What’s Behind Surging Israeli-Palestinian Violence
Israelis and Palestinians are caught in their worst round of violence since 2014, a sudden escalation of clashes with police into widespread airstrikes and rocket fire that have killed dozens of people and wounded hundreds more. The locus of the unrest shifted rapidly from Jerusalem to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as events collided and unleashed long-held grievances, giving the moves a larger significance.
1. What triggered the flare-up?
Tensions have been festering since the beginning of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan in April. Israeli restrictions on gathering at the traditional Ramadan meeting place outside Jerusalem’s Old City touched off the unrest. But after they were lifted, protests that devolved into clashes with Israeli security forces were rekindled by the threatened evictions of dozens of Palestinians from longtime homes in the eastern sector of the city, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians and much of the international community consider east Jerusalem to be occupied territory.
2. Why do tempers flare over Jerusalem?
The city is at the heart of the decades-old conflict because it is home to one of the most sacred shrines venerated by Muslims, Jews and Christians. The Haram al Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, is Islam’s third-holiest site, where Muslims believe the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven 1,400 years ago. Known to Jews as Temple Mount, it housed the biblical Jewish temple and is Judaism’s holiest place. Israel claims the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians claim its eastern sector as the capital of their longed-for state, in a dispute that’s tormented decades of peace negotiations.
3. Why have the evictions become a rallying cry for Palestinians?
Palestinians see the planned evictions from the Sheikh Jarrakh neighborhood as part of a broader Israeli effort to cement its hegemony over the entire city. Under Israeli law, Jews can reclaim land bought before the 1948 war but the same right is not afforded to Arabs. Jewish settler groups who say the land was owned by Jews before 1948 have been fighting for years to take over the properties, and two lower courts have upheld their claim. Israel characterizes the issue as a real-estate dispute, but its high court delayed a hearing on the matter to avoid a further exacerbation of unrest.
4. What’s the political backdrop?
Some Israeli analysts say the current barrage of rockets is intended to present the Islamic militant Hamas as the true defender of Palestinian claims to Jerusalem -- not the 85 year-old Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, which rule the West Bank. It’s an image Hamas has been amplifying in its statements this week. This round of fighting also complicates efforts by a group of Israeli politicians who are trying to form a government that would end Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s record-long reign. They’ve held talks to partner with an Arab faction for the first time in Israeli history, but the escalating violence has brought ethnic associations to the fore once more, making it hard to break the taboo.
5. How do the forces compare in strength?
Israel and Gaza have skirmished repeatedly since Hamas took control of the narrow 25-mile swath of desert bordering the Mediterranean Sea in 2007, and have fought three wars, the last seven years ago. Israel is considered a military superpower with a sophisticated domestic weapons industry that produces state-of-the-art drones and anti-missile defense systems. Forces in Gaza rely on weapons smuggled in by land and sea from Iran, and mortars and missiles they fashion from everyday objects like lamp poles. But the range, accuracy and volume of their rockets have consistently improved, as evidenced by a recent barrage of over 200 rockets onto the Tel Aviv area. And military superiority hasn’t always been the deciding factor in Israel’s wars.
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