On 6 May, 2021 Israel escalated its brutal crackdown on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, triggering a war with Hamas, during which the besieged Strip was bombarded for 11 days until a ceasefire came into effect on 21 May, 2021.
What: Israel’s 2021 war on Gaza
When: 6 May 2021 – 21 May 2021
Israel’s May 2021 war on Gaza was its fourth major military aggression on the besieged Strip since the occupation state imposed a full blockade in 2007, creating a humanitarian disaster. Weeks of violence by Israeli forces and far-right settlers on Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, preceded the full-scale land and air offensive on Gaza, which it named “Guardian of the Walls”.
In the already volatile conditions created by decades of occupation, Israeli forces were authorised, a month prior to the Gaza offensive, to evict Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem. The families had been fighting a fierce legal battle in Israeli courts to stop their forcible transfer to allow illegal Israeli settlers to take over their homes and properties. The United Nations had warned that the planned expulsions could amount to “war crimes”.
The expulsion of Palestinian families from their homes was the catalyst for widespread Palestinian protests across the occupied Palestinian territory and, later, inside Israel. The protests were brutally cracked down by Israeli forces, including raids on Al-Aqsa Mosque during the holy month of Ramadan, which coincided with the escalation in violence. 100 Palestinians were injured after Israel fired at worshippers at Al-Aqsa Mosque.
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Around the same time, far-right Israeli mobs rampaged through Palestinian neighbourhoods attacking Palestinians in Jerusalem while chanting “Death to the Arabs”. In scenes reminiscent of pogroms, armed far-right Jewish supremacist settler groups attacked Palestinian homes and properties, sparking international condemnation.
Khaled Meshaal, the head of the diaspora office of the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, described the eviction of Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem as “ethnic cleansing”. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel and its allies in the West, also issued threats to retaliate in response to the aggression against Palestinian residents of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque. It warned that attacks on the holy site are a “red line”.
The UN Humanitarian Affairs office in the occupied Palestinian territories (OCHA) said that the Israeli forces wounded 1,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem between 7 and 10 May. The real number of injuries, however, is thought to be much higher.
Israel followed up its crackdown on Palestinians in East Jerusalem with a full military offensive on Gaza. It claimed that the war was a response to rockets fired at the occupation state by Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas.
What happened next?
While, on the one hand, Israel bowed to international pressure and delayed the forced eviction of Palestinian families from their homes, it escalated its assault on Gaza. More than 253 people were killed, including 66 children and 35 women, after 11 days of indiscriminate attacks on the besieged population of Gaza. A further two thousand were injured and tens of thousands were forced to flee their homes.
In one of the most controversial missile strikes, Israel bombed the 13-storey Al-Jalaa Tower which housed major news agencies, including the Associated Press. The executive editor of the US agency called for independent investigation. Following its own probe, Human Rights Watch (HRW) dismissed Israeli claims about the building housing terrorists and concluded that no evidence was found of military operations in the buildings when the block was attacked. In a report published two months after, HRW said that “Israeli forces carried out attacks in Gaza in May that devastated entire families without any apparent military target nearby.”
In scenes not seen in years, there were images of “reawakening” as Palestinians in majority Arab cities inside Israel marched in solidarity with Gaza and East Jerusalem against the occupation state. Protests were held in Jaffa, Haifa, Umm Al-Fahm, Nazareth, Lydda, Ramleh, Acre, Tiberias, Beersheba and elsewhere inside what Palestinians call 1948 Palestine. Inspired, Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon, home to millions of refugees whose grandparents were expelled by Zionist paramilitaries during Israel’s creation, also marched in solidarity towards the border of Palestine.
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Inside Israel, far-right Israeli mobs lynched Palestinians, dragging one man out of his car and beating him almost to the point of death. Shops within Palestinian neighbourhoods were vandalised, and the mobs broke into homes, terrifying those inside. Synagogues were also set ablaze during intercommunal violence that challenged the Zionists’ claims of peaceful coexistence with their “Arab” neighbours.
A day before the war ended, Hamas laid out its conditions for ceasefire saying: “One, Israeli forces must stop incursions into the Al-Asqa compound and respect the site. Two, Israel must stop the forced eviction of the Palestinian residents in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. This condition is in accordance with international law, not only a condition expected by the Hamas authority.”
Israel has been trying to market its achievements in the 2021 operation as a major success, but many saw the war as a defeat for the occupation state. Almost twice as many civilians in Israel were killed over the 11 days than were killed in the 51 days of the 2014 Gaza war. Hamas’s ability to fire barrages of rockets at the occupation state also exposed the country’s vulnerabilities. Moreover, the decision of Palestinians inside Israel to join in solidarity was a powerful sign of unity unseen in decades. It exposed the underlying cracks in Israeli society that manifested themselves in lynching of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Israeli commentators described how “‘Guardian of the Walls’ in Gaza has turned into Israel’s most failed and pointless border war ever.” Inside Israel, concern over a third Intifada in the West Bank re-emerged, with many experts warning that conditions are ripe for a popular uprising. The war also served a blow to the so-called “Abraham Accords”. It exposed the lie and futility of normalising relations with Israel, while Palestinians continue to live under brutal military occupation.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.