forces are to be deployed to the occupied West Bank, the paper reported.
“We have dates that offer some sort of warning that there might be a rise in violence,” Oded Revivi, the mayor of the Efrat settlement in the occupied West Bank, a community of Jewish settlers that is considered to be illegal under international law, told Insider.
One of these dates is Jerusalem Day, which starts on Sunday evening and lasts through Monday. It is an Israeli national holiday commemorating the capture and consequent establishment of Israeli control over the Old City in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.
The holiday observed by thousands of religious Zionists is controversial to secular Jews and many Arabs.
As part of the Jerusalem Day celebrations, an annual “Dance of Flags” parade sees participants walk through the Old City while waving Israeli flags.
This year, taking into account the rising tensions, Jerusalem’s police chief has asked for the parade to be re-routed to avoid passing through the Muslim quarter of the city.
“The passage of the parade in these two sensitive areas in the last week of Ramadan fasting, when all warnings relate to a possible flare-up due to events related to Jerusalem would be irresponsible and could claim human lives,” Israel Police’s Jerusalem District Chief Doron Turgeman told The Jerusalem Post.
It could incite a “violent outbreak” in other parts of the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Turgeman added.
Jerusalem Day also happens to fall on the same date as a highly-anticipated verdict by Israel’s Supreme Court on a toxic property dispute between Jews and Arabs.
The Supreme Court will decide on upholding a ruling that would see several Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, known in Hebrew as Shimon Hatzadik, evicted from their homes in favor of right-wing Jewish settlers that assert a historic claim to the land.
The upcoming ruling has been a flashpoint for nightly protests and violence.
On Thursday, Palestinians and Israeli settlers hurled rocks at each other in Sheikh Jarrah before Israeli police separated them, AP said.
But Amit Gilutz, a spokesperson for the Jerusalem-based human rights organization B’Tselem, told Insider that the situation in Sheikh Jarrah is just one example of the mistreatment of Palestinians.
“Settler violence rampaging all over the West Bank, a racist parade marching through Jerusalem’s Old City, and the Supreme Court granting permission to expel more Palestinian families from their homes and hand the property to settlers; all these take place with the backing and encouragement of the state,” Gilutz said.
-Atlantide (@Atlantide4world) May 6, 2021
Tensions relating to the upcoming Sheikh Jarrah verdict have also prompted threats from the leader of a Palestinian terrorist group – the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. “This is our final warning,” Mohamed Deif, the head of Hamas’ military wing, said on Wednesday. “We will not stand idly by, and the occupation will pay a heavy price.”
Ohad Zemet, a spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in London, has accused Hamas and the Palestinian Authority of politicizing the upcoming legal decision for personal gain.
“The Israeli judicial system is independent and will reach a just legal conclusion based on the law and the facts. It is unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas terrorist organization try to use this case for their own political purposes and in a bid to incite violence,” said Zemet.
Muslim holy shrine becomes a battlefield
On Friday night around 200 Palestinian worshippers were injured after clashing with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque, Insider’s Kelsey Vlamis and Sarah Al-Arshani reported. Several Israeli police officers were also hurt in the clashes, according to the BBC.
Thousands of Muslims had gathered at the holy site to observe the last Friday of Ramadan. Israeli police say the clashes begun after worshippers threw rocks, according to CNN. Videos of the event show people running as Israeli forces shot rubber bullets and stun grenades.
-IMEU (@theIMEU) May 7, 2021
Over 90,000 Muslim worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to mark the holy night of Laylat al-Qadr on Saturday, Reuters said.
Nearby, outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, Palestinian protesters pelted Israeli police officers with rocks and water bottles and set barricades alight, the Associated Press reported. Officers responded by firing stun grenades and periodically firing a water cannon, the news agency said. Around 64 Palestinians were wounded, according to the AP.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abba accused Israel of “sinful attacks.”
These dates may play a part in further violence
In addition to the Sheikh Jarrah verdict and Jerusalem day, two other dates could provide the backdrop to more violence.
Nakba Day, which takes place next Saturday, is an annual Palestinian commemoration of the Nakba, or the so-called “Palestinian catastrophe.” It mourns the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, and, in the past, the day has been marked by bloodshed.
In 2011, protesters attempted to breach Israel’s borders from the occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan. At least 12 Palestinians were killed and hundreds wounded due to shootings by the Israeli Army, AFP reported.
Eid al-Fitr is the feast marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on Wednesday.
Israel’s Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtaiheld has order commanders in the Jerusalem area to “significantly” boost their forces ahead of the Ramadan celebrations, The Times of Israel said.
The international community is appealing for de-escalation
The international community has appealed for an end to the violence.
A US State Department spokeswoman told reporters that Washington was “deeply concerned about the heightened tension.”
The EU followed suit, with a spokesperson calling on authorities to “act urgently to de-escalate the current tensions” in Jerusalem. “Violence and incitement are unacceptable and the perpetrators on all sides must be held accountable,” the EU spokesperson said in a statement.
The UN’s rights office has urged Israel to call off the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, Al Jazeera reported.
But according to Lynk, the UN’S Special Rapporteur, these types of statements aren’t enough. “I’ve called for the international community to speak louder and more forcefully,” he said.