The first thing you need to know about what’s going on in Palestine and Israel right now is that it’s not just “clashes”.
The current spate of violence which has seen Israel bomb Palestinian apartment blocks into rubble all started because Israeli authorities were forcefully evicting six Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of eastern Jerusalem.
It’s confusing, it’s messy, and it’s a crisis where the reality is increasingly obfuscated by competing media narratives, political biases and, well, racism.
Here’s your three-minute explainer on what’s going on, how it started, and what you can do to help.
How did it start?
The long answer starts in 1948 when the newly-formed United Nations split Mandatory Palestine (then a British colony) into two countries, Palestine and Israel, so that Jewish people in Europe could create a homeland through violent colonisation. There are plenty of parallels with how British people invaded what we now know as Australia.
The short answer, however, starts last week.
Israeli law allows its citizens to claim property in Palestine if they can prove it was Jewish-owned before the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It’s a weird system that’s completely at odds with international law, and no similar law allows Palestinians to claim their ancestor’s expropriated homes in Israel.
On May 6, Palestinian people in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of eastern Jerusalem (which, according to international law, is part of Palestine) began protesting ahead of an Israeli Supreme Court decision which was expected to uphold the eviction of six families from territory which does not even belong to Israel.
"You are stealing my house."
This is what a Palestinian woman told an Israeli settler, as he tried to take over her family's home in occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. pic.twitter.com/lEVY8oASbz
— AJ+ (@ajplus) May 7, 2021
Their protests were successful to the extent that the court postponed its ruling. However the violence committed by Israeli forces in retaliation can hardly be considered a win.
“The size of the global solidarity has angered the [Israeli] government of the occupation and the crackdown has increased,” 23-year-old Muna al-Kurd told Al Jazeera.
Al-Kurd’s family have lived in Sheikh Jarrah since 1956, after they were expelled from the city of Haifa, which is now part of Israel. Most of the neighbourhood’s residents were refugees from that war in 1948, in fact.
“I’ve been talking about our ordeal since I was 12,” she added.
All of this kicked off amid the backdrop of Ramadan, the holiest time of the year for Muslims where people fast from sunrise to sunset.
It also coincides, though perhaps not coincidentally, with a spate of racist and Islamophobic provocations from far-right Israeli settlers. Israeli authorities also stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem (the third holiest site in Islam) during Ramadan prayers.
From all this, it’s easy to see how injustices in one neighbourhood quickly spiraled into nationwide demonstrations.
What’s the fighting like at the moment?
Things are pretty horrific.
The protests against the Israeli evictions were met with violence from the Israeli military as well as from ordinary citizens, which has now spread far beyond just Sheikh Jarrah.
In the past week, Israeli settlers have lynched Palestinians and destroyed Palestinian businesses. Meanwhile, Israeli forces have gone from throwing smoke grenades at civilians in the streets to conducting airstrikes on apartment blocks in Palestine.
“Part of the house wall and glass fell on me and on my wife. I fractured my left arm, while my wife sustained wounds in her back and her legs. I spent the night in the hospital, and then took my four sons to my brother’s house in a neighbouring area,” one 44-year-old Palestinian man in Gaza told The Guardian.
“The sound of the bombing didn’t stop, and while I was in the hospital, I could not sleep. We were preparing to celebrate Eid [the end of Ramadan] but there is no Eid, just horror in the city and a lot of blood.”
At the time of writing, six Israeli civilians have been killed, compared to over 60 Palestinian people. Hundreds more have been wounded on both sides.
The United Nations has now warned that things are on the verge of an “all-out war”.
— Baba Umar (@BabaUmarr) May 12, 2021
It’s worth remembering that Palestine is divided into two parts: the West Bank (controlled by a political party called Fatah) which is where the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood is, and the Gaza Strip (controlled by a political party known as Hamas, which has its own paramilitary, and is considered by Israel and much of the West to be a terrorist organisation).
Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, first fired rockets into Israeli airspace in retaliation to Israeli aggression on the ground.
However, Israel has an incredibly powerful defense system known as the Iron Dome, which intercepts and destroys rockets fired into its airspace. Because of this, the damage has been smaller in comparison.
Online, citizens of both countries have been vying to share their narratives about who is suffering the most.
Some Israelis are posting selfies looking afraid inside their world-class bomb shelters, with the knowledge that Hamas’ rockets likely won’t even hit them thanks to the Iron Dome.
Palestinians, meanwhile, are having their homes blown up on top of them. This is not an equal conflict.
How can I support the people of Sheikh Jarrah?
It’s a bit tricky to help out in a violent conflict on the other side of the world, but there are several organisations you can donate to which do good work on the ground in Palestine.
British charity Medical Aid for Palestine, which is one of the main organisations of its kind, is running an emergency appeal for funds. The American-based Palestine Children’s Relief Fund is also raising money to help children.
It’s also important to set the record straight about what’s really happing.
Israeli mobs are marching through several cities, terrorizing Palestinians. In Bat Yam, they are attacking people in the streets and destroying shops and homes. pic.twitter.com/pFHklzCA16
— IMEU (@theIMEU) May 12, 2021
Isn’t it anti-Semitic to support Palestine?
When Israeli soldiers are killing Palestinian civilians because they dared to protest an unjust eviction, calling out this violence is not the same as being racist towards Jewish people.
Even plenty of Jews, from fringe groups like the ultra-Orthodox Haredim to more mainstream progressive Jewish people, are among the most vocal critics of Israeli’s violent, ongoing occupation of Palestine.
Israel does not equal Jews as a whole, just like Palestine doesn’t equal Muslims or Christians as a whole.Image: Getty Images / Fatima Shbair