“Deeply concerned at clashes & violence in Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount” and “equally concerned about evictions in Sheikh Jarrah & Silwan neighborhoods”, tweeted Ambassador TS Tirumurti, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN on the currently escalating Israel-Palestine conflict.
On 10th May 2021, the news of the Israeli armed forces storming into the Al Aqsa Mosque in old Jerusalem began to spread across the globe like wildfire. This happened ahead of a march that was scheduled to be led by Zionist nationalists to commemorate Israel’s capture of the eastern half of the city in 1967.
The sudden raid by the Israeli forces ended up injuring more than 300 Palestinians. This violence led ‘Hamas’, the Islamist militant group that runs Gaza, to fire a dozen rockets in retaliation. The Israelis then launched an airstrike in response, which killed 21 Palestinians, nine of which were innocent children.
What led to the attacks & the raid?
Discomforting tensions had started building up from mid-April itself with the start of Ramzan. Israeli police had blocked the area setting up barricades at the Damascus Gate outside the occupied Old City in order to keep Palestinians from gathering there. This led to an eruption of clashes forcing the police to clear the barricades but the tensions had already risen high.
The May 7 violence
Situations worsened In the last week of Ramzan. Anger had set ahead of an Israeli court ruling, which was due on Monday (May 10). The court was to decide whether authorities would evict several Palestinian families from the majority-Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhood of ‘Sheikh Jarrah’ and give their homes to Jewish settlers. On the same day, thousands of Israeli nationalists were also supposed to lead a march through Muslim neighbourhoods in the Old City to celebrate Israel’s capture of the city in 1967.
Clashes erupted on the night of May 7 in Jerusalem between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police in which hundreds of Palestinians and over a dozen Israeli police personnel were injured. Though the court date was postponed and the march was rerouted by Monday, the situation had already spiralled.
The Al Aqsa raid
The march had to be led on May 10. But before that could happen, Israeli armed forces stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas in order to evict Palestinians, who Israel said had camped with stones and Molotov cocktails. This was followed by rockets being launched in retaliation by Islamist militant group Hamas and airstrikes being led by the Israelis.
The Sheikh Jarrah dispute
The story goes back to 1948 when the State of Israel was created in historical Palestine. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced out of their homes and some of these Palestinian families shifted to Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem to settle there. In 1956, when East Jerusalem was under the rule of Jordan, the Jordanian Construction ministry and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency built houses for these families in Sheikh Jarrah. But in 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan.
It was around 1970s that Jewish agencies started demanding the return of this land seeking these Palestinian families to leave the settlement. Jewish committees claimed that the houses of these Palestinian families sat on land they purchased in 1885 (when Jews were migrating to historic Palestine that was part of the Ottoman Empire). These affairs have become one of the most vexed disputes of the world over the years.
Earlier this year, the Central Court in East Jerusalem upheld a decision to evict four Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah in favor of Jewish settlers. The Israeli court was scheduled to hear this very dispute on May 10 when the raids happened. The hearing was postponed due to the ongoing violence in Jerusalem. The issue remains unresolved and potentially inflammable.