Israel and Palestine: what has caused violence to flare up again ?

Oliver Holmes

The Guardian  /  January 30, 2023

Deadly attacks in recent days raise fear of spiraling bloodshed, with support for moribund ‘peace process’ at all-time low.

What is happening in Israel and Palestine ?

Israel and Palestine jump from crisis to crisis, but a string of brutal and deadly attacks over the past few days has raised fears that the Holy Land is spiraling toward unrelenting bloodshed. There is speculation that the region is on the brink of an intifada – a Palestinian uprising or, literally, a “shaking off” of Israeli control. The first two uprisings were cracked down on hard, failed to end the occupation and left several thousand people dead, mostly Palestinians. Some believe a third intifada has already started.

What has occurred over the past few days ?

Israel launched one of its deadliest operations in years in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, sending soldiers on an unusually fierce raid to kill militants stationed in the Jenin refugee camp. Ten Palestinians, mostly gunmen, but also two civilians, including a 61-year-old woman, were killed.

The attack sparked back-and-forth violence, including the exchange of rocket fire between the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and Israel. On Friday evening, a Palestinian gunman killed seven Israelis outside a synagogue in East Jerusalem. It was the deadliest Palestinian attack in the city in years.

Over the weekend, violent incidents were reported in Jerusalem and the West Bank, including fights between Israeli settlers and Palestinians.

Why is this happening now ?

Attempting to mark the beginning of a flare-up in a crisis that stretches back over generations is a near-impossible task. Still, current tensions have risen since last spring, when the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) launched Operation Breakwater – one of its most extensive campaigns outside wartime – after a surge in Palestinian knife and gun attacks.

Breakwater, which focuses on Palestinian armed groups in Jenin and Nablus, has so far contributed to the highest death toll in Israel and the West Bank since the second intifada ended in 2005, with about 150 Palestinians and 30 Israelis killed in 2022.

What is the current political situation ?

Just over a month ago, Israeli politicians formed the most rightwing and anti-Arab government in the country’s history. Far-right and ultranationalist figures, such as the extremist settler Itamar Ben-Gvir, took ministerial positions after campaigning to annex the West Bank and aggressively entrench military control over Palestinians.

This comes as hope for a resolution for Palestinians living under occupation for more than half a century is at possibly the lowest point it has ever been, especially after the former US president Donald Trump encouraged Israel’s government to solidify its grip on the Palestinian territories. Newly released polling shows that support for the moribund “peace process” has reached an all-time low.

Peaceful Palestinian attempts to end Israel’s occupation have been repeatedly and successfully suppressed, and many young people in the occupied territories believe the only alternative is to take up arms.

Meanwhile, Palestine’s political leaders in the West Bank are unaccountable and regularly accused of colluding with Israel.

Oliver Holmes is a Guardian journalist and previously its Jerusalem correspondent