In recent days, harrowing images of explosions and rocket fire have accompanied differing news headlines reporting on the latest violence taking place in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Headlines across the world have described the violence as “communal” and noted the “clashes” and “scuffles” taking place. In so doing, the media is failing to provide a contextualised picture of the ongoing institutionalised discrimination and oppression of Palestinians in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Since the beginning of Ramadan on 13 April 2021, tensions have been steadily rising as Palestinians protested against Israeli restrictions limiting their access to Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem. Anger has also been rising over imminent plans to forcibly evict four Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood to make way for Israeli settlers.
On 9 May, Amnesty International researchers witnessed an unprovoked attack by Israeli forces against a group of peaceful demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah. Israeli forces arrived shortly before iftar, the evening Ramadan meal. After the meal, peaceful protesters formed a circle and began chanting against the imminent plans to evict Palestinian families from their homes.
Israeli forces then launched a coordinated attack to disperse the crowd of Palestinian protesters. Israeli forces on horseback began to sprint towards the crowd. One man limping in pain said he was trampled by police horses as he tried to run away from the area. Residents were pushed into the walls of their homes and five men were arbitrarily arrested. Israeli forces began to shove and hit the group — including an Amnesty researcher observing the protest. At around 10pm they brought out skunk water cannons and sound grenades and began to arbitrarily spray and fire at demonstrators.
A number of politicians and media outlets have referred to this as a “property dispute”. While this may be argued to be true in the most literal sense of the term, this forcible transfer is prohibited under international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime.
This violence has also been described as a “scuffle” between Palestinians and Israeli settlers.
One cannot call this a “scuffle”.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a scuffle is defined as a “short and not very violent fight or struggle”. Amnesty International researchers witnessed deplorable conduct by security forces at Sheikh Jarrah, including entirely unprovoked attacks on peaceful protesters standing up for their rights and calling for respect of international law. One cannot argue that this was “not very violent”.
On 7 May, more than 170 Palestinians were injured as Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, dispersing worshippers along with protesters, firing 40mm kinetic impact projectiles (KIPs) and concussion grenades into crowds gathered there for prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan.
A Palestinian journalist present at the scene described how Israeli forces went on the rampage, firing projectiles and tear gas. He also said they stormed the clinic at the mosque and beat protesters.
He told Amnesty International: “I’ve been covering events taking place in Jerusalem for the past 10 years… and I’ve never been this scared in my life. Everyone was a target; I want to say that the shooting was random, but that would be a lie. They knew exactly who and where they were aiming their bullets and grenades at.
“Most of the people were targeted in their upper bodies (eyes, face and chest).” He was also shot in the back while holding up his camera and attempting to leave the area.
On 10 May, more than 300 Palestinian protesters were injured when Israeli forces stormed the al-Aqsa compound for the second time in days. A Red Crescent spokesperson told Amnesty International that the violence led to the hospitalisation of at least 250 Palestinians, with seven in a critical condition.
One cannot call this a “clash”.
Like the word “scuffle”, the term alludes to a conflict between two parties where there is a degree of equality in the use of violence. Although there has been documented evidence of Palestinian activists throwing rocks, they were not the instigators of the violence here, nor was there equality in the use of violence.
Since 10 May, more than 200 Palestinians in Gaza, including at least 60 children, and 10 people in Israel, including two children, have been killed in attacks by both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups. Both sides have carried out war crimes and other violations with impunity, which is unacceptable.
However, it is imperative that the context within which this violence is taking place is understood: against a backdrop of institutionalised oppression and discrimination that has seen Palestinians subjected to enforced segregation, restriction of movement, home demolitions, the confiscation of land, the suspension of basic civil rights such as freedom of assembly and association, unlawful killing, torture and other ill-treatment.
This violence is not a scuffle, a clash, or the consequence of a mere property dispute. What is taking place is the denial of human rights on a mass scale. The international community and UN Security Council members — including the United States — must publicly denounce violations of humanitarian law and pressure all sides in the conflict to protect civilians.
UN Security Council members must take a strong and public stand and immediately impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Israel, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups with the aim of preventing further serious violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by the parties to the conflict.
The international community must also press Israel to address root causes of the latest violence, which include longstanding impunity for war crimes and other serious violations of international law, as well as Israel’s ongoing illegal settlement expansion, the blockade of Gaza, and the forcible eviction and dispossession of Palestinians such as those in Sheikh Jarrah. DM