Recurring violence

May 23, 2021

The current wave of violence has coincided with the 73rd anniversary of Nakba (catastrophe), recalling the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 to establish the state of Israel

Demonstrations in Karachi to show solidarity with Palestine. Captured by lightrohm (Rohma Ali Ahmed)

For several days, the world watched the horror of yet another wave of violence and brutality meted out to Palestinians when they protested for their basic human right to live on their land. The escalation in violence has led to the killing of around 250 innocent Palestinians including 63 children. The Israeli forces have targetted residential buildings, media headquarters, refugee camps and healthcare facilities. On the other hand, 12 Israelis have been killed in missile attacks by Hamas. The international community, especially Europe and the United States, are again mum over the situation, ignoring the brutality, human rights violations and ruthless use of force by Israel.

The current wave of violence has coincided with the 73rd anniversary of Nakba (catastrophe), recalling the expulsion of more than 700,000 Palestinians in 1948 to establish the state of Israel - done with the support of world powers, the UK and the USA. Palestinians were massacred, sent into exile and forced to live in refugee camps. Since then, Palestine has become the Ground Zero, where all international human rights mechanisms disappear in thin air.

The horrific violence that the world is watching today was initiated in October 2020 when an Israeli court ordered the eviction of several Palestinian families living in Sheikh Jarrah. The court told the families to leave by May 2021. Their properties were handed over to Jewish families. Protests followed the ruling, demanding an end to the forced and unjust displacement of the original owners of the land in Jerusalem. The families also filed an appeal against the decision.

In April, protesters took to the streets. Hundreds of Palestinians joined the sit-ins at night. Security forces were deployed. The situation became violent after May 7 when Israeli forces targetted worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, leaving hundreds of Palestinians wounded. In response, Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israeli territory. The Israeli missile defence system destroyed most of them. Israel responded with airstrikes and later with artillery fire.

It is not a matter of just 11 days. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back to the end of the 19th Century. In 1947, the United Nations adopted Resolution 181 (Partition Plan), dividing the British Mandate of Palestine into Arab and Jewish states ignoring all boundaries and Resolution 194 concerning the status of Jerusalem and return of Palestinian refugees. To this date, Israel has repeatedly violated these provisions and the principle of the charter.

On May 14, 1948, the state of Israel was created, sparking the first Arab-Israeli War. The war ended in 1949 with Israel’s victory, but 750,000 Palestinians were displaced. The territory was divided into three parts: the state of Israel, the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Gaza Strip.

Later on, tensions rose, particularly between Israel and Egypt, Jordan and Syria. After the 1956 Suez crisis and Israel’s invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria signed joint defence pacts. In June 1967, Israel attacked Egyptian and Syrian air forces, starting the Six-Day War. After the war, Israel gained territorial control over the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and the Golan Heights from Syria. Six years on, in what is referred to as the Yom Kippur War or the October War, Egypt and Syria launched an attack on Israel to regain their lost territories. The war claimed thousands of lives. Finally, in 1979, Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David peace treaty.

The Camp David Accords brought peace between Israel and Egypt. However, the question of Palestinian self-determination and self-governance remained unresolved. In 1987, hundreds of thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip stood up against the Israeli government in what is known as the first Intifada. The 1993, Oslo I Accord mediated the conflict. It set up a framework for the Palestinians to govern themselves in the West Bank and Gaza, and enabled mutual recognition between the Palestinians and Israel. In 1995, the Oslo II Accords expanded on the first agreement, adding provisions that mandated complete withdrawal of Israel from six cities and 450 towns in the West Bank.

Sparked by Palestinian grievances over Israel’s control of the West Bank, and Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians launched the second Intifada in 2000. It lasted till 2005 and resulted in the construction of a wall around the West Bank in 2002, despite opposition from the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

In 2013, a few attempts were made to revive the peace process. These were disrupted for political reasons. In 2014, clashes in the Palestinian territories led to a military confrontation between the Israeli military and Hamas. It ended in August 2014 with a ceasefire deal negotiated by Egypt. Seventy-three Israelis and 2,251 Palestinians were killed.

More violence broke out in 2015. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that Palestinians would no longer be bound by the territorial divisions created by the Oslo Accords. In March and May of 2018, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip conducted weekly demonstrations along Israeli border. The final protest coincided with the 70th anniversary of the Nakba, in which Israeli forces killed 183 demonstrators, leaving more than 6,000 wounded. In May 2018, fighting broke out again between Hamas and the Israeli military. The same year, the US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The decision was met with applause from the Israeli leadership and condemned by Palestinian leaders and others in the Middle East and Europe. In January 2020, Trump administration released its long-awaited Peace to Prosperity plan, which the Palestinians rejected due to its support for future Israeli annexation of settlements in the West Bank.

The current wave of violence has shaken the world. It has not emerged out of thin air and is not expected to move towards the end of the world, as some radicals believe. The pattern matches the past. Every time, a dangerous status quo has been achieved through a ceasefire after extreme violence and brutality. It has then been preserved until the next cycle of violence. The result has always been in Israel’s favour. The only difference this time has been the global support for the Palestinians. The civil society, rights groups and the youth are on the streets demanding justice for Palestine, heaping shame on the world powers for backing Israel. Only time will tell what impact the protests have on the world’s chief decision makers.

The writer is a reporter at The News in Islamabad.

Recurring violence