Ten children were among 28 killed in Gaza in the Holy month of Ramadan, while two Israeli women were killed as Israeli air strikes pounded the territory and Palestinian militants fired rockets. In Jerusalem, Israeli police fired stun grenades, teargas and rubber bullets at one of Islam’s holiest sites, leaving 300 Palestinians injured. Could this get worse? Yes. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has vowed to increase the intensity of attacks. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars as well as periodic battles. Though they often prepare their exits, events can have a momentum of their own.
The tinder was the decision of Israeli authorities to prevent Palestinians from gathering at the Damascus Gate following night-time prayers during Ramadan, as they normally do; a spate of intercommunal violence; and plans to evict hundreds of Palestinians from the homes they have lived in for decades in Sheikh Jarrah in occupied East Jerusalem, giving them to Jewish settlers. Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a title from before the 1948 war can claim back properties in the city. This cannot be justified when no similar law exists for the Palestinians who lost their homes. The evictions have been described by a UN rights body as a possible war crime. Aggressive tactics used by police there and at the al-Aqsa mosque reflect a culture of impunity. And only at the 11th hour, when the damage had already been done, was Monday’s provocative ultra-right march rerouted away from the Muslim quarter of the Old City.
All this has happened within the context of dual political crises. Mr Netanyahu is attempting to cling to power while coalition talks between his rivals and his corruption trial progress. Meanwhile, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has indefinitely postponed elections that everyone expected Fatah to lose to Hamas again. Denied the ballot, the militant group has fallen back on deadly tactics to restate its claim to leadership.
But the fuel is decades old. Anger at the occupation inevitably deepens. “Generation blockade” has grown up in Gaza, a tiny strip of land crammed with residents but short on work, power or clean drinking water. Covid, and the desperate inequity of the vaccination campaigns in Israel and the occupied territories, has sharpened the resentment at living under a government that controls without offering protection. The unrest seen in Arab towns in Israel on Monday demonstrates the breadth as well as depth of the rage at the kind of accumulated injustice that recently led Human Rights Watch to accuse Israeli officials of committing apartheid, to the angry denial of the government.
The priority must be de-escalation to protect the lives of civilians, treated with such ruthless and fatal disregard by both the Israeli government and Palestinian militants. The international community must bring its weight to bear. Donald Trump egged Mr Netanyahu on at every turn. There is now an administration in Washington that can address these issues seriously. It has rightly condemned militant attacks. But it must be similarly clear with the Israeli authorities, not only over their military response, but over the actions that predictably led to this latest outburst of violence.