Valley Middle East experts weigh in on latest Israel-Hamas conflict

May 15, 2021
In The News

As the violence in Jerusalem between Israelis and Hamas escalates, two of the Valley’s Middle East experts say the root cause of this outbreak harkens back to unresolved Palestinian-Israeli conflicts.

“The immediate incident that set off this current violence involved protests by Palestinians in Jerusalem against Israeli plans to evict Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem,” explained James Piazza, Penn State University professor of political science.

In the past several years, the Israeli government has continued its policy of building settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank and frequently evicts Palestinians from their homes to build the settlement, according to Piazza.

 

“There were armed individuals coming into these homes backed by the Israeli military, and ordering these families to leave, essentially dragging people out of their homes,” said Ron Smith, Bucknell associate professor of international relations.

The protestors had been gathering to publicly express their opposition to the evictions when they were confronted by armed Israeli security forces,” Piazza said. “The protestors moved onto the grounds of the al-Aqsa Mosque, which is a holy site for Muslims worldwide.”

Israeli security forces attacked them on the grounds of the Mosque, Piazza said.

“This aroused particular ire among Palestinians because it occurred toward the end of the holy month of Ramadan,” he said.

“The violence at al-Aqsa set off violence throughout the occupied territories, which has spiraled into Hamas rocket attacks against Israelis (and) Israeli security forces launching airstrikes into Gaza, where Hamas is based,” Piazza said.

Understanding Hamas-IsraelHamas is a political party that controls the Gaza Strip. It has a militant wing, which has spent time in Gaza, said Smith.

“Since 2014, it has been trying to prevent rockets from being shot into Israel. What happened now is that because there was no international response to these evictions, and because people were being shot in their mosque with rubber bullets, Hamas felt they had no choice but to respond to the evictions.”

They started firing rockets into Israel. This is how things have spiraled out of control, Smith said.

There is a wider context here that is driving the confrontation, Smith and Piazza agreed.

“No progress has been made in the past several years on resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and moving toward a two-state solution,” Piazza said.

 

In the past several years, settlement construction and evictions in the West Bank and Jerusalem have continued.

The next Israeli government is very likely to push for continued settlement construction and eviction of Palestinians from their homes, Piazza said. “In addition to opposing Israel, Hamas is also eager to show itself to be the more militant and preeminent movement of the Palestinian people. All in all, there is little reason to be optimistic about a return to peace negotiations.”

Piazza said he fears that the current violence is heading in the direction of the 2014 Gaza War, which was a seven-week conflict between Israeli forces, Hamas and other Palestinian groups. That war left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead, more than 10,000 injured and a large amount of destruction in Gaza.

So far, between Hamas rocket attacks and Israeli airstrikes on Hamas positions, the current violence is the worst since 2014, Piazza said.

But each of these conflicts is different, said Smith. There were incidents in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014.

What’s important to understand is that Israel is one of the most technically advanced militarized governments, Smith said.

“Gaza doesn’t have an army. It barely has a police force. What they have are fringe militant groups that fire rockets, which for the most part are extremely ineffective,” Smith said.

Given the situation right now it is difficult to tell where this will end up, said both Smith and Piazza.

This week’s violence has attracted the attention of the Biden administration, which previously had adopted a pretty low profile regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Piazza said.

Perhaps what is happening now might provoke the U.S. to take a leadership role again in trying to move forward with a peaceful settlement, Piazza sad.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-12, Kreamer announced that he had co-sponsored a resolution introduced by Congressman Carlos Giménez (FL-26) — officially titled “Condemning the acts of terrorism committed by Hamas against the people of the State of Israel” — that denounces the acts of terrorism committed by Hamas and reaffirms support for Israel, America’s strongest ally in the Middle East.

On the resolution, Congressman Keller said, “I unequivocally condemn Hamas’ barrage of attacks on Israel — a nation that has long been a key strategic partner and ally of ours in the Middle East. Israel not only has the right, but the duty, to defend its people and sovereignty from these indiscriminate attacks. I will continue to stand by our friend Israel and work to support policies that strengthen its security and combat anti-Semitic behavior around the world.”