Violent clashes in the Occupied Palestinian Territories: what you need to know

Violent clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters have erupted in Jerusalem. These protests are a result of the forced and illicit displacement of Palestinian peoples across east Jerusalem. In their brutal repression of such protests, and forced evictions of Palestinian residents, Israeli security forces have violated numerous human rights principles.

With hundreds injured and many displaced, the US, the EU, Russia and the United Nations have all expressed concern over the dire situation, and called for calm amidst the brutal unrest. While conflict is not uncommon for the region, these clashes have been labelled as the ‘worst religious unrest in several years’. Sparking concerns over this violence escalating and further destabilising the region.

Why are the Palestinians protesting?

Palestinian protests have been occurring for more than a month, coming to a head in the past four days. These protests initially followed restrictions on Palestinians’ access to the Damascus Gate, and over efforts to block Palestinian celebrations during Ramadan, these restrictions worsening existing religious tensions.

Currently, Palestinians in occupied east Jerusalem have been protesting the threatened forced evictions of Palestinian residents in Sheikh Jarrah. This forced displacement as part of a legal effort to make way for Israeli settlers. Israel currently has plans to evict four families and has threatened dozens more with eviction. Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah have held nightly demonstrations and vigils in protest of these proposed evictions.

Why are these evictions so important?

This recent bout of violence has brought international attention to Israel’s prolonged efforts to expand Israeli settlements, and sustain an Israeli majority in Jerusalem by forcing Palestinians out of their homes. Israel asserts that all residents of Jerusalem are treated equally before the law. Yet, in east Jerusalem, residents’ rights differ based on whether they are Israeli or Palestinian. Palestinians facing a discriminatory legal system in Jerusalem courts.

Forced displacement of a population in occupied territory violates international humanitarian law. Saleh Higazi, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International, said that These forced evictions are part of a continuing pattern in Sheikh Jarrah, they flagrantly violate international law and would amount to war crimes’. The UN has echoed these sentiments, calling on Israel to halt all evictions in occupied Palestinian territory, warning that their actions could amount to war crimes. These evictions are not just important for the human consequences they have upon those being displaced, but are also gravely significant in their open and flagrant violation of international law.

What conditions are these protesters facing?

Protesters, and even bystanders, in east Jerusalem, have faced cruel violence and repression. There is evidence of arbitrary and unreasonable use of force against Palestinians. Israeli security forces are employing sound and stun grenades, malodorant water canons and excessive force against protesters on the streets, in mosques and even in their homes. Amnesty International has also noted that many peaceful Palestinian protesters have been detained and arrested arbitrarily.

On the 7th of May in the al-Aqsa mosque, protesters and worshippers were fired at and blasted with concussion grenades in a shocking escalation of tensions. Eyewitnesses informed Amnesty International of the sheer brutality of the violence. One witness detailing the horrific storming of the mosque, by saying; “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.” These attacks are not only cruel and immoral, but also directly and blatantly violate the right to expression and peaceful assembly.

What should be done?

This unrest could hold grave consequences for peace in the Middle East. Violence has spurred more violence, with Palestinian armed groups just yesterday launching rockets and missiles into Israel.

The blatant disregard for human rights and lives calls for immediate action by the international community. Amnesty International urges nations and the UNSC to openly hold Israel accountable for their violations of international law. In a statement to Amnesty International, Nabil el-Kurd, a resident under threat of displacement, stressed, “Sheikh Jarrah is sending a message to the whole world, including the US Congress, the UK Parliament, the French Parliament, the EU Parliament, the International Criminal Court, that what is happening to us is a war crime. It is not just an eviction, but a war crime.”