‘Ripe for explosion’: Israel-Palestine tensions rise in Ramadan

Worshippers set up barricades outside Al-Aqsa Mosque during the violence (AP)

Zena al-Tahhan & Maram Humaid

Al-Jazeera  /  April 14, 2022

The situation in occupied Palestinian territories is escalating, as Gaza residents worry about another war.

Occupied East Jerusalem/Gaza City – Tensions on the ground in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory are heading towards a large-scale eruption this Ramadan, analysts expect, as residents of the besieged Gaza Strip fear yet another war.

“We are moving gradually towards an escalation – the conditions are ripe for an explosion,” Jerusalem-based political analyst Mazen Jaabari told Al-Jazeera.

Last year, escalating tensions around the expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem were the catalyst for widespread Palestinian protests across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.

Raids of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli security forces during the holy month of Ramadan heightened tensions further and, four days later, an 11-day Israeli assault on Gaza began, ostensibly in response to rockets fired by Hamas towards Israel.

‘Escalation may come from different places’

Since then, several developments have increased the likelihood of another Palestinian confrontation with Israel.

“The escalation may come from different places, including but not necessarily from Jerusalem,” said Jaabari. “It could be a wide confrontation in [the West Bank city of] Jenin because they [Israel] are planning to get revenge against the city, or against other armed operations that may take place.”

Since March 22, a sharp rise in attacks or “armed operations” by Palestinians carried out inside Israel has led to the killing of 14 people, including three police officers.

Meanwhile, 36 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since January, according to the Palestinian health ministry, including two on Thursday in the northern occupied West Bank town of Jenin, where the assailants in attacks that took place in Israel’s Tel Aviv and the nearby town of Bnei Brak were from.

A 14-year-old boy and a lawyer were among three Palestinians killed in the West Bank on Wednesday.

Jenin has emerged as a flashpoint in the recent violence.

Armed confrontations between Palestinian fighters and Israeli forces there in recent days come amid increased Israeli army raids, arrests and targeted assassinations.

Fears are growing of a possible large-scale Israeli invasion of Jenin’s refugee camp, where the armed wings of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Fatah movements are active.

On April 10, a PIJ spokesman threatened that “continued aggression on the Jenin camp will lead events to an open and full confrontation soon.”

“Things are likely to erupt based on developments on the ground,” Hazem Qassem, spokesman for Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, told Al-Jazeera.

“Hamas will not stand idly by if Israeli settlers continue storming Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Qassem said, adding that Hamas backs Palestinian armed groups in Jenin.

“The resistance in Jenin is part of us; we will not allow harm to our people,” he said.

On Thursday, Hamas called for a “general mobilization” to defend against Israeli incursions into the West Bank and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Al-Aqsa Mosque and Damascus Gate

Tensions have also increased in occupied East Jerusalem, where Israeli forces have carried out nightly assaults and arrests of Palestinians, and Israeli settlers have entered Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, despite restrictions.

In Jerusalem’s Old City, recent calls by Israeli settler groups to raid the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and perform the Passover sacrifice there on April 15 are seen by many Palestinians as evidence of further Israeli attempts to change the holy site’s sensitive status quo.

Jerusalem-based political analyst Nasser al-Hidmi said if such a sacrifice were held at the compound, which would be the first time it has been performed since ancient times, it would “cause an explosion”.

The Israeli prime minister’s office has denied that any Passover sacrifice will take place at Al-Aqsa.

At the Old City’s Damascus Gate plaza, Israeli forces, including undercover units, have been assaulting and arresting Palestinian residents on a daily basis, with at least 40 people, including minors, detained since the start of Ramadan on April 2. Some 3,000 Israeli police were deployed in the city on the first Friday of Ramadan.

Al-Hidmi described events on the ground as an “ongoing struggle over control and space between the Israeli occupation and [Palestinian] Jerusalemites,” which “erupts during religious occasions.”

With Israel’s government coalition shaky, it needs to shore up support to ensure that it does not fall.

“The government is now in a weak position and its coalition might not endure,” said Jaabari. “Israel will try to show its citizens that it can bring them security, particularly individual security, so that Israelis can go wherever they want, whenever they want, without feeling fear, as they have lost this feeling.”

“From the very first day at the Damascus Gate, they have beaten residents, provoked them, arrested and humiliated them. They [Israel] want to continue with their policies and the steps they’re taking, but they do not want any kind of response from Palestinians,” Jaabari added.

Gaza fears another war

Residents of the Gaza Strip say that, regardless of where any potential confrontations take place, they believe they will be the ones to pay the heaviest price.

Ramadan has repeatedly been accompanied by war in Gaza, where the two main Palestinian armed resistance movements, Hamas and PIJ, are based. Out of Israel’s four wars on the Gaza Strip, two have erupted in the holy month.

During Israel’s bombardment in May 2021, at least 260 Palestinians were killed, including 39 women and 67 children, and more than 1,900 people were wounded. Some 1,800 residential units were demolished, and at least 14,300 others were badly damaged.

Buthaina al-Qamo, a 48-year-old mother-of-five, says she is fearful of another Israeli war on Gaza this Ramadan.

Her husband was killed in an Israeli air attack that targeted their residential building and another one near it on May 16, 2021. In total, 45 Palestinians were killed in that attack, including 18 children and 12 women.

Al-Qamo, along with her two sons, remained under the rubble for six hours and were hospitalised when they were brought out.

“Escalatory events during Ramadan always take us back to the memories of war, which we have not yet recovered from,” al-Qamo told Al-Jazeera.  “We have become afraid of the advent of Ramadan, even though it is a blessed and beloved month for us.”

Muath Soboh, a 31-year-old resident of Gaza, said that an upcoming war would be “nothing new for the people of Gaza”.

Soboh’s 57-year-old mother and 19-year-old brother, who suffered from cerebral palsy, were both killed in Israeli air attacks on their apartment building at the Shati refugee camp on May 11, 2021.

His father was killed in an Israeli bombing of Gaza in 2003.

“I lost the most precious people in my life, my mother and brother, and our home. There is nothing left to grieve for, just like all families in the Gaza Strip,” Soboh told Al-Jazeera.

“No one wishes for war, but the Israeli occupation continues its violations against our people in Jerusalem and the West Bank,” Soboh added. “Gaza is a part of Palestine and it always pays the heaviest price.”

Zena al-Tahhan is Al-Jazeera English’s digital correspondent in Jerusalem

Maram Humaid contributed to this report from Gaza City