The Israeli-Palestinian conflict explained
The Israelis and Palestinians are at it again, after a few years of a much-welcomed intermission. Like a dormant volcano woken from slumber, a bloody conflict has once again erupted in Palestine and the region has relapsed into its perennial savage internecine warfare. In a never-ending cycle of violence, the Jews and Arabs are back on the battlefield.
Jewish neighborhoods are being inundated with rocks thrown by Arab youths and Jerusalem is under siege from rockets fired by Hamas’s militants from Gaza Strip. On street corners in Israeli cities, Jewish and Arab neighbors are trading violent attacks and posting the footage of the carnage on social media. The eerily dark night sky of Gaza Strip glows from bomb fire as Israeli fighter jets dump their payload of death and destruction. And hapless refugees on the dusty streets of Palestinian slums scramble for safe refuge, shaking and quaking in fear of the invasion of Israeli armored tanks.
But why? Why have these mortal enemies resumed their fight? Why, after a 4-year lull, are the Arabs and Jews at it again? What is it that came upon these people that make them want to pick up their weapons of warfare and engage each other in battle? Why is this happening now? What are the catalysts, or spark, for the current conflict?
There are those who like to view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of religion, and many there are whose interpretation of events in the Middle East is based solely on prophetic utterances and eschatological underpinnings. Such a narrow perspective seems to ignore the fact that prophecies are fulfilled within the context of human existence, relationships among nations, and through interactions between people.
As a result of their restricted viewpoint, some of my fellow evangelical Christians would find nothing wrong in the actions taken by the Israeli government that are patently evil, and they’d defend Israel regardless of the atrocities of their leaders. What these good folks forget are the Biblical injunctions against oppression of strangers and the command to treat foreigners with dignity, respect, and compassion (Exodus 22:21, Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:33-34). Unlike these my Christian friends, I tend to regard the events playing out in Palestine as human interactions driven by human nature knowing that the will of God is effected through the actions of human beings.
The road that leads to the current skirmish is paved with a constellation of events. First was the case of six Palestinian families who were evicted from their homes in Jarrah, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem, in order to replace them with Jewish families. The plight of the six families from their homes infuriated many Palestinians and their supporters worldwide. The eviction was perceived as another example of the oppression of the Palestinians by the Israeli aggressors.
The second catalyst for the current catastrophe started about 4 weeks prior to the firing of the first salvo in the current conflict.
April 13 was the first day of Ramadan, a Muslim holy month. It also happens to be Memorial Day in Israel, a day set aside to honor Israelis who died fighting for their country. On the night of April 13, the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, was going to deliver a speech at the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site located in close proximity to the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, which is one of Muslims’ holiest places. Concerned that the call to prayers from the Mosque would drown out the President’s speech, “…a squad of Israeli police officers entered the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, brushed the Palestinian attendants aside and strode across its vast limestone courtyard.
Then they cut the cables to the loudspeakers that broadcast prayers to the faithful from four medieval minarets.” (Patrick Kingsley, writing in the New York Times).
Such a provocative act felt like a slap in the face of all Palestinian Moslems. That fully armed Jewish police officers would run roughshod over Islam’s sacred ground was considered an insult to the faith and a defilement of a sacred ground. The Palestinians concluded it was another one in a long line of deliberate attempts at Judaization of Jerusalem and an effort to drive Muslims out of the holy city.
The final incident that became the last straw that broke the camel’s back happened shortly after the Aqsa Mosque saga. It was the boneheaded move by the Israeli police to barricade a plaza adjacent to the Damascus gate – which is one of the main entrances to the Old city of Jerusalem. This plaza is a popular spot where young Palestinians hang out at night during the holy month of Ramadan.
While the Israeli police characterized the closure of the gate as a security measure, the Palestinians interpreted it as yet another act of aggression by the Jews against hapless Palestinians. The resulting aftermath were protests and clashes with the police at the gate on a nightly basis.
The questions any objective and reasonably minded person would want to ask are: How in the world would the President of Israel dispatch Israeli police into the Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s most scared place, to go and cut the loudspeaker used by the Muezzin during Ramadan, Islam’s holy month, and not think it would lead to an uprising? Why would the Israeli government want to evict six Palestinians families from their homes in a Palestinian neighborhood, hand those homes over to Jewish families, and fail to envisage the blowback?
And what would make the Israeli police cordon off a popular plaza where young Palestinians hang out during Ramadan and not understand such an action would provoke angry reaction? Why would any government, interested in maintaining peace and tranquility among its citizens, take any of these provocative actions?
The clue to these questions can be found in the WHY of the current conflict. None of the incidents described above occurred by happenstance. These were premeditated acts fomented with the intention that they would ultimately lead to the violence. They were deliberately done to incite a riot and provoke an uprising between Israel and the Palestinians. These were cold and calculated schemes of bad actors.
The primary instigators are Bibi Netanyahu and the extreme-right Jewish group, Lehava on one side, and Hamas, its leader, Yahya Sinwar, and their Iranian benefactor on the other side. For selfish reasons, these warmongers fanned into flame the underlying distrust that existed between Arabs and Jews in Palestine. They exploited the fault lines of divisions that have been in existence for centuries and they ripped the band-aid off generational wounds. They did it because they never wanted peace between Arabs and Jews.
Before the current Israeli-Arab imbroglio, the nation of Israel was on the cusps of achieving a monumental feat. The political stars were aligned, and everything was in place, towards a landmark achievement of a guaranteed longstanding peace deal between Jews and Arabs for the first time in generations.
This was how Thomas L. Friedman described it in a New York Times column: “An unprecedented national unity coalition was taking shape in Israel – under the leadership of the secular-centrist Yair Lapid and the religious-rightist Naftali Bennett. They were on the verge of forging a cabinet that would include both Israeli Jews and, for the first time ever, an Israeli Arab Islamist party.”
To be continued tomorrow,
Ojumu, is of the US National Institutes of Health.
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