Looking back at how tensions escalated in the holy land
July 3, 2021
April 13 is known to the Muslim world as the first day of the holy month of Ramadan. Coincidentally, April 13 is also known as Memorial Day in Israel, as they mourn the deaths of soldiers who fought for the nation. This coinciding date sparked the first attribution to the start of the recent resurgence in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
That night, Arabs gathered in worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, a sacred sight of Islam. A muezzin recited the ritual call to prayer over the loudspeakers of the compound, where thousands of Muslims gathered. Below the compound at the Western Wall, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin prepared to give a speech in commemoration of Memorial Day in front of an inn.
According to officials of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, a Jordanian agency that oversees Jerusalem’s holy sites, Israeli police demanded that they shut off their loudspeakers as the Israeli’s wanted quiet for soldiers who were praying at the neighboring Western Wall. The agency refused, and police stormed the compound, broke locks, and cut electrical speaker wires, causing outrage amongst Palestinians, Arabs, and the Jordanian government.
This incident may have rolled over in previous years, but shortly after the first night of Ramadan was interrupted, Israeli forces decided to shut down the compound’s Damascus Gate due to Covid-19 gathering concerns and a rise in protests in the area. This location is popular for young Palestinian men to gather during Ramadan after breaking their fast and is often a site for public demonstrations, furthering the outrage amongst the East Jerusalem residents.
A combination of a long-lasting housing conflict, Israeli treatment of Ramadan, and rising radicals on both sides helped facilitate the recent clash in the holy land.
In the following weeks, protests sparked amongst the Israeli police, Palestinian protestors, and Nationalist Jewish groups across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, over 1,000 Palestinians have been injured in clashes with Israeli forces, killing dozens of Palestinians and several Jewish Israelis. The majority of the riots and protests occurred near the Al-Aqsa Mosque, where much of the current conflict originated.
Another contribution to the rise in conflict was the surrounding tension behind the scheduled court rulings of evicting six families in the Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem. The conflict over land dispute goes back to the 1870s when a Jewish trust purchased land in the district from Arabs in Ottoman-controlled Palestine. After the Arab-Israeli War in 1948, the land was controlled by Jordan and then housed Arab families in the area years after, as Jewish residents were expelled from East Jerusalem.
However, the control of Sheik Jarrah would change hands once more in 1967 following the Six-Day War between Arabs and Israelis. In the 1970s, Israel passed and exercised laws that allowed for previous landowners before 1948 to reclaim their property rights as rightful owners. Tenants could stay and live in the district if they paid rent to the Israeli owner, but evictions have been issued over the last three decades as housing developments have been proposed and built where Palestinian families currently reside.
In 2021, the Israeli Supreme Court is set to make its decision on whether to evict these six families on July 20, after being postponed in May. The attempt to evict them after they refused to pay rent and built on the property illegally. Over 1,000 Palestinians currently face eviction in East Jerusalem.
The third contributing factor in the rise in hostility was the May 7 raid of the Al-Aqsa Mosque once more, which held 70,000 worshipers in attendance. Israeli police cleared the site in preparation for Jerusalem Day, where Jews gather and march through the Old City where historic temples once laid.
Thousands stayed after worship to protest, using stun grenades and rubber bullets, leaving 136 people wounded and 83 hospitalized. Palestinian protesters threw chairs, shoes, rocks, and waved Hamas flags as violence continued to escalate.
Over the next few days, Hamas would fire over 1,000 rockets, 850 of those crossing into Israel territory, and over 200 misfirings, landing in Gaza. The 11-day conflict took the lives of 242 people in the Gaza Strip and 12 people in Israel, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. This would become the most violent uprising between the two forces in years, leaving thousands homeless and thousands more to mourn the death of loved ones.