Why Jerusalem is witnessing a surge in violence between Israelis & Palestinians, explained

The UN convened a meeting over the situation.

Matthias Ang | May 11, 2021, 07:17 PM

The holy city of Jerusalem has witnessed an escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in recent days.

Hundreds of Palestinians injured amidst clashes with Israeli authorities

On May 7, around 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers were injured in skirmishes near the the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City, according to the United Nations (UN), following days of tensions over the potential eviction of Palestinians from lands claimed by Israeli settlers.

This was followed by additional clashes on May 8 and 9, around East Jerusalem and the Old City.

On May 10, over 300 Palestinians who had come to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem's Old City for the month of Ramadan were injured during clashes with Israeli police, who fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets, The Washington Post reported.

A march by nationalists for Jerusalem Day, to commemorate Israel's capture of East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, had also been scheduled to pass through Palestinian neighbourhoods, but was eventually called off. However, the organisers asked participants to gather at the Western Wall, which is below Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The same day was also marked by an exchange of rocket fire, with Palestinian militants in the Gaza strip firing rockets towards Jerusalem, and the Israeli military launching airstrikes on the Gaza strip in response, according to the BBC

Hamas, the group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it would fire rockets if Israeli settlers did not withdraw from Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah, a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood in East Jerusalem where Arab families are facing evictions.

Palestinian health officials said that the military response has killed 22 people, including children, while Israel's military added that at least 15 members of Hamas were killed.

Meanwhile, the UN held an urgent meeting on the situation, although no immediate statement was issued, France24 reported.

Diplomats were quoted as saying that the U.S. thought commenting publicly on the matter would be counterproductive.

What's fuelling the clashes?

Looming eviction of Palestinians

Much of the tension stems from a particular neighbourhood known as Sheikh Jarrah within East Jerusalem.

AFP highlighted that a draft statement from May 10's UN meeting cited the eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah as a source of "serious concern", given that many of the families "had lived in their homes for generations."

According to CNN and Al-Monitor, Nahalat Shimon, a pro-Israeli organisation, has argued that under a 1970 law, the current Palestinian landowners should be evicted, with their property given to Jews, as the owners of the land prior to 1948 (the year in which the state of Israel was created) were Jewish families who had purchased the land in the 19th century.

Palestinians have said that such a law is unfair as it only allows Jews to reclaim lost property in East Jerusalem, while no legal equivalent exists for them to claim property lost during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, the Times of Israel reported.

AP News reported that a legal battle over the neighbourhood first began in 1972, and eventually culminated in the recent issuance of eviction orders against 36 Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah, as well as two more East Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

A Supreme Court hearing on the eviction status of four Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah was postponed on May 10, amidst the escalating violence.

Alignment of Israel's PM with far-right politicians

The Washington Post further reported that another contributing factor is the alignment of Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with far-right politicians, amidst a fight for his political survival after four deadlocked elections.

One such party that he has aligned himself with is the extremist Jewish Power party, which has been involved in confrontations with Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah and around the Temple Mount.

Netanyahu is also facing corruption charges.

Critics of the Prime Minister have said that his preoccupation with his political survival has allowed tensions to escalate.

First Palestinian election in 15 years postponed

Meanwhile, on the Palestinian side, the first election due to be held by the state in 15 years has been postponed by the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and President of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas.

The elections had been due to take place in the West Bank -- where some parts are controlled by the PA -- East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas.

Abbas is at odds with Hamas, while the PA has been banned by Israel from operating in East Jerusalem, where the majority of the Palestinians are not Israeli citizens.

In cancelling the election, Abbas, who is falling in popularity, blamed Israel for not providing the inhabitants of East Jerusalem with a mechanism to vote.

Such developments have since stoked fear and anxiety among Palestinians about the future of their push for more rights and sovereignty in Jerusalem.

What is Singapore's reaction to the clashes?

On May 9, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed Singapore's concern over the situation and called for restraint on both sides.

The spokesperson said:

"Singapore is deeply concerned by the violence that has occurred in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah in recent days. We wish those who have been injured a full recovery.

We strongly urge all sides to exercise restraint and bring a halt to all violence. All Parties must refrain from any actions that would further escalate tensions."

Another statement was also issued by MUIS, which expressed its concern over the violence at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, given its status as the third-holiest site for Muslims, and the holy month of Ramadan.

Stating that MUIS agreed with Singapore's position on supporting a two-state solution, the organisation also called for peace.

Here is MUIS' statement in full:

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Top photo by Dan Goldberger via Getty Images