Israel and Palestine: why it cannot be reduced to “a conflict” nor to a “clash between parties”

This article stems from the need to bring to light the facts about the rapidly escalating scenario in Palestinian territories and Israel. The aim is to critically analyse the severity of the events unfolding, considering how both international and domestic media coverage are avoiding crucial issues while, instead, reinforcing a well-known narrative that loses its grip and deflects the necessary analysis of the theme. Above all, this biased position avoids calling things by their own name by omitting relevant information and reiterating an anachronistic terminology.


Jerusalem – and with it the Palestinian territories involved – didn’t witness such a degree of public and heinous violence for years. There are several factors at play that we seek to highlight, despite the limited space.

Context: last month’s events

At the beginning of Ramadan (April 12th, 2021) the Israeli army forces had cut off the staircase leading to the Damascus Gate (Bab al-Amud), one of the main access points to the Old City, thus precluding the typical gathering of sharing food – the Iftar (the fast-breaking meal during the Holy month of Ramadan) after prayer at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. This impediment fuelled tension, given the limited areas in which to gather and the few opportunities for aggregation left to the Palestinian population in Jerusalem. As a sign of protest, the faithful gathered as usual filling the amphitheatre-like plaza at the Damascus Gate, not abiding by the order. Therefore, they were attacked by police officers with putrescent water and stun grenades[1]. The initially peaceful protests led to the removal of the barriers[2] , however, this occurred only after a very serious event which, scandalously went on the sly by the media.

The night between the 22nd and the 23rd of April the planned march of the ultra-orthodox supremacist and right-wing group, Lehava, was allowed to take place. A plethora of hundreds who shouted “Death to Arabs[3] against Palestinians has exacerbated the climate and eventually turned peaceful protests into heated confrontations mirroring a well-known disproportion of power.

The parade was organised as a response to a TikTok video[4] in which two Arab men were slapping an ultra-orthodox man on Jerusalem’s train – seemingly for no reason[5]. After a few hours controversy erupted in Jerusalem, The New York Times (NYT) unsurprisingly opened with the following title: “Israelis and Palestinians Clash Around Jerusalem’s Old City[6]. As Jewish Voice for Peace (JWP) vehemently argued[7], this is a biased title that doesn’t focus the due attention to the serious call for death. NYT’s bias is not new and it’s not the only one, however, as JWP states it is important to underline how one of the most important and most read newspapers reports such a grievous episode. The mainstream media narration immediately referred to “clashes” – as always “between parties” – as if there were no asymmetry of power and violence, as if those were usual clashes. That’s not what happened: an ultra-orthodox right-wing squad gathered hundreds of Jewish supremacists led by the ultra-Zionist leader Bentzi Gopstein and shouted: “death to the Arabs” (the choice of the word “Arabs” and not Palestinians is not without thought, as according to the ideological perspective of the Israeli right Palestine does not exist)[8].

This is neither a “conflict” nor a “clash between parties”, this is not about either side. There was an armed crowd that was allowed to march and that physically and verbally assaulted the Palestinians with slogans praising genocide. Hundreds of people marched, engaging in a call that ironically echoes the darkest pages of European history and the prelude to the genocidal force bursting during the Second World War. This was also reiterated by the Israeli queer artist and performer Ita Segev[9]. The police tried to prevent the Palestinians from reaching the Israeli counterpart. According to Haaretz, police forces started to shoot tear gas at Palestinians, trying to disperse the crowd with horse-mounted police, while Israeli extremist demonstrators were being spared.[10] However, stun grenades, tear gas and water cannons were only used against Palestinian demonstrators[11]. This event, which counted at least 100 wounded Palestinians and 20 among the Israeli police forces[12], is not a one-off but, it is part of an institutionalized logic, which has serious implications as much as the growth of the extreme right in Israel, which is not a niche issue.[13]

Sheikh Jarrah and the expropriation of land

Israel is implementing an expropriation policy that is fully included in ethnic cleansing mechanisms. Packing this issue with the rhetoric such as “this is very complex” when it is rather clear and intelligible –  despite the existing historical complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict – does nothing but divert attention from the core issue. If this crucial matter is not discernibly explained, both dissent, protests and the following repressive responses will be trivialised and rendered meaningless. Sided polarizations are fostering a sterile conversation in which one is constantly trying to attribute blame on another of the two sides by going back to a victims and perpetrators dynamic. This positioning sacrifices a crucial reflection on power imbalances of much higher importance and of bipartisan nature. The balance of power is clear: on the one hand, there is a systemic power that exercises military, policing and governmental functions and on the other, there is a occupied population.

It is with this in mind that we can see how the extremely tense episodes from the Old City have widened towards an escalation of increasing and uncontrolled violence just a kilometre away in the disputed district of Sheikh Jarrah. Due to the lack of space, we can’t analyse the history of the neighbourhood and its complexities, therefore, we’ll discuss only the most salient information. There are some disputed dwellings and properties which had been allocated to Palestinian refugees between 1948, the year of the foundation of Israel and the Palestinian Nakba, and 1967, the year of the Six-Day War and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. The position held by the Jewish settler lobbies is that those dwellings, before 1948, should have belonged to the Jews and should, therefore, return to them. The issue stagnates on legal issues and judicial sentences emanated by the Israeli Court (without a real Palestinian contradictory). To this, the non-existence of an egalitarian right for Palestinians to land in other areas is added, for example, in the western counterpart of the City which belonged to the Palestinians before 1948. In recent days, along with the settlers, the Israeli authorities have carried out operations of so-called “eviction” of Palestinians from their homes in which they have lived all their lives[14] – actions considered illegitimate by the inhabitants and regulated by law that does not guarantee equity as the Absentee Property Law of 1950[15]. It is worth recalling that the building policies within East Jerusalem are becoming increasingly unrestrained and free-rein even more so considering the International Agreements, in this sense, fuelling an extremely aggressive capitalization, based on the undue expropriation of land at the damage of Palestinians[16].

Resistance from the Palestinians to the Israeli repression witnessed more than 200 initial injuries[17]. While the protests, in principle peaceful, erupted in Sheikh Jarrah with arrests, beatings, settlers who literally climbed into Palestinian homes to infiltrate inside while people were brutally driven out from their homes, the climate of tension has also reached the heart of the Old City.

On the last Friday during Ramadan, thousands of Palestinian faithful gathered to pray outside the Al-Aqsa Mosque[18]. In total, more than 70,000  participated in the final prayers on Friday of the Holy Month[19].

Due to the at least chaotic situation, the Israeli authorities begun to prevent buses from the most remote areas of the Palestinian territories from going to Jerusalem. This measure was justified as an attempt to identify specific and potentially dangerous persons and to prevent them from reaching the mosque[20], a choice that undoubtedly hinders the religious freedom of the inhabitants of the city who, in hundreds, tried to march on foot to the place of worship[21].

After the Friday prayer, the Palestinians poured into the streets protesting peacefully; among the crowd visible flags of both Palestine and Hamas[22]. The Israeli police – which for days had been deploying a large number of officers in the city of Jerusalem (especially in the Old City) – immediately proceeded to close the streets leading to the mosque. To peaceful demonstrations, the Israeli police responded violently throughout the day, forcing many to retreat to the mosque and hide within the boundaries of the sanctuaries[23]. Later that night, Israeli forces used tear gas, stun grenades and rubber-coated steel bullets to disperse the faithful near the mosque. The result was hundreds of injured and hospitalized; according to the Palestinian Red Crescent, many people had been struck in the face and eyes[24].

Many of the worshippers gathered all night in prayer inside the mosque.

The point of no return comes during “Laylat al-Qadr”, one of the most felt and sacred moments of an already tormented month of Ramadan. The following morning, on May 10th , 2021, Israeli army forces (IDF) stormed the Mosque Esplanade and raided it armed with grenades and rubber bullets, assaulting the Al-Aqsa Mosque where the faithful were praying and where some had taken refuge, causing hundreds of wounded[25]. As Lorenzo Forlani recalls[26], the Rome Statute, which established the International Criminal Court in The Hague in 1998, clearly states that “whoever intentionally directs his attacks against buildings dedicated to religious worship, art, education, science and charitable or cultural purposes, is committing a war crime”. This episode bypasses the religious question and highlights how the explanations that reduce the narrative to ethnic or religious factions, as supporters in a football match, divert the focus by distracting from the gravity of the crimes committed by the Zionist model put into practice by the State of Israel.

At the same time, the above-mentioned violence continues in the Sheikh Jarrah district, where hundreds of Palestinians are beaten, arrested and thrown out of their homes in full violation of human rights. All this happens in the silence and immobility of the international community.

By coincidence, the “eviction” and assault of Israeli forces took place in conjunction with Jerusalem Day (9-10 May), the day on which in Israel the occupation of Jerusalem of 1948 is celebrated. Thousands of Israelis are filmed while dancing and singing with flames behind them coming from the Esplanade after its serious violation that led to dozens of deaths and injuries among Palestinians.

This event led to a further escalation of tensions and to clashes which have seen the vast majority of unarmed Palestinians, and mostly armed Israelis supported by security forces, that, in the first place, allowed and covered up the action of the Israeli settlers, in the Esplanade against the Palestinians[27] also.

Political interests and media co-optation

To this scenario, media coverage and the role of social media is to be added.

The narration of the events from the beginning of Ramadan to the present day has been pictured and headlined with serious shortcomings, often using a narrative that diverts attention from human rights violations. As repeatedly reiterated by activists, NGOs, the United Nations[28] and, as reported by Human Rights Watch[29] – which certainly is not deemed an emblem of criticism – what the state of Israel is carrying out is apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

However, the clashes that took place in Esplanade of the Mosques were interpreted by most as nothing new, without contextualizing the contingencies from which tensions erupted, nor reflecting on the reasons that for decades have been straining the Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem and the occupied territories. Together with this fallacious narration, the media co-optation is to be added, not only in terms of narratives, omissions of facts and improper titrations, but also real cyberattacks aimed at silencing and censoring activists and individuals who use social media profiles and channels to bring evidence and to shed a light on the facts often sweetened by formal media[30]. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are reportedly banning, deleting posts and hashtags related to violence in occupied East Jerusalem, especially when it comes to the police or army violence and Israeli settlers[31]. Facebook pages such as “Save Sheikh Jarrah” have been shut down and for days, users have been complaining about censorship, limitation and closure of their accounts, accused of violating community standards[32]; Instagram has included under the term “sensitive content” not only raw bloody images but also mere information and updates, especially in cases concerning Israeli police forces arresting or attacking[33]. Difficult to retrieve are also videos of Israeli settlers climbing into Palestinian homes to infiltrate.

There are clear predicaments in getting access  to intellectually honest information and therefore in being taken seriously, especially when complaints of blatant human rights violations are redirected in support of one side or the other. This position evades the necessary awareness of the power dynamics and tends to delegitimize those who speak as if they were filtered by a faulty ideology. The result is a serious obstruction of an objective analysis which has no preference of ethnicity, religion or party but a clear willingness to take human rights violations and impunity seriously. However uncomfortable, we must once again focus on the facts rather than obstructing the conversation on what happens and above all question the state of documented oppression that Palestinians live in and that deserves to be believed as it is and not as a version of the events.

Nevertheless, the timing with which all this takes place is to be emphasized. Israeli domestic policy is at a difficult time. Above all, it is a critical moment for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The escalation of violence, repression and sentencing of Sheikh Jarrah coincide with the great difficulties the Prime Minister is having in forming a government, after three consecutive elections and when his opposition Benny Gantz[34] – even more ruthless than him on the issue of Palestinian treatment – is trying to create a coalition[35].

Palestinian domestic policy is similarly at a difficult time, the President of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Mahmoud Abbas cancelled the elections –  a decision that created a lot of discontents –  and communicated his affinity to the protests.

Gaza’s response and Israeli bombing: never so many deaths since 2014 and it is not yet over

Since May 10th , the escalation has expanded with the intervention of Hamas which had issued an ultimatum to the Israeli military forces (IDF) regarding the recent events in Jerusalem and its surroundings[36].

Many rockets were launched from the Gaza Strip by the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, which constitutes the military wing of Hamas – the political party elected in Gaza whose military wing is considered a terrorist group by many including the European Union[37]. To date,  May 13th  2021, from the Palestinian territories, another 130 rockets were launched bringing the total to more than a thousand[38]. Israel responded with hundreds airstrikes and denied the de-escalation of violence on which Europe[39] has timidly pronounced itself, along with many other countries, while the United States confirms its unconditional support for Israel[40]. The response of the Jewish State is a total rejection of any involvement of the United Nations Security Council in the events whose immobility is presumably due to support through the veto mechanism by the United States.

It is dutiful to point out that the rockets launched by the Strip are rudimentary and have the objective of obstructing Iron Dome, the Israeli missile defence system among the most powerful in the world. Most of the rockets launched by the Strip have been intercepted by this defence system, the same cannot be said for the Israeli air bombings that since Monday have killed at least 83 people and have injured over 500, including 17 child victims. A complex that housed about 80 families was also razed to the ground.

In Israel, six people died because of missiles launched by Hamas, including a six-year-old boy. At the moment, Israel has announced that it intends to continue air raids and that it will prepare to invade the Strip militarily[41].

The context of the Gaza Strip must be made explicit. From the website of the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)[42], we acknowledge that Israel has imposed movement restrictions on the Gaza Strip since the early 1990s. The restrictions intensified in June 2007, following the power acquired in Gaza by Hamas, which witnessed the implementation by Israel of a land, sea and air embargo – which includes essential goods – justified by security reasons. Despite the loosening of some blockade restrictions in recent years, nearly 2 million Palestinians remain trapped within the Strip[43]. The latter are denied free access to the rest of the territory and the outside world. The blockade has undermined living conditions in the coastal enclave and fragmented its economic and social fabric.

In the light of the seriousness of the facts, it is now undue to speak in the usual terms of  “conflict”, “clashes (between parties)” a terminology that reduces the atrocious sadly normalized practices of apartheid and colonialism, expropriation of land, ethnic cleansing, militarisation regimes and police violence with impunity, up to war crimes and crimes against humanity that deserve to be brought to light and to justice as well as prosecuted accordingly with legal measures.


[1] Reuters. “Ramadan nights see Israeli police and Palestinians face off in Jerusalem”. April 22, 2021. Link:
[2] S. Farrell, A. Rabinovitch. “Palestinians cheer as Israeli barriers come down after Jerusalem Ramadan clashes”. Reuters. April 26, 2021. Link:
[3]  MEE Staff. “’Death to Arabs’: Chaos erupts in Jerusalem after far-right march”. Middle East Eye. April 22, 2021. Link:
[4] A. Rabinowitz. “Two Palestinian Teens Arrested in Jerusalem Assault of Haredi Man Shared on TikTok” Haaretz. April 20, 2021. Link:
[5] Toi Staff. “East Jerusalem teenagers arrested on suspicion of slapping Haredi boys on train”. Times of Israel. April 20, 2021. Link:
[6]I. Kershner. “Israelis and Palestinians Clash Around Jerusalem’s Old City” The New York Times. April 23, 2021. Link:
[7] Facebook Photo from Jewish Voice for Peace official Facebook page. Link:
[8] C. Capelli. “Le vene aperte di Gerusalemme”. QCode Magazine. May 8, 2021. Link:
[9] Instagram Picture from the official account of Ita Segev. Link:
[10] N. Hasson. “Dozens Wounded in Far-right, anti-Arab Jerusalem Protest” Haaretz. April 22 2021. Link:
[11] D. Kuttab. “Violence in Jerusalem as far-right Jewish extremists attack Palestinians”. Arab News. April 24, 2021. Link:
[12] BBC. “East Jerusalem clashes leave over 100 injured” . April 23, 2021. Link:
[13] MEE Staff. “Israeli press review: Report finds widespread racism among Israel’s youth” Middle East Eye. February 19, 2021. Link:
[14] [14] C. Capelli. “Le vene aperte di Gerusalemme”. QCode Magazine. May 8, 2021. Link:
[15] On the matter we suggest: Y. Ben-Illel, “The Absentee  Property Law and its implementation in East Jerusalem”. Norwegian  Refugee Council. May 2013. Link:
[16]   To know more about the topic: – Kaminker, S. (1997). For Arabs only: building restrictions in East Jerusalem. Journal of Palestine Studies, 26(4), 5-16.
– Shlomo, O. (2016). Between discrimination and stabilization: The exceptional governmentalities of East Jerusalem. City, 20(3), 428-440.
– Baumann, H. (2019). Disrupting movements, synchronising schedules: Time as an infrastructure of control in East Jerusalem. City, 23(4-5), 589-605.  “Hundreds hurt as Palestinians protest evictions in Jerusalem”. Al-Jazeera. May 7, 2021. Link:
[17] [17] “Hundreds hurt as Palestinians protest evictions in Jerusalem”. Al-Jazeera. 7 Maggio 2021. Link:
[18] F. Andrews. “Al-Aqsa under attack: How Israel turned holy site into a battleground” Middle East Eye. May 12, 2021.
[19] Ibidem.
[20] “After several hours, Jerusalem highway reopened in both directions” Times of Israel. May 8, 2021. Link:
[21] Ibidem
[22] F. Andrews. “Al-Aqsa under attack: How Israel turned holy site into a battleground” Middle East Eye. May 12, 2021.
[23] Ibidem
[24] Israeli police wound dozens of Palestinians in Al Aqsa Mosque raid” TRTWorld. May 8, 2021. Link:
[25] F. Andrews. “Al-Aqsa under attack: How Israel turned holy site into a battleground” Middle East Eye. May 12, 2021.
[26] L. Forlani. “Israele, l’operazione contro Gaza è solo all’inizio: mai così tante vittime dal 2014. La miccia dell’”ordine di sfratto” a Gerusalemme”. Il Fatto Quotidiano. May 11, 2021. Link:
[27] Ibidem.
[28] UN General Assembly,
[29] Human Rights Watch, A Threshold Crossed Israeli Authorities and the Crimes of Apartheid and Persecution. April 2021. Link:
[30]   K. Kadabashy. “Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content”. Arab News. May 11, 2021 Link:
[31] L. Alsaafin. “Palestinians criticise social media censorship over Sheikh Jarrah”. Al-Jazeera. May 7, 2021. Link:
[32] “Data rights groups: Instagram, Twitter deleting Palestinian posts” TRTWorld. May 11, 2021. Link:
[33] K. Kadabashy. “Facebook, Instagram accused of bias by censoring Palestinian content”. Arab News. May 11, 2021 Link:
[34] A. Bagaini. “Who Is Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s Main Opponent” ISPI. April 5, 2019 Link:
[35] TOI Staff. “Gantz turns down Netanyahu debate challenge: ‘I don’t work for him’” Times of Israel. February 19, 2021.  Link:  
[36] Y. Melman. “Al-Aqsa attack: Israel’s Netanyahu, the agent of chaos”. Middle East Eye. May 11, 2021 Link:
[37] “EU court takes Hamas off terrorist organisations list” BBC. December 17, 2014. Link:
[38] Striscia di Gaza, Israele pronto all’invasione via terra: “Ci prepariamo alla battaglia”. Nuovi raid contro Hamas: “Uccisi 60-80 miliziani”. Il Fatto Quotidiano. May 13,  2021.  Link:
[39] Ibidem.
[40] M.C. Hernandetz. “US President Biden: Israel “has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory” AA. May 13, 2021. Link:
[41] C. Quln. Israel Mulls Gaza Ground Invasion. Foreign Policy. May 13, 2021. Link:
[42] Gaza Blockade” OCHA Link:
[43] Gaza death toll rises to 83, 500 injured. AnsaMed. May 13, 2021. Link:,17%20children%20and%20seven%20women