This war was foreseeable: unrest has been brewing in the Holy Land for months

Peace is often elusive in the Holy Land but the scale of the violence in the first six months of 2023 could have served as an indicator that this year would be the deadliest in more than two decades. By the beginning of June Israeli forces had killed at least 156 Palestinians across Israel, the The post This war was foreseeable: unrest has been brewing in the Holy Land for months appeared first on Catholic Herald.

This war was foreseeable: unrest has been brewing in the Holy Land for months

Peace is often elusive in the Holy Land but the scale of the violence in the first six months of 2023 could have served as an indicator that this year would be the deadliest in more than two decades.

By the beginning of June Israeli forces had killed at least 156 Palestinians across Israel, the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip while at least 21 Israeli nationals, a Ukrainian and an Italian died in attacks by Palestinians. 

According to media tallies, about half of the casualties inflicted by Israeli forces were civilians. They included 26 children, such as Mohammed al-Tamimi, a three-year-old Palestinian boy who died in hospital four days after he was shot in the head by soldiers while travelling in a car with his father near the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

The Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said it opened fire when Palestinian gunmen shot at a guard-post, and that it “regrets harm to non-combatants and is committed to doing everything in its power to prevent such incidents”. It promised to open an investigation but critics were sceptical about anyone being brought to justice. 

The problem for many Palestinians is that such casualties were becoming all too common, with 248 investigations producing just 11 indictments, cultivating a sense that in reality the IDF acts with impunity.

Yet long before the savagery of the Hamas terror attacks of Saturday, Palestinians were killing civilians too. On April 7, Lucy Dee, 48, a British-Israeli, and her daughters Rina, 15, and Maia, 20, were murdered, for example, in a drive-by shooting in the Jordan valley, plunging the region into violence at a time when Passover, Easter and Ramadan should have been celebrated simultaneously in peace.

Soon afterwards, Alessandro Parini, 36, an Italian tourist, was murdered in a car-ramming terror attack which also left another Italian and three British nationals injured.

All were considered targets of reprisals for an Israeli police raid on the Al Aqsa Mosque compound, the site of the biblical Temple which is held sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, to remove a group of Palestinians resisting attempts by a Jewish fringe group to carry out a biblical sacrifice at what they call Temple Mount.

Police argued that their intervention was urgent because Jews praying at the Western Wall could have been also attacked, but media images showed them beating Palestinians with rifles and batons. 

This in turn fuelled the indiscriminate revenge attacks, along with a barrage of missile attacks fired from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. The Israelis responded with characteristic brute force. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

A return to full scale fighting looked imminent but was prevented by a ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad on May 13, brokered with support from Egypt, Qatar and the United States. 

The following day Pope Francis prayed after a Regina Caeli address that the guns would fall permanently quiet.

“We have once again witnessed armed conflicts between Israelis and Palestinians in which innocent people have lost their lives, including women and children,” the Holy Father said. “I hope that the cease-fire that was recently reached will become stable, that the weapons be silenced because security and stability are never obtained through the use of arms, but rather, every hope of peace will continue to be destroyed.”

The situation remained so fragile, however, that Dame Barbara Woodward, the UK’s representative to the United Nations Security Council, reminded both sides of their obligations during a meeting on the Middle East only 10 days later.

“We urge all parties to honour the ceasefire and prevent further loss of life,” she said. “The UK supports Israel’s right to self-defence. But Israeli conduct must always be in line with international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction, humanity, proportionality and military necessity.” 

She said: “If killing continues at this rate, 2023 will be the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since UN records began in 2004. Israeli security forces must show restraint in their use of force and investigate civilian casualties … The Palestinian Authority must also re-assert control … and take steps to tackle terrorism.”

Woodward demanded an end to the inflammatory sectarian rhetoric by political leaders on both sides which she blamed for inciting much of the violence, and the end of “increasing settler violence and coercion … which is illegal under international law”.

She said it was important to uphold the “historic status quo governing Jerusalem’s holy sites” and the role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as custodian and she pressed for a negotiated two state solution based on Jerusalem as a shared capital, “as the only way to ensure a lasting peace, security and prosperity between the two parties”.

It is always easier said than done. But what at least was being proposed is an apparently fair solution to a conflict which has dogged the region ephemerally since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that displaced some 700,000 Palestinians, whose descendants have never given up the demand of a right to return.

Violence has consequently tended to come and go in horrible cycles of varying intensity, the worst of which are named “intifadas” or “uprisings”. 

The first of these began in December 1987 as a protest against state “beatings, shootings, killings, house demolitions, uprooting of trees, deportations, extended imprisonments, and detentions without trial”.

It lasted almost six years and claimed the lives of almost 1,500 people until it was resolved by the Oslo Accord, under which the Palestinian Liberation Organisation recognised the state of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority was established to govern the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Arab areas of Jerusalem.

The second intifada erupted in 2000 after Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader, made a provocative visit to the Temple Mount. It last more than four years and was three times as bloody, resulting in more than 4,000 deaths. It was suppressed by the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier, halting Palestinian suicide attacks.

Since then, peace has slowly returned and pilgrims began to visit again even if tensions continued to simmer.

Such tensions began to boil when a coalition led by former hardline Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was elected in November last year, allowing him and his ultra-nationalist allies to return to power.

Violence erupted when in January the IDF killed nine Palestinians in a raid on the Jenin refugee camp in the belief that a terror attack was imminent. The response was the murder of seven Israelis praying in a synagogue.

At the same time a young Jewish nationalist mob stormed through the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem in an attempt to reach the Muslim Quarter via the Damascus Gate, chanting “death to Arabs”, “death to Christians” and “Christians go back to Europe”.

According to Fides news agency, attacks and intimidation against churches and Christian objects in the Old City of Jerusalem increased in the following weeks, exacerbating tensions between rival communities.

In one instance a man described by Israeli media as an “American tourist” broke into the Chapel of Condemnation on the Via Dolorosa and destroyed a statue of Jesus that had been placed there. He threw it to the ground and hit it with a hammer, shouting “there can be no idols in Jerusalem which is the Holy City”.

The Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land was so concerned by vandalism and intimidation that it issued a statement deploring “this growing number of serious acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community in Israel”.

“It is no coincidence that the legitimisation of discrimination and violence in public opinion and in the current Israeli political environment also translates into acts of hatred and violence against the Christian community,” the statement said.

Within months Israeli fighters were once again bombing the Gaza Strip. In one attack 17 people died in a raid aimed at killing three jihadis and the majority of the victims were women and children, said Fr Gabriel Romanelli, parish priest of the Gaza Church of the Holy Family.

“In one of the buildings attacked,” Fr Gabriel told Fides, “lived a Muslim girl who attends our Christian school. She is fine, but the attack has killed her father, who was a good doctor, dentist, and was not involved in political activism. His mother and a brother, who was also a doctor, have also died.”

“A solution must be found,” he said. “It is impossible that a solution cannot be found for six million people (in Palestinian territories) who have no status. 

“The Holy See has recognised the State of Palestine, but the entire world must recognise this State and its rights. We pray for the good of all, and for the abandonment of this appalling culture of eliminating what is different.”

“The logic of violence for violence’s sake seems to prevail everywhere,” he adds. “May the Lord change everyone’s hearts.”

(An Israeli army self-propelled howitzer fires rounds near the border with Gaza in southern Israel on October 11, 2023 | JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)


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