Over the past week, the world has watched as violence in Gaza has intensified.
As of 16th May, 197 Palestinians have been killed as a result of Israeli air strikes, including 58 children, while rockets fired by Hamas have led to 10 Israeli deaths and dozens of injuries, including the death of two children.
As a UN Security Council meeting at the weekend ultimately reached no resolution to the violence, here’s everything you need to know about the current conflict.
Why did the recent violence start?
Tensions have been high in Jerusalem since mid-April, when Israel restricted Palestinian access to parts of the Old City during Ramadan. However, the current escalation of violence stems from Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, in occupied East Jerusalem, protesting against the Israeli state forcing them out of their homes.
On 2nd May, four families were ordered by the Israeli Supreme Court to evacuate their homes, a continuation of Sheikh Jarrah’s long history of Israeli settlers making a claim on locals’ property. Residents opposed this court order and Israeli police met protesters with teargas and stun grenades. Protests eventually stretched across Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, leading to the Supreme Court postponing their eviction decision on 9th May.
What’s happened so far?
Growing anger amongst Palestinians about both the evacuations and the restricted access to parts of the Old City led to protests, which in turn led to the Israeli Defence Force raiding the Al-Aqsa Mosque multiple times, beginning on 7th May.
Israeli forces stormed the mosque – using teargas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets – and attacked worshipers in an attempt to disperse them, wounding more than 200 people. Worshipers retaliated by throwing stones and bottles, which the Israeli police claimed seriously injured six police officers.
Following protests in many Palestinian-majority towns that weekend, Hamas and Israel fired rockets into opposing regions on 10th May. Israel then launched large-scale militarised attacks against Palestinians in Gaza.
The IDF has continued to heavily attack Gaza over the last few days, leading to multiple deaths and injuries, as well as the mass displacement of approximately 10,000 Palestinians.
Over the weekend, as Palestinians commemorated Nakba Day – a remembrance of Palestinian displacement after the Israeli state was founded in 1948 – the IDF destroyed a building that housed international media outlets Al Jazeera and the Associated Press, claiming it had links to Hamas.
What’s the historical context?
Both Jews and Muslims have religious affiliations with the Israel-Palestine region, and date their claims to the land going back several thousand years. However, the violence we’re seeing today is rooted in more recent events.
In 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, a public statement announcing the support for a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The state of Israel was founded in May 1948, in the aftermath of the Second World War and the Holocaust, ending previous British rule in the region of Palestine.
This prompted the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, which saw many Arab nations – including Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt – mobilise against the new state of Israel. Around 750,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their homes in the region that became Israel. This became known as al-Nakba, or the Palestinian Catastrophe. Around 10,000 Jews were also forced to leave their homes in Arab-majority parts of the region. However, between 1948 and 1951, 700,000 Jews immigrated to Israel, mainly in the former Arab parts.
Over the following decades, the situation in the Middle East never truly calmed down. In 1967, the Six-Day War saw Israel overpower the Arab nations, bringing more than one million Palestinians in occupied regions under the rule of Israel. The United Nations passed UN Resolution 242, calling for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied regions, but it was ignored.
An ongoing blockade has been imposed on Gaza by Israel since 2007, which is sometimes referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison”. In November 2012, the United Nations approved an upgrade to the Palestinian Authority’s status to that of a non-member observer state, legitimising the Palestinian homeland. In response, the Israeli government announced they wouldn’t be sending the millions in tax revenue owed to the Palestinian Authority and would also be resuming new settlement plans in the West Bank.
In December 2017, then-US President Donald Trump broke the tradition of his predecessors and officially recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. As Palestinians also claim Jerusalem as their capital and no Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement had been reached, this led to widespread international condemnation, and sparked protests in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
In 2019, the Trump administration further fuelled tensions by stating that the US no longer considered Israeli settlements on the West Bank to be illegal. This was a rejection of a 2016 UN resolution that the settlements are a “flagrant violation” of international law, as well as the Fourth Geneva Convention.
As violence continued over the weekend, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was heading for an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”. At the time of writing, neither side has shown signs of backing down.
Since the violence broke out, protesters have marched the streets of major cities across the world, including London and New York, in support of Palestine. With this, there have also been incidents of antisemitic hate, most notably a video of four men who were filmed shouting abuse out of a car in London on Sunday, receiving condemnation from both sides.