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  • Jonathan Hunter, Benjamin Hayton and Avi Garson

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 [1].

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 [2]. Palestinian election polls suggested that Abbas stood to lose significant ground [3]. Abbas has held his position for 15 years without being re-elected [4] – he claimed elections could not take place due to Israel’s refusal to allow Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to vote [5].

Issue 2: Ramadan

Tensions often run high in Jerusalem during the holy month of Ramadan [6]. During the weeks prior to the current hostilities, a spate of terrorist attacks was perpetrated against Israeli civilians [7]. One such attack involved a drive-by shooting that killed an Israeli teenager [8].

There has also been an emerging Tik-Tok craze involving Palestinian youths, whereby they conduct, record and share footage of attacks on Jews [9].

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 [10].

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 [11].

Following the Jordanian attack on Israel mid-way through the Six-Day War of 1967, the Israelis successfully captured East-Jerusalem [12] and annexed this area in 1980 [13].

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 [14].

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 [15]. Violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police took place within the Mosque complex [16], in which the Israeli Police have been accused of disproportionate violence [17], and young Palestinians have been accused of inciting violence and attacking police officers [18].

Issue 5: Hamas’ Response

Hamas have been preparing militarily for confrontation with Israel for several years [19]. This Islamist group has refused to recognise the legitimacy of the State of Israel [20], and its founding charter calls for ‘struggle against Jews’ [21].

Hamas is the main political rival of Chairman Abbas of the PA [22]. 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 [23].

When Israeli police continued to be present on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Hamas began to launch hundreds of rockets at Israel [24]. This rocket attack was unprecedented both in terms of the sheer quantity of projectiles launched as well as the national significance of the targets [25]. 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 [26].

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 [27]. 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 [28].

The end of 2020 saw peace and reconciliation agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco [29]. This has harmed the hegemony of Iran in the region and unites Iran’s geopolitical opponents [30].

Iran does not want this new Middle East to emerge and has utilised its influence and control over Hamas to provoke a new conflict [31].

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 [32]. Many of these facilities and structures are surrounded by civilians [33]. Therefore, the IDF has provided telephone warnings to civilians nearby military-targets in order to minimise civilian casualties [34] and has done so in previous conflicts in Gaza [35]. Israeli aircraft also fire dummy bombs above buildings about to be struck, as another means of giving civilians the opportunity to evacuate [36].

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’’ [37].

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 [38].

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’’ [39].

Amnesty has also commented that the use unguided rockets ‘‘is prohibited under international law and their use constitutes a war crime’’ [40].

What is the Iron Dome Defence system?

Israel’s Iron Dome is an air defence system designed to stop short-range rockets and artillery [41]. On Tuesday, the Israeli military said that 90 percent of rockets that reached Israeli airspace were destroyed by Iron Dome [42].

Unprecedented numbers of rockets have been fired from Gaza at Israeli civilians in order to overwhelm the Iron Dome [43]. Several rockets have landed and killed civilians as a result [44].

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” [45].

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 [46].

During the Trump Administration, the Palestinians refused to engage with the United States [47] which unveiled a radically different vision of the two-state solution compared to previous administrations [48]. 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 [49] – the first real breakthrough in the peace process since the 1990s [50].

Recently, new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has committed the US to a more traditional vision of the two-state solution [51], however many analysts believe that the Biden administration will place less priority on this issue compared to previous administrations [52].

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 [53], killing six civilians and injuring around one-hundred more [54]. Tel Aviv, Israel’s most populated urban area, has faced an onslaught of hundreds of rockets over the past few days [55].

Hamas controls Gaza [56] and is considered by the UK, the US and the European Union to be a terrorist organisation [57] [58] [59]. Palestinian Islamic Jihad is also a militant Islamist group based in Gaza [60], considered by many democratic countries to be a terrorist organisation [61].

Israel’s Response

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 [62].

Casualties in Gaza

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza claims that the Palestinian death toll is 83 [63]. 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 [64]. Both Hamas and the PIJ have confirmed that senior commanders have been killed in these targeted attacks [65].

Response of the International Community

The international community has urged both sides to de-escalate [66].

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab wrote that rocket attacks “must stop” and called for “an end to targeting of civilian populations” [67].

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Hamas must end the rocket attacks “immediately”, adding: “All sides need to de-escalate” [68].


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A Concise Summary of the Current Situati
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Sources / Footnotes:

[1] 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

[2] Krauss, J. (2021) Abbas delays Palestinian elections; Hamas slams 'coup'. Associated Press. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[3] Srivastava, M. (2021) Abbas delays Palestinian elections as his popularity wanes. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[4] Reuters (2021) Palestinians announce first elections in 15 years, on eve of Biden era. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[5] Reuters (2021) Palestinian leader delays parliamentary and presidential elections, blaming Israel. [online] Reuters. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[6] Reuters (2021) Clashes on Gaza border as Ramadan violence flares in Jerusalem. [online] Reuters. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[7] Haaretz (2021) From Tiktok to Temple Mount 28 Days of Violence in Jerusalem [online] The Forward. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[8] Associated Foreign Press (2021), Israeli Student Killed in Palestinian Attack Buried. [online] France 24. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

[9] Haaretz (2021) From Tiktok to Temple Mount [online]

[10] Gottesman E (2021), The Fights over Sheikh Jarrah reveal the folly of re-litigating Israel’s founding. [online] The Forward. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[11] Ibid.

[12] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Six Day War, [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021].

[13] Eyal Benvenisti (23 February 2012). The International Law of Occupation. OUP Oxford. p. 205

[14] Holmes O (2021), Israeli settlement ruling delayed as Jerusalem tensions run high, [online] The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[15] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Dome of the Rock. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[16] BBC News (2021) Al-Aqsa mosque: Dozens hurt in Jerusalem clashes. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[17] Holmes O & Beaumont P (2021), Israeli police storm al-Aqsa mosque ahead of Jerusalem Day march. [online] The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[18] France 24 (2021), Hundreds Injured as Israeli Police, Palestinians Clash at Al Aqsa Mosque. [online] France 24. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[19] Cohen R, Johnson D, Thaler DE, Allen B, Bartels EM, Cahill J, Efron S (2017), Lessons from Israel’s Wars in Gaza, [online] RAND Corporation. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[20] Beauchom Z (2018), What is Hamas? [online] Vox. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[21] Charter of Hamas, trans. Israeli R, [online] FAS. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[22] Al Jazeera, Abbas delays Palestinian Parliamentary Polls Blaming Israel. [online] Al Jazeera. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[23] Pfeffer, A. (2021) Hamas fires rockets into Israel as Palestinians injured in al-Aqsa Mosque clashes. [online] The Times. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[24] BBC News (2021) Israel-Gaza: Rockets hit Israel after militants killed. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[25] Trew B & Osbourne S. (2021) Over 80 rockets fired at Tel Aviv from Gaza with security at ‘highest alert’, police say. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[26] Sky News. (2021) Israel: Hamas launches rocket attack on Tel Aviv. [online] Sky News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[27] House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs (2014), Iran’s Destabilising Roles in the Middle East [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[28] Dehghan, S.K. (2012) Iran supplied Hamas with Fajr-5 missile technology. The Guardian [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[29] US State Department, The Abraham Accords. [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[30] Goldberg, J. (2021) Iran and the Palestinians Lose Out in the Abraham Accords. [online] The Atlantic. Available at:

[31] Doran, M. & Badran, T. (2021) ‘The Realignment,’ [online] Tablet Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[32] Steinbuch, Y. (2021) IDF prepares ground troops for possible action in Gaza Strip. [online] The New York Post. Available at: [Accessed on 13 May 2021]

[33] Glavin, T. (2021) By Using Human Shields, Hamas Doubles Down On Its War Crimes. [Online] National Post. Available at: [Accessed on 13 May 2021]

[34] The Week Staff, (2021) ‘Roof Knocking’: How Israel Warns of Air-Strikes. [online] The Week. Available at: [Accessed on 13 May 2021]

[35] Erlanger, S. & Akram, F. (2014) Israel Warns Gaza Targets by Phone and Leaflet, [Online] New York Times. Available at: [Accessed on 13 May 2021]

[36] The Week Staff (2021), Roof Knocking [online]

[37] Aharoni I (2014), How the United Nations Human Rights Council Unfairly Targets Israel. [online] Time Magazine. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[38] Galvin T, By using human shields Hamas doubles down on its war crimes. [online] National Post. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[39] Amnesty International (2015), Palestinian Armed Groups Killed Civilians on Both Sides in Attacks Amounting To War Crimes in Gaza Conflict. [online] Amnesty International. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[40] Ibid

[41] Taylor, A. (2021) Here’s how rockets from Gaza test Israel’s Iron Dome. [online] The Washington Post. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[42] Ibid

[43] Hambling, D. (2021) Under the Iron Dome: The Problem with Israel’s Rocket Shield, [online] Forbes. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[44] Ibid

[45] Associated Foreign Press (2021), Egypt Reached Out To Israel Over Tensions To No Avail: FM. [online] Barrons. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[46] US State Department, The Oslo Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[47] BBC News (2020), Trump releases long-awaited Middle-East peace plan. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[48] Bateman T (2020), Trump's Middle East peace plan: Smiles and sorrow on the ground. [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[49] Singer J (2021), The Abraham Accords: Normalization Agreements Signed by Israel with the U.A.E., Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco. International Legal Materials, Cambridge University Press. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[50] Ibid.

[51] Associated Foreign Press, Biden Resumes Palestinian Aid Urges Two State Solution. [online] France 24. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[52] Toosi N (2021), Critics urge Biden to step up as violence spreads in Israel, [online] Politico. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[53] BBC News (2021), Israel-Gaza: Rockets hit Israel after militants killed [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[54] Alsaafin, A. I. & Regencia, T. (2021) Gaza Death Toll Reach 65 [online] Al Jazeera. Available at:,Israelis%20have%20also%20been%20wounded. [Accessed 13 May 2021].

[55] BBC News, (2021) Rockets target Tel Aviv after Gaza tower destroyed [online] BBC News. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[56] The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica, Gaza Strip. [online] Encyclopedia Britannica. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[57] US State Department, Foreign Terrorist Organizations [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[58] Dearden, L. (2021) Hamas declared a terrorist organisation by the European Court of Justice. [online] The Independent. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[59] UK Home Office, Proscribed Terrorist Groups or Organisations [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[60] Counter Extremism Project, Palestinian Islamic Jihad [online]. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[61] Ibid

[62] Holmes, O. & Sherwood, H. (2021) Israel draws up plan for Gaza ground attack as mob violence spreads. [online] The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[63] BBC News (2021), Israel-Gaza: Deaths Mount as Israel-Gaza Violence Worsens. [online] BBC. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[64] Anglesey, A. (2021) Israel Kills Hamas Intelligence Chief: “Looks Like Our Intel Was Better”. [online] Newsweek. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[65] Schwartz, F. (2021) ‘Israel, Hamas Prepare for Wider Conflict as Fighting Intensifies,’ [online] Wall Street Journal. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[66] France 24 (2021), World Reacts as Violence Escalates in Israel-Gaza conflict. [online] France 24. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[67] The Rt Hon. Dominic Raab MP, Tweet on 10 May 2021, [Online] Twitter. Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2021]

[68] Reuters (2021), U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken urges Israelis, Palestinians to ‘de-escalate’, [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed on 13 May 2021]

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