A Summary of the Situation in Israel and Gaza (2021)
A Concise Summary of the Current Situation Between Israel and Gaza (eds. Hayton B, Hunter J, Garson A) (13 May 2021)
This briefing is designed to provide a fact-based, objective overview of the current situation in Gaza. This is not a misleading Instagram graphic or an aggressive Twitter thread.
All of the facts cited in this brief are from independent, international news sources and NGOs; none of the sources used for this brief are partisan, or aligned with either Israel or Palestine .
Yoav Keren, Creative Commons License: Bus and Car bombed in Holon, Israel, by Hamas rockets (11 May 2021)
Why has this happened?
The key to understanding the recent tensions in Israel-Palestine is timing. A combination of events have come together to provoke violence and confrontation which must be understood altogether for the clearest picture on the situation.
Issue 1: Postponing the Palestinian Authority Elections
Two weeks ago, the Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, elicited anger and frustration from his political rivals Hamas by announcing that the PA elections would (once again) be postponed . Palestinian election polls suggested that Abbas stood to lose significant ground . Abbas has held his position for 15 years without being re-elected  – he claimed elections could not take place due to Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to vote .
Issue 2: Ramadan
Tensions often run high in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan . During the weeks prior to the current hostilities, a spate of terrorist attacks was perpetrated against Israeli civilians . One such attack involved a drive-by shooting that killed an Israeli teenager .
There has also been an emerging Tik-Tok craze involving Palestinian youths, whereby they conduct, record and share footage of attacks on Jews .
Issue 3: Tensions in Sheikh Jarrah
Sheikh Jarrah is a neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Before Israel’s creation, Jews lived in this neighbourhood together with Arabs. Following the 1948 War of Independence, the neighbourhood was captured by the Jordanian military. The Jews that lived there were forcibly removed .
After 1948, the homes of the expelled Jews were granted by the Jordanian authorities to Palestinian residents, some of whom were themselves forced to leave their homes in West Jerusalem which now fell under Israeli control .
The Israeli legal system allows for property in Jerusalem to be repatriated to Israeli Jews if historical legal title can be proved by the descendants of the original owners. Some have exploited these laws, and Monday was supposed to see a decision in the Israeli courts whereby a number of Palestinian families potentially faced eviction from their homes.
This case has caused enormous tensions, and provoked mass demonstrations by Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The decision in this case has been delayed by a month in order to allow for hostilities to calm .
Issue 4: Al-Aqsa Mosque Riots
Following the above tensions, Israeli police made the decision to halt mass gatherings taking place near the Damascus Gate in the Old City. This location has traditionally been a meeting place for Jerusalem’s Muslims following every day of fasting during Ramadan. It has also historically been the site of numerous terror attacks perpetrated by Palestinian terrorists.
The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam, and constitutes part of the Haram esh-Sharif compound where the Prophet Muhammad is believed by devout Muslims to have ascended to heaven . Violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police took place within the Mosque complex , in which the Israeli Police have been accused of disproportionate violence , and young Palestinians have been accused of inciting violence and attacking police officers .
Issue 5: Hamas’ Response
Hamas have been preparing militarily for confrontation with Israel for several years . This Islamist group has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the State of Israel , and its founding charter calls for ‘struggle against Jews’ .
Hamas is the main political rival of Chairman Abbas of the PA . Exploiting the hostilities in Jerusalem, Hamas attempted to win political favour and vindicate their claim to be the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people by demanding that Israel vacate the Al-Aqsa Mosque .
When Israeli police continued to be present on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Hamas began to launch hundreds of rockets at Israel . This rocket attack was unprecedented both in terms of the sheer quantity of projectiles launched as well as the national significance of the targets . These included the first such strike on Jerusalem, Israel’s capital, and the largest attack yet on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated economic hub .
Issue 6: The Role of Iran
The role of Iran is often omitted in analysis of the situation. Iran has been arming Hamas for over a decade . Since 2014, it has provided Hamas with new and sophisticated weaponry, including the Iranian made Fajr-5 missile, with a range of 75 kilometres and a low trajectory which is designed to overcome Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system .
The end of 2020 saw peace and reconciliation agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco . This has harmed the hegemony of Iran in the region and unites Iran’s geopolitical opponents .
Iran does not want this new Middle East to emerge and has utilised its influence and control over Hamas to provoke a new conflict .
Military Conduct of the Two Sides
How are the Israel Defence Forces attempting to react proportionately?
The Israeli Defence Forces have conducted targeted strikes on military assets and terrorist infrastructure . Many of these facilities and structures are surrounded by civilians . Therefore, the IDF has provided telephone warnings to civilians nearby military-targets in order to minimise civilian casualties  and has done so in previous conflicts in Gaza . Israeli aircraft also fire dummy bombs above buildings about to be struck, as another means of giving civilians the opportunity to evacuate .
These steps sacrifice operational effectiveness for the safeguarding of enemy civilians. Former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, Colonel Richard Kemp, whilst commenting on previous IDF operations said that the IDF had done ‘‘more to safeguard the rights of civilians in the combat zones than any other army in the history of warfare’’ .
Is Hamas committing war crimes?
It is argued that Hamas is committing a double war crime by both firing rockets indiscriminately at Israeli civilians, and by hiding its military infrastructure as to endanger Gazan civilians .
The international human rights charity Amnesty International has previously commented that Hamas’ military aggression displays ‘‘a flagrant disregard for international humanitarian law and for the consequences of their violations on civilians in both Israel and the Gaza Strip’’ .
Amnesty has also commented that the use unguided rockets ‘‘is prohibited under international law and their use constitutes a war crime’’ .
What is the Iron Dome Defence system?
Israel’s Iron Dome is an air defence system designed to stop short-range rockets and artillery . On Tuesday, the Israeli military said that 90 percent of rockets that reached Israeli airspace were destroyed by Iron Dome .
How will these problems be resolved?
Mediation by Egypt
Egypt, which enjoys strong security ties with Israel, has historically been the main mediator between Israel and Gaza.
Egypt is expected to broker a ceasefire between the two sides – Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has already stated that ‘‘Egypt is still conducting intensive contacts with all international and regional actors in order to ensure calm in Jerusalem” .
Revival of the Peace Process
The recent conflict is a reminder to all invested in the region that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be forgotten. The United States has historically been the independent broker between Israel and the Palestinians in the peace process started by the Oslo Accords of the 1990s .
During the Trump Administration, the Palestinians refused to engage with the United States  which unveiled a radically different vision of the two-state solution compared to previous administrations . As a result, the US has focused on developing ties and reconciliation between Israel and other Arab countries, and successfully concluded agreements between Israel and Sudan, Morocco, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates  – the first real breakthrough in the peace process since the 1990s .
Recently, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has committed the US to a more traditional vision of the two-state solution , however many analysts believe that the Biden administration will place less priority on this issue compared to previous administrations .
What has happened so far?
Rockets Fired by Hamas
Since Sunday evening, almost 1500 rockets were fired by Hamas and Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza at Israeli towns and cities , killing six civilians and injuring around one-hundred more . Tel Aviv, Israel’s most populated urban area, has faced an onslaught of hundreds of rockets over the past few days .
Hamas controls Gaza  and is considered by the UK, the US and the European Union to be a terrorist organisation   . Palestinian Islamic Jihad is also a militant Islamist group based in Gaza , considered by many democratic countries to be a terrorist organisation .
In response, Israel’s Defence Forces have launched ‘Operation Guardian of the Walls’, and carried out over 500 targeted attacks, aimed at debilitating Hamas’ military infrastructure .
Casualties in Gaza
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that the Palestinian death toll is 83 . Israel claims that many of those killed were terrorist operators, including the head of Hamas’ military intelligence, and the commander of PIJ’s rocket launching unit . Both Hamas and the PIJ have confirmed that senior commanders have been killed in these targeted attacks .
Response of the International Community
The international community has urged both sides to de-escalate .
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote that rocket attacks “must stop” and called for “an end to targeting of civilian populations” .
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas must end the rocket attacks “immediately”, adding: “All sides need to de-escalate” .
A PDF version of this article can be downloaded below:
Sources / Footnotes:
 Two articles cited are from Haaretz and the Forward, two Israeli/Jewish newspapers that are highly critical of Israeli policy; these are indicated in red lettering for full disclosure
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