Over the last week, violence has escalated between the Israeli Defence Forces and various Palestinian groups, most prominently Hamas. American partisans, naturally, have interjected themselves into this fight, taking the side of Israel or the Palestinians based on their preconceived ideological positions. This was probably inevitable, but even so, there has been a lot of misinformation floating around about what exactly is happening, as well as what caused the violence. So, before you post something on social media comparing what Israel is doing to apartheid or ethnic cleansing (putting aside how insulting that is to South Africans or victims of ethnic cleansing), please be sure that you know the full story of what is happening.
The story of the Israeli Palestinian conflict is long and complicated. After all, it arguably began about three thousand years ago at the battle of Jericho. But, the current crisis came about as the result of a lawsuit regarding ownership of a handful of properties in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The case stretches back to 1947 when the Jewish residents of Sheikh Jarrah were forced to evacuate during the chaos surrounding the reestablishment of Israel, after which this part of East Jerusalem was illegally occupied by Jordan. The territory ended up under the control of Jordan, whose Custodian of Enemy Property distributed the homes to Palestinians living in the area. However, the Jordanian government only granted property deeds to some of the residents, which left the rest as squatters. In 1967, Jordan joined a coalition of other Arab states against Israel, which resulted in the reunification of Jerusalem under Israeli control. After Israel retook the land, the Knesset (the Israeli Legislature) passed the 1970 Legal and Administrative Matters Law, which recognized the validity of land titles granted by the Jordanian government during their occupation and laid out rules for handling property that had not been seized. This spawned a series of lawsuits which culminated in 1982 when the courts gave the residents of Sheikh Jarrah, who had no legal title to their houses, protected tenant status that allowed them to remain in their homes indefinitely so long as they paid rent to the original owners and abided by the terms of the lease. On May 10th, 2021 an Israeli court upheld the eviction of 6 families, whose landlords alleged that they had either violated the terms of or had overstayed their leases. This was, basically, a standard property dispute which worked its way through the court system in a standard fashion and gave the tenants full opportunity to voice their complaints. It ended with the application of basic property law. In other words, the tenants had violated their leases, so they could be evicted.
While this event was the main flash point, it was not the only one. On April 16th, the first Friday of Ramadan, thousands of Muslim worshipers streamed to Al Aqsa, a mosque in Jerusalem and the third holiest site in Islam, to be informed that, due to COVID restrictions, only vaccinated people would be allowed inside the mosque, and some areas would be closed entirely. Al Aqsa is under the control of the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf, the organization which sets COVID protocols for the mosque. Its director, Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, and not the Israeli government, made the announcement saying “the Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa Mosque, and until further notice, as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus.” This is similar to guidance for Jews worshiping at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism, yet still spurred accusations of the Israeli government shutting down Al Aqsa for nefarious reasons.
The final event that acted as a catalyst for this protest was Jerusalem Day. Which, just to make things extra spicy, fell right in the middle of Ramadan. Jerusalem Day, which takes place from May 9th through 10th, is a day of celebration for the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 and involves a very pro-Israel parade throughout Jerusalem. The parade was canceled last minute over fears of violence, but by that point it was too late, and the combination of the outrage over Al Aqsa and the Sheikh Jarrah decision with the tension surrounding Jerusalem Day caused the city to erupt. This violence spread across Israel, with Jewish and Arab mobs clashing with each other. Unfortunately, both sides stooped to ethnic violence — both Jewish and Arab businesses and places of worship were targeted by rival mobs.
Hamas, which never lets a crisis go to waste, decided to stoke the chaos by firing rockets at civilian targets within Israel. While some of these have been intercepted by the Iron Dome, many have not, and hit Jews and Arabs living in Israeli cities alike. Israel then counter-attacked Gaza. Hamas, however, ensured that Israel would pay a political price for this. Hamas used civilian buildings such as schools and hospitals to store and launch its rockets, which means that Israeli air strikes to take out rockets will of necessity kill civilians. Israel tries to mitigate this through tactics such as warning civilians to evacuate, but hundreds have still been killed. (The exact number is unknown, because Hamas frequently lies about civilian casualties.)
Incidentally, the fact that Israel has the right to defend itself does not make what has happened to the people of Gaza over the past few weeks any less tragic. Not only have over 350 of Hamas’s rockets fallen back into Gaza, killing many civilians, but when Israel attempted to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, Hamas attacked the aid workers and forced them to retreat. So, the suffering of the people of Gaza can be laid squarely on the head of Hamas, whose attempted jihad against Israel is the root of their suffering.
There has always been misinformation surrounding Israel. For instance, there is the claim that it is an apartheid state, despite the fact that Arabs not only have full politcal rights within Israel, but even have their own parties, but the current bout is much more blatant than usual. Biden, for once, has done the right thing by expressing support for Israel throughout the conflict, but there is more work to be done. The entire free world needs to express, loudly and clearly, that whatever grievances the Palestinian people may have, no long term peace is possible while a major faction of theirs continues to vow to “push the Jews into the sea.” Meanwhile westerners, particularly those who are active on social media, need to either remain silent or make sure they know what they are talking about.
And they certainly should not be filling my social media feed with baseless accusations of “genocide” because half a dozen families may get evicted, pending legal appeals by Israel’s Supreme Court.