Rockets from Gaza, on the right, are seen in the night sky fired towards southern Israel from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip on May 14, 2021, while Iron Dome interceptor missiles, on the left, rise to intercept them. (Anas Baba/AFP via Getty Images)
JERUSALEM—Tensions between Israelis and Palestinians remain high after a fourth war with Hamas ended in a shaky cease-fire in May, and home demolitions and evictions of Palestinians, supported by the Israeli government, continue in both East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But Palestinians—and even Israelis—say that the Palestinian cause has been galvanized like never before, and disparate groups of Palestinians are discovering a new sense of unity in the rubble of the 11-day war.
Since the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, Palestinians have lived physically divided. In the Gaza Strip, a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt in 2007 means that most of its people have never left the small enclave and have had vanishingly few contacts with fellow Palestinians in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. That isolation was further deepened by decades of illegal occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“We have seen that all these colonial borders—whether cement blocks and walls or barriers in our minds that have caused divisions—are starting to come down. We are reclaiming our unified identity,” said Mohammed El-Kurd, a 23-year-old student who grew up in occupied East Jerusalem and studied in New York. “Millions of people around the world are, for the first time, waking up to the reality of apartheid and ethnic cleansing Palestinians are facing on a daily basis.”
The recent war, and especially the social media frenzy that accompanied it, has helped tear down those divisions.
Over weeks of turmoil, hashtags such as #SaveSheikhJarrah and #GazaUnderAttack went viral. For El-Kurd, this meant that the number of his social media followers on Instagram went from 4,000 to 750,000 within weeks. He was quickly in the spotlight, with his own family having faced the threat of forced eviction in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah for years. But the situation escalated in May when Yaakov Fauci, a settler from New York, took over part of the El-Kurd family’s home, telling them that “if I don’t steal it, someone else will.”
The quick fight between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza began with heavy-handed Israeli tactics in Jerusalem met by a barrage of what was ultimately 4,000 Hamas rockets. The conflict left at least 256 Palestinians and 13 Israelis dead. While the war resulted in a quick military victory for Israel, it also offered a victory of sorts to Palestinians, putting issues like Sheikh Jarrah, which had simmered in the background for years, at the center of a new Palestinian sense of purpose.
“Our nation has returned to its real cause,” said Amjad Shawa, director of the Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network in Gaza. “Since the developments in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the war in Gaza, we are once again united as a people. We have raised our voices, because the current situation is unacceptable.”
Basem Naim, head of the Council on International Relations within Hamas, said that the main catalyst for the fighting was Israel’s behavior at Al-Aqsa Mosque and the evictions in East Jerusalem. “It has touched two sensitive points: holy places and refugees. We continue to fight a political conflict about statehood, land, and borders. It’s not just about a few houses—but about a long-term plan to extinguish the Palestinian existence in Jerusalem,” Naim said.
“I’d still say this conflict was different,” he added. “Palestinians have gained confidence, even though the devastation in Gaza is widespread. They felt like they were able to stand up to Israel for the first time.”
The newfound sense of Palestinian unity is also apparent among Israel’s leadership, said Mairav Zonszein, senior analyst on Israel and Palestine at the International Crisis Group.
“Conceptually, Hamas put the Palestinians back on the radar and Jerusalem at the center of their issues,” she said. “The [Israeli] government has realized that Palestinians are uniting; that the fragmentation isn’t as effective as they would like it to be; that they empathize with each other’s struggles, regardless of whether they are in the West Bank, Jerusalem or Gaza.”
Salma Shawa, a 24-year-old activist and entrepreneur, grew up in the closed-off enclave of Gaza, where she rarely had a chance to interact with people from Jerusalem or the West Bank due to strict movement restrictions on Palestinians. But in the wake of the recent conflict, she too has made new connections with other Palestinians and transcended borders that seemed impassable.
“Over the past months, Palestine has moved onto the global stage—so much so, that it was even discussed in the U.S. Congress. This has reunited its people, including several generations of diaspora Palestinians who have never been to their own country,” she said.
Posted 13 Jul 2021 Originally published 13 Jul 2021
By Emily Loewen
Nighttime was the hardest for Mahmoud Alhalimi. With the electricity cut and bombs falling, the hours were dark and loud, as he tried in vain to help his two young children fall asleep.
“They asked me all the time, ‘What are these sounds?… Are they coming to our home?’” he says of their time during an Israeli bombardment on Gaza in May. “They were very scared, and I tried to play games with them in order to relieve their fear.”
The 11 days were dark. “Bombardments were everywhere, while no place was safe in Gaza; the shelling was everywhere from sky, sea and land,” says Alhalimi, project coordinator at Near East Council of Churches (NECC), which receives support from MCC.
Mohamed Al-Attar also was sheltering in his home with his wife and three children, who panicked as the bombs fell. They couldn’t leave their home with explosions all around them. Then the unthinkable happened. Their home was hit, and Al-Attar lost his wife and children, Mohamed Izz Eddin, Islam and Ameera, in the blast. Then, while staying with his brothers and their families, that house too was hit by a bomb and they were buried under the rubble for hours.
“We have become refugees in our own country,” Al-Attar says. “Me and many people like me have lost their families, children and parents during this conflict… and even the ones who survived are suffering over the things they have lost. They have no place to be.”
Since the bombardment, Al-Attar has been able to continue in his teaching position, but he is now trying to support his brothers’ families as well. He is trying to stretch his income, but it isn’t enough.
The bombing destroyed or damaged thousands of homes and displaced up to 8,500 people. Access to essential services like clean water and health care have been difficult in Gaza for years. But the conflict combined with the COVID-19 pandemic have dramatically worsened the situation.
Many residents in Gaza have very low income, so they struggle to buy enough to eat. Gaza has been under a blockade by Israel since 2007, with severe restrictions on what can come in and out. The economic situation in Gaza was already poor at the time of the siege and continued to deteriorate. Many people have no steady income to provide for their families.
With your support, MCC is responding to the crisis, providing emergency food, hygiene items and psychosocial support. Four hundred fifteen families will receive either monthly food packages or vouchers through MCC’s local partners Al Najd Development Forum and Culture and Free Thought Association (CFTA). Two hundred fifteen families also will receive hygiene supplies. And 400 children will receive mental health support to help them deal with the trauma of the experience.
Another MCC partner, the Near East Council of Churches (NECC), runs a vocational training school. They will provide psychosocial counseling support for students and their families and one-time emergency cash distributions. With those funds, families can purchase food and hygiene items and cover other medical or household expenses.
This bombardment is only the latest escalation in a long cycle of conflict that has lasted for more than a decade. “These wars on Gaza are repeated every three to five years and I am not sure I will survive [the] next war,” says Alhalimi. “We say: no more wars, we want to live in peace and to develop our country and enjoy our state in our homeland.”
Mennonite Central Committee: Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ
Emily Loewen is the marketing and communication manager for MCC Canada.
“Gaza has 1 million #children, many are in need of assistance. We call for the immediate delivery of unimpeded humanitarian assistance to the #GazaStrip, many children need urgent health, water and education,” UNICEF Palestine tweeted.
“No assistance will have dire consequences on children.”
On Friday, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator of the occupied Palestinian territory Lynn Hastings warned that the Israeli ban on bringing supplies to the besieged Gaza Strip puts vital sectors in the enclave at risk.
She said without a return to the regular entry of goods into Gaza, the capacity of the UN and its partners to deliver critical interventions is at risk, as are the livelihoods of and basic services for the people in Gaza.
The call to the UN agency follows reporting by The Jerusalem Post on Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad running “training camps” to recruit child soldiers.
The Israel-based NGO International Legal Forum (ILF) has called on UNICEF to investigate allegations of Palestinian children being trained as child soldiers in Gaza, following a report by The Jerusalem Post.The NGO, which is a network of over 3,000 lawyers and activists in over 40 nations worldwide, stated that they have “grave concern” following reports that the Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) were training and recruiting children.Arsen Ostrovsky, director of ILF, told The Post that UNICEF’s ongoing failure to act on this issue is an “unconscionable dereliction of duty in its central mission to protect and defend children’s rights.”
As reported by the Post, Hamas announced in late June its annual summer camp, where it trains children to take up arms.
According to Post analyst Seth J. Frantzman, the terrorist group says the youth need to be ready to make “sacrifices,” which appears to be the language used to describe recruiting them to be killed. The speech by Hamas members said the camps include religious indoctrination and “security” training.An English video was released by Hamas with an explanation that it intended to “prepare the youth,” calling the summer camps “training camps” that were named after the “Sword of al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem).” This is the term they used to refer to the 11-day Hamas-Israel conflict in May, dubbed by the IDF as Operation Guardian of the Walls.
As reported by Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh, around 50,000 children had registered.The Meir Amit Intelligence Terrorism Information Center published a report that at least one Palestinian child killed in Gaza during the conflict was a member of Hamas. This is especially notable, as an entire front-page story in The New York Times with photos of each child killed in Gaza during the conflict drew significant attention.
UNICEF, the UN agency responsible for humanitarian and developmental aid for children, has stated that recruiting child soldiers violates international humanitarian laws.
“Thousands of children are recruited and used in armed conflicts across the world. Often referred to as ‘child soldiers,’ these boys and girls suffer extensive forms of exploitation and abuse that are not fully captured by that term,” UNICEF’s website states.
“Warring parties use children not only as fighters but as scouts, cooks, porters, guards, messengers and more. Many, especially girls, are also subjected to gender-based violence,” it said.
“Children become part of an armed force or group for various reasons,” the website explained. “Some are abducted, threatened, coerced or manipulated by armed actors. Others are driven by poverty, compelled to generate income for their families. Still others associate themselves for survival or to protect their communities. No matter their involvement, the recruitment and use of children by armed forces is a grave violation of child rights and international humanitarian law.”
The ILF released a statement including a selection of pictures from the training camp showing children receiving “military terror training” by PIJ and Hamas.
“Hamas and PIJ are committing a war crime under customary and treaty international law as appears in the Rome Statute (Article 2(b)(xxvi) and Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child regarding the involvement of children in armed conflict, inter alia,” the statement reads.
The citing of the Rome Statute is notable, as it is under this jurisdiction that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a war crimes probe into both Israel and Hamas for their 2014 conflict, Operation Protective Edge.
According to International Legal Forum advocate Russell Shalev, “As an organization committed to protecting and defending child rights, it is incumbent upon UNICEF to act immediately and without reservation to prevent the continuation of such unconscionable atrocities and abuse of children in Gaza, as well as to hold Palestinian terror groups Hamas and PIJ, accountable for these heinous crimes.”
Nope Seth J. Frantzman contributed to this report.
“Human shield” is a legal, military, and political term denoting non-combatants who are either forced or volunteer to shield with their bodies a military target and deter the enemy from attacking it.
Israel’s UN envoy Gilad Erdan tweeted Wednesday: “One month after Operation Guardian of the Walls and following great efforts by the Israeli delegation – the UN has adopted a counter-terrorism strategy condemning the criminal use of civilians as human shields. The UN also addressed and condemned anti-Semitic terrorism for the first time.”
“Terrorists must not be allowed to use schools, homes, and hospitals to shield their murderous activities,” Erdan said in his speech at the UN following the adoption of the resolution, adding, “Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism, and should never be explained away, justified or excused. No matter what.”
During the 1982 Lebanon War, the Palestinian refugee camp of Ain al-Hilweh was surrounded by Israeli forces as the last stronghold of “Soldiers of Allah” terrorists who were commanded by a Muslim fundamentalist named Haj Ibrahim. Over a two-day period, Brigadier General Yitzhak Mordechai’s soldiers repeatedly announced that “whoever does not bear arms will not be harmed” and urged civilians in the camp to evacuate, but only a few did. Three delegations of prominent Sidon figures were sent to persuade Haj Ibrahim’s fighters that “their cause was hopeless, and whoever was willing to lay down his arms would be allowed to leave the camp unharmed.” None of the delegations were successful. Meanwhile, militiamen were shooting civilians who tried to escape, and in one incident, three children were riddled with bullets before their parents’ eyes because their father had dared to suggest calling an end to the fighting. Eventually, a bloody battle ensued and the IDF finally took the camp. According to a 1982 Congressional report, Israeli soldiers were attacked by PLO fighters disguised as hospital patients.
After the 2014 Gaza War, numerous reports emerged that Hamas used human shields. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused Hamas terrorists of violating international humanitarian law by “locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas.” The European Union condemned Hamas over its “calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields.” In a September 2014 interview, a Hamas official acknowledged to Associated Press that the group fired at Israel from civilian areas.Advertisement
Outside of the Gaza Strip, a balloon symbolizes childhood and freedom. However, for Israelis who live near the coastal enclave, seeing a balloon floating in the sky evokes images of Hamas, the US-designated terrorist group that rules the Palestinian territory.
Incendiary balloons and kites have been used by Hamas for the past few years as part of its terror campaign against Israeli citizens. These attacks are not used to target military assets, but, rather, are meant to inflict harm on Israeli civilians, cause property damage and destroy the surrounding ecosystem.
While they may look like children’s toys, the rudimentary weapons contain elements ranging from oil-soaked rags to explosives. Accordingly, the balloons, and previously kites, effectively function as long-distance Molotov cocktails that are launched at Israel from a distance. And while the Israel Defense Forces are able to intercept many of them, many have nevertheless penetrated Israeli territory.
A History of Exploding Balloons
The terror tactic was first implemented in 2018 during Palestinian riots along the Gaza border. Hamas claimed it was a response to the US Embassy move to Jerusalem. However, there were riots taking place several weeks before the mission’s relocation. Gazans were strongly encouraged by terrorist leaders to storm the border fence and attack Israel soldiers. Leaving no stone unturned, the riot organizers also went online, calling on Palestinians via social media posts to bring concealed weapons and kidnap or kill Israeli soldiers and civilians.
According to Jewish National Fund Director of Communications Stefan Oberman, incendiary objects from Gaza have over the past three years set fire to over 12,000 acres of land in the so-called Gaza Envelope, the populated areas of southern Israel within seven kilometers of the shared border.
That is an area larger than Manhattan.
And while they are low-tech, the attacks have destroyed vast tracts of farmland and endangered the lives of Israelis. To date, no fatalities have been reported.
Even during the latest ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which ended an 11-day conflict in May, the latter has demonstrated that it does not intend to abandon its use of exploding balloons and kites any time soon.
These attacks have caused millions of dollars worth of damage in Israel, destroying agricultural land as well as causing a decrease in local tourism and other economic activity.
The appeal of the incendiaries is that they are extremely easy to create and launch. Explosive devices are also inexpensive to manufacture in comparison to the rockets used by Gaza’s various terrorist groups.
How Media Cover the Exploding Balloons Story
On June 16, Hamas violated the current truce by launching incendiary balloons into Israel. The media depicted this development as a response to the Jerusalem Day march that occurred the same day. However, the balloons were launched well before the march took place. Israel responded to this violation of its sovereignty by conducting air strikes against Hamas military sites in Gaza.
Hamas retaliated the next day by sending more terror balloons that ignited twenty fires.
Yet, media reports tended to downplay the destructive nature of these attacks. For example, an article from Reuters shortly after Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza included this tweet about the Jerusalem Day March.
Reuters labels all of the marchers at the event as “far-right nationalists.” But while there were isolated incidents of parade-goers chanting “death to Arabs,” they were quickly condemned by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as well as other Israeli political leaders.
Moreover, participants in the march walked through the streets of Jerusalem in a way that purposefully avoided the Muslim Quarter in the Old City. This decision to change part of the march’s route was made by the Israeli government so as to keep the peace.
Additionally, even though the march has long been a part of the annual Jerusalem Day festivities, it was cut short this year due to a Hamas rocket barrage. The Reuters article does not mention this fact, which gives the impression that the event was simply held as a “provocation.” In truth, it is part of a holiday that commemorates Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, during which the Israel Defense Forces captured the eastern part of Jerusalem that had been occupied for nearly 20 years by Jordan. Between 1948 and 1967, the Jordanians had desecratedmany Jewish buildings and holy sites.
The article further claimed that “the overnight violence follows a march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday by Jewish nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.”
But the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit made clear that “the Hamas terror organization attacked Israel by sending terror balloons into Israeli territory. These balloon attacks were carried out throughout the entire day. The attack began before the Jerusalem flag march, and continued for the whole day, both before and after the march.”
Other news sites also ignored these facts, with Forbes headlining an article, “Israel Strikes Gaza As Tensions Threaten To Unravel Fragile Ceasefire.”
The title Forbes chose to use implies that Israel struck first, without mentioning the Hamas balloons. The piece also refers to the marchers as all being “far-right,” and goes so far as to imply that the parade “threatened to upend a short-lived ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas.”
Hamas’ Rationale For Using Exploding Balloons Co Opted by Media
During May’s conflict, Hamas justified its rocket barrage against Israel by citing Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa Mosque “protests.” The media often take the terrorist group at its word, ignoring the fact that Hamas has repeatedly attacked the Jewish state irrespective of what the government in Jerusalem was doing at the time.
In fact, there were multiple calls for violence by Palestinian politicians against Israel and unprovoked attacks against Jews weeks before Sheikh Jarrah made international headlines.
What also goes unmentioned by the media is the fact that the Palestinian Authority canceled what would have been the first presidential and legislative elections since 2005 and 2006, respectively. This increased tensions between the Mahmoud Abbas-led government in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
Many analysts have speculated that Hamas initiated May’s war in order to demonstrate its anti-Israel credentials and thereby increase its popularity among Palestinians.
And it worked.
According to a recent public opinion pollconducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, support for Hamas has increased dramatically while backing for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction dropped significantly. The poll found that if new Palestinian presidential elections were held, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would get 59 percent of the votes, compared to 27 percent for Abbas.
Hamas would also win in a parliamentary election, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying they would cast their ballots for Gaza’s rulers as opposed to 30 percent for the West Bank-based Fatah.
But instead of holding Hamas accountable, news organizations have repeatedly failed to provide much-needed context regarding the terror group’s history, tactics and stated desire to annihilate Israel and Jews everywhere.
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, where this video was first published.
In its report, One War Older, Euro-Med Monitor documented the situation of children and women, the two most vulnerable groups in the Israeli besieged and blockaded narrow coastal strip. Children under 15 make up more than half Gaza’s population and 49 per cent are girls, the report says.
Euro-Med Monitor, which was founded in 2011, said that during the recent conflict Israel carried out “disproportionate attacks against densely populated residential neighbourhoods” where 75 per cent of the inhabitants were children and women.
Forty of the 248 Palestinians killed in Gaza were women and 66 were children, the report said. At least 470 children and 310 women were wounded, some of whom would have lasting disabilities, it added.
Among the 12 killed in Israel, one was a child and one a woman, Euro-Med Monitor stated. Israel’s official figure of those killed is 13, including three Asian workers, and 200 wounded.
The Euro-Med Monitor report is based on five weeks of field research by the organisation’s team, which “documented hundreds of cases of direct targeting of civilian homes”. The homes of 5,400 children were destroyed or severely damaged, while 72,000 children sought refuge in UN schools or with relatives. More than 4,000 remain displaced.
Some 400,000 children had difficulties accessing water due to damage inflicted by bombing of wells, groundwater sources, desalination plants and sewage treatment plants, the report said.
Euro-Med cited two examples of acute loss. Mutassin Khalifa (12) “saw the body of his brother Yahia, 15 years old, in pieces on the ground, after he was killed by an Israeli air strike” on May 13th. His mother Shaima said that Mutassin initially “lost consciousness” and “since that day he has been behaving strangely; suddenly screaming in anger, laughing, or crying all day for no reason. When he sleeps, he keeps shouting his brother’s name throughout the night”.
Mohammed al-Hadidi and his five-month old son Omar survived an Israeli bombing: “I cannot imagine what the world will look like for my child Omar when he grows up, knowing that he lost his mother and all his siblings in one night. How will a child who has lost all sources of safety in his life live?”
Euro-Med said that 91 per cent of children in Gaza suffered from some form of conflict-related trauma. Even before Israel’s bombing campaign, 33 per cent of Gaza’s children “needed support as a result of traumas caused by previous attacks”.
Its findings were issued shortly after the UN Security Council marked the 25th anniversary of the adoption on its agenda of protection of children in armed conflict.
An Israeli spokesman contacted by The Irish Times did not comment on the Euro-Med Monitor report.Real news has value
Israel reportedly used a swarm of drones to locate and attack Hamas targets during the 11 day conflict that broke out in May.
The Israeli Defense Forces employed artificial intelligence to identify and strike targets in the Gaza Strip, according to a report from the New Scientist, which alleged it may be the first time a drone swarm has been used in combat.
“By exploiting the swarm’s ability to rapidly concentrate through maneuver, it becomes possible to mass effect at hundreds of points simultaneously,” as noted in a U.S. Air Force report. “The advantage this provides is the ability to conduct … a parallel attack, but at an unprecedented scale.”
As previously reported by Fox News, drone systems have been acquired by U.S. adversaries including Russia, China and Iran. The U.S. has identified that trend as a “rapidly evolving challenge.”
Not only can the technology provide enhanced surveillance capability, but it can also present precision strike capability, direct attacks using small munitions, laser designation for indirect fires and deploy chemical agents, as noted in a Department of Defense report.
Ever since a shaky ceasefire was brokered in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas on May 21, there have been several outbursts of violence.