Fradreck J Mujuru
Large-scale violence broke out on May 7 after the Israeli police moved towards a group of Palestinian Muslims. The Palestine Muslims had gathered at a site regarded as sacred by both Jews and Muslims amid Ramadan. The initial confrontation resulted in 200 Palestinians injured. In no time, Hamas launched a barrage of rockets towards Jerusalem to which Israel responded with heightened airstrikes that killed more than 20 Palestinians in Gaza. Only a few Israeli casualties were reported. However, there are few questions needing clarification for people to understand the dimension of this conflict.
The conflict started a very long time ago and was being managed on a functional basis. Recently, tensions have been boiling especially over the imminent evacuation of Palestinian families from the disputed land in the east of Jerusalem. This imminent evacuation invited increased scuffles between Palestine and Israel in the old city of Jerusalem. Then last week two topical events happened. The first one involved the Palestinian Muslims flooding the Haram al-Sharif for the Ramadan prayers. They assembled for Laylat al Qadr on the evening of May 8 to celebrate the revelation of the Qur’an to prophet Muhammed. Such a night is regarded not only as special but a sacred night of Ramadan and the whole Islamic calendar. The second event is that of Israeli Jews who also congregated awaiting Jerusalem Day on May 10 that marks the Jewish control of the old City of Jerusalem secured after the war of 1967.
Unfortunately, the conflict is happening at a time of political crisis in both Israel and Palestine. The Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu recently failed in his attempt to form a ruling coalition after a fourth-round election in a period of just two years. Perhaps he is facing an end to his statesmanship considering he does not have a popular mandate at the moment. In Palestine, president Mohammed Abbas recently cancelled legislative elections that were supposed to be historical. The cancellation happened when his party was losing badly. Abbas is now 85 years old, having been elected in 2005 and his term of office was supposed to have expired in 2011. With these two leaders lacking legitimacy, there is an increasing danger for them to act rashly trying to preserve their political power but this may result in escalation of tensions.
This is an area where prediction is difficult. However, learning from the past, there were smaller conflicts that escalated as well as major conflicts that were contained well between these two parties.
The likelihood of escalation is present because, in the Israeli security ranks, there is an idea that Gaza should continuously be attacked to dissuade the actions of Hamas. The activity is commonly known as “mowing the grass” and such actions may force Israel into an open-ended conflict like what happened in 2009.
Gaza Health ministry has recorded “200 deaths” and “950 injured” so far in Gaza. As Israel is intensifying its raids, 34 000 people were internally displaced and there was the unnecessary bombing of media offices that housed Al Jazeera and the Associated Press. Further, Israel attacked a refugee camp and 10 members of a family died. Such attacks are unjustifiable and breach humanitarian international law but signs are that the conflict has escalated.
United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres in a Press release SC/14521 on May 16, 2021, condemned the attacks and saying the “senseless cycle of bloodshed and destruction between Israel and Palestine in Gaza should stop now”. He further said the “hostilities were appalling, causing unconscionable death, immense suffering and damage to infrastructure. The leaders of both parties have a responsibility to curb the inflammatory rhetoric and calm the rising tensions”.
The 15-member State United Nations Security Council publicly met on May 16, 2021 but could not agree on a “joint statement of concern”.
The Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, who is also the External Affairs and Expatriates minister heaped the blame on Israel, branding it “responsible for the difficult situations happening in Gaza” including the bloodshed. His remarks were reinforced by Sameh Shoukry, the Foreign Affairs minister of Egypt.
The minister also blamed the United Nations for “false promises”, “42 years since the peace processes have started and the state of Palestine as promised in 1967, is yet to be granted”.
He further reiterated that if Israel carried out its military operations in Gaza unchecked, it would continue creating victims which might destabilise peace and development in the region.
Iran issued a strong-worded statement calling on the international community to “take action on apartheid Israel”. The Foreign minister of Saudi Arabia, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, condemned Israel for “flagrant violations” in Gaza.
However, China cautiously released a statement through Wang Yi, commending Israel to use restraint and for Palestine to avoid any actions that may cause escalation. Arab countries are on the cause of Palestine including Tunisia that blamed Israel for attacking Palestine during Ramadan.