Ramadan and TikTok recordings of Orthodox Jews being targeted contrasted with the latest Jerusalem escalation. Despite several arrests, tensions remained high. Following a major far-right rally this past Thursday, tensions escalated, culminating in rocket fire from the Gaza Strip early Saturday morning.
It is important to note that this sequence of events is analogous to how tensions rose in 2014, as well as other periods of conflict that lead to tensions in Gaza and Jerusalem, such as the 2017 installation of temporary metal detectors in Jerusalem’s Old City.
There is, however, a key distinction.
Terror incidents – respectively, a July 14, 2017 terror assault on the Temple Mount by a gunman, and the June 12, 2014 abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank – marked the start of both the July 2017 events and the 2014 conflict.
In both cases, Israel responded. In the 2014 incident, a right-wing march led to the murder of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2, resulting in the Jerusalem clashes and riots.
The “gates of hell” comments from Hamas, which are rhetoric again being used by Palestinian factions, are often a prelude to rising attacks. Similar comments have been heard: On June 30, 2014, and in November 2012.
In December 2017, Hamas said the decision of then-President Donald Trump’s administration to move the embassy to Jerusalem would open the gates of hell. The 2012 comments came after Israel killed Ahmed al-Jabari, a senior Hamas commander.
It is not often remembered now, but the Hamas comments of December 2017 did lead to rising tensions that ultimately culminated with the killing of 58 Palestinians in Gaza during violent protests and riots along the border, as the US moved its embassy in May 2018.
The 2014 cycle of violence culminated in a war in Gaza: Operation Protective Edge. It also led to widespread rioting in Jerusalem that damaged parts of the infrastructure for the light rail in Beit Hanina and to a massive March on Kalandiya checkpoint that resulted in some 287 injuries and two Palestinians killed.
SO WHERE ARE we today? Hamas and Palestinian groups in Gaza have vowed solidarity with Jerusalem.
The dozens of rockets fired on Saturday morning – the most fired in months – are an escalation. The rocket fire is reminiscent of the increase in 2019 that led to some 2,600 rockets being fired at Israel in two years from 2018 to 2019. Around 1,000 of those were fired in 2018.
In November 2019, Israel launched an assassination airstrike against an Islamic Jihad leader. That escalated to further airstrikes, including a strike in Syria that Russia revealed that November 20.
The current tensions are not yet in a cycle like that, involving international repercussions. However, the US State Department has put out a statement about the recent clashes and the far-right march in Jerusalem. America’s concern comes amid discussions about a new or renewed Iran Deal and the planned trip of high-level Israeli security officials to Washington.
The situation is also not like the “stabbing intifada,” a wave of lone-wolf violence from 2015-2016 that led to numerous attacks and the killing of knife-wielding Palestinians. This is because the current clashes have not yet involved terror attacks by Palestinians.
But this does not mean that what is happening is not serious. The linkage of Jerusalem to Gaza and the demands by Hamas to get involved not only in the tensions, but also the Palestinian elections, are a precursor to more tensions.
Hamas and Palestinian factions also want there to be Palestinian elections next month, with voting in east Jerusalem. Elections cannot be held if the Palestinians in Jerusalem can’t vote, the factions say. This could give them an excuse to heat up violence in Jerusalem as a way to cancel the elections or try to force Israel’s hand.
It is unclear what direction and form this violence would take. The appearance of hundreds of far-right Israelis shouting anti-Arab slogans on Thursday has focused attention on Jerusalem. The police attempted and succeeded in lowering tensions.
However, the month of Ramadan carries with it new considerations. Clashes at the Kalandiya checkpoint on Friday evening are an example of how a surge of clashes will spread. In Israel’s favour, the country has learned how to avoid casualties in previous conflicts.
It is also worth noting that the latest clashes follow a year in which the global pandemic largely kept people at home and calm. There were no massive marches, worship gatherings, or far-right demonstrations allowed due to health legislation.
That is no longer the case, thanks to Israel’s vaccine programme. The question now is whether agendas in Ramallah, Gaza, and Jerusalem can increase or decrease tensions. And Israel also needs a new coalition government, which adds fuel to the fires of populism and instability because Israel’s parties can’t seem to compromise to anything.