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Israel-Gaza: What is the conflict about?

Hundreds have been injured amid anger over the forced eviction of Palestinians from their homes

Faiza Saqib
Friday 14 May 2021 08:52 BST
Related video: Israel police fire stun grenades at protesters ahead of nationalist march

More than 80 Palestinians as well as 7 people in Israel have been killed since the outbreak of the deadly violence between Israel and Gaza started. Hundreds of Palestinians have also been injured during the unrest.

Israel and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip have traded airtrikes and rocket fire, with both sides vowing to continue as funerals take place and despite international pleas for them to pull back from further conflict.

The trouble also appears to be spreading, with the town of Lod, close to Tel Aviv, being placed under a state of emergency after rioting by Israeli Arabs.

The “conflict” began on Friday 6th May- when more than 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli officers were hurt in Jerusalem, the violence erupting after thousands of worshippers gathered at the al-Aqsa mosque for their weekly Friday prayers and were met with a heavy police presence.

Rubber bullets and grenades were fired and arrests were made.

That show of force was in response to nightly protests breaking out at the start of the holy month of Ramadan over police restrictions at a popular gathering place, the historic Damascus Gate to the Old City, and the threatened forced eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, which is claimed by both sides in the decades-old war.

Sheikh Jarrah - The History

The Sheikh Jarrah district is home to the descendants of refugees who were expelled or displaced during the 1948 war in what became known by Palestinians as the “Nakba” (catastrophe). The Nakba saw hundreds of thousands of Palestinians forced or flee into exile.

In 1956, 28 refugee families were given housing units in an agreement between the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) and the Jordan government, to help provide shelter for the families as part of a resettlement agreement.

In a statement quoted by Anadolu Agency, the Civil Coalition for Palestinian Rights in Jerusalem (CCPRJ) said, “A contract was agreed between the Ministry of Construction and Reconstruction and a Palestinian family in 1956, with one of the main conditions stating that residents pay symbolic fees, provided ownership is transferred to residents after three years since the completion of construction.” This meant that the families were to receive legal titles and ownership of the land, but this never happened and led to ongoing legal battles and tension between the two groups.

Following the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, settlers have claimed ownership of the land, despite international law stating that they have no legal authority over the population it occupies. However, settler groups have filed several successful lawsuits to forcefully evict Palestinians from Sheikh Jarrah since 1972 and resulting to Jordan losing control over Sheikh Jarrah’s territory.

In 2002, 43 Palestinians were forced to evacuate their homes, leaving many displaced.

Six years later, the Hanoun and Ghawi families were forced to leave their homes behind and in 2017 the Shamasneh family were also evicted from their home by Israeli settlers.

The Israeli law states and supports Jews who lost property in East Jerusalem in 1948, but it does not allow Palestinians to reclaim their lost property.

Recent tensions erupt

The Jerusalem District Court recently stated that six more Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah must leave their homes despite living there for many generations.

Israel’s Supreme Court was due to host another hearing on the issue on Monday. However, it elected to postpone its hearing at the request of the state attorney general and will now set a new date to hear the appeal of residents within the next 30 days.

The US has said it was “deeply concerned” about both the violence and the threatened evictions and was in contact with leaders on both sides to try and de-escalate tensions.

“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace,” the State Department said in a statement.

The EU has also urged calm. It said the potential evictions were of “serious concern”, adding that such actions are “illegal under international humanitarian law and only serve to fuel tensions on the ground”.

Neighbouring Jordan, which made peace with Israel in 1994 and is the custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, has also condemned Israel’s actions, as has Bahrain, which normalised relations with Israel last year in a US-brokered deal.

“We will not recognise this property as belonging to settlers. We have lived in these homes for over 60 years and we will only leave our homes when we are carried to our graves,” Saleh Diab, a resident of Sheikh Jarrah, told AJ Plus.

Political leaders, activists and social influencers have been voicing their concern and dismay regarding the current situation in Jerusalem, with the hashtag “#SaveSheikhJarrah” trending on social media.

The UN, meanwhile, has said Israel’s forced evictions of Palestinians “are a potential war crime”.

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