The Israeli cabinet on April 2 authorized plans for a paramilitary “National Guard” sought by far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir to target violence and unrest in Palestinian communities within Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that a committee comprised of Israel’s existing security forces is to determine the guard’s responsibilities, and whether it will be subordinate to the Israel Police or take orders directly from Ben-Gvir, as he demands. Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded by calling the plan an “extremist fantasy of delusional people,” and slammed a decision to cut budgets from other ministries “to fund Ben-Gvir’s private militia.” (Al Jazeera)
The divisions within the security services over the plan are made clear by the controversy over a leaked phone call between Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. After Ben-Gvir said the National Guard was needed to combat record-high crime rates in Arab communities, Shabtai responded: “Mr. Minister, there is nothing that can be done. They kill each other. That is their nature. That is the mentality of the Arabs.” Ben-Gvir evidently leaked the audio in an effort to delegitimize Shabtai—which is certainly an irony given Ben-Gvir’s own extremist views. (Times of Israel)
Escalation from Jerusalem to Lebanon
The controversy comes amid a new escalation in occupied East Jerusalem, which now threates to become internationalized.
Israeli police on April 5 raided al-Aqsa Mosque and arrested some 400 people inside. Police said in a statement that they forced entry in a bid to remove “masked agitators” who had “barricaded” themselves in. However, worshippers inside the mosque claimed that they were violently attacked and that police prevented medics from reaching al-Aqsa after the clash. Videos released on social media appear to show police firing stun-grenades and beating worshippers during the raid. The Palestinian Red Crescent said seven were injured. (Jurist, Haaretz)
After the violence at al-Aqsa, several rockets were fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel. The Israeli military said five rockets were intercepted by the aerial defense system around the city of Sderot, while four others fell into uninhabited areas. Israeli warplanes then struck multiple sites in Gaza City and the Strip’s Nuseirat refugee camp. (Al Jazeera)
On April 6, after a second night of clashes at al-Aqsa, a barrage of 34 rockets was fired into northern Israel—this time from Lebanese territory, according to authorities. Five of the rockets landed within Israel, with one person reportedly injured by shrapnel. (CBS)
Israel this time responded with air-strikes on supposed Hamas targets both in Gaza and southern Lebanon. Houses were reportedly destroyed in strikes on a Palestinian refugee camp near the city of Tyre. These constituted Israel’s biggest missile strikes on Lebanese territory since the 2006 war. (ToI, Naharnet, The Guardian)
Southern Lebanon is controlled by Hezbollah, which did not take responsibility for the rocket barrage, but has released a statement saying: “Hezbollah proclaims its full solidarity with the Palestinian people and the resistance groups, and pledges that it will stand with them in all measures they take to protect worshippers and al-Aqsa Mosque and to deter the enemy from continuing its attacks.” (AFP)
Amid the violence, Israeli police have repeatedly detained far-right Jewish activists who planned to sacrifice goats at al-Haram al-Sharif—the compound that houses al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. The sacrifices were to mark the Passover holiday, which comes this year at the same time Muslims celebrate Ramadan. (Al Jazeera, Haaretz, ToI)
Israel hits multiple targets in Syria
Israel hit multiple military targets in Syria in response to six rockets fired into the Golan Heights. The Israeli Air Force said fighter jets and a drone hit the rocket launchers as well as a Syrian military compound, radar systems and artillery positions.
The rocket fire from Syria into the Golan was claimed by a Palestinian militant group, al-Quds Brigade. (BBC News)
Israel has for years carried out sporadic air-strikes on targets in Syria.
Jordan warns against violations of status quo at Haram al-Sharif
Hundreds of Jewish visitors were allowed to visit the Temple Mount early April 9, hours after a number of Palestinians barricaded themselves inside al-Aqsa Mosque overnight, stoking fears of renewed clashes. Jordan’s Foreign Ministry condemned the Jewish visits to the site, warning of “catastrophic consequences” should Israel not cease what it calls violations of the status quo at the holy site.
Israel has vowed repeatedly to maintain the status quo at the site, whereby Jews are allowed to visit there—under numerous restrictions and only during limited hours—but not pray. However, Jews have increasingly been allowed to quietly pray there. (ToI)
Israel has meanwhile placed restrictions on Palestinian men from the occupied West Bank entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Friday prayers during Ramadan. Palestinian men between the ages of 12 and 55 have been banned from entering the mosque. (Daily Sabah)
Palestinian’s death in Israeli prison prompts rocket attacks
Activist Khader Adnan, who was affiliated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group, died May 2 in an Israeli prison following a hunger strike that lasted 86 days. In response to his death, armed supporters fired rockets from Gaza towards southern Israel. (Jurist)
IDF raids Nablus, kills three militants over attack on settlers
The Israeli army killed at least three Palestinian fighters and wounded four others during a raid in Nablus. The Israeli army said the targeted militants were behind a attack on April 7 north of Jericho that killed two British-Israeli sisters when gunmen opened fire on their vehicle. Their mother also later died of her wounds. (Al Jazeera)
Deadly Israeli air raids on Gaza
Twelve people have been killed in Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip in what Israel’s military said was the targeting of members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement. Islamic Jihad announced that three of its leaders were killed in the attacks, along with their wives and some children. (Al Jazeera)
IDF, Palestinian militants exchange fire over Gaza
Israel’s armed forces and Palestinian militants exchanged heavy cross-border fire on May 10, with hundreds of rockets launched from Gaza after the IDF carried out deadly strikes on what it called Islamic Jihad organization targets along the strip.
This latest escalation comes a day after Israeli air-strikes killed three leaders of the militant group and 10 other Palestinian men, women and children in Gaza. (CNN)
Israel and Gaza militants reach ceasefire
Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group in the Gaza Strip arrived at ceasefire on May 13, putting an end to five days of fighting that resulted in 33 Palestinian fatalities and two Israeli fatalities. (Jurist)
United Nations commemorates Nakba for first time
For the first time, the United Nations commemorated the flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees—on May 15, the 75th anniversary of the day that’s come to be known in the Arab world as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, presided over the event at the UN headquarters in New York. US officials stayed away and Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan called the commemoration “a blatant attempt to distort history.” The resolution to hold the commemoration passed last November by a vote of 90-30, with 47 abstentions. (PRI)
Israeli nationalists chant racist slogans on Jerusalem march
Thousands of Israeli nationalists, many chanting racist slogans, paraded through Jerusalem’s Old City May 18. The marchers, mostly male Orthodox teens and young men, were celebrating Israel’s capture of East Jerusalem in 1967. The crowd waved Israeli flags and chanted slogans such as “Death to Arabs” and “We will burn your village.” (The Guardian) The annual Flag March is held on Jerusalem Day as a celebration of Israel’s control over the city. (TRT World)
Israel draws fire from allies over Flag March
The United States and nearly all of Israel’s Middle East allies issued statements condemning Jerusalem over the visits lawmakers made to the flashpoint Temple Mount and the controversial annual march by religious nationalists through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter May 18.
The foreign ministries of Jordan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Turkey each issued statements rebuking Israel over the “storming” of the Temple Mount, which Muslims refer to as the Noble Sanctuary.
The statements by Jordan and Egypt also criticized the decision to hold the so-called Flag March. The lawmakers who visited the Temple Mount were Minister Yitzhak Wasserlauf and MK Yitzhak Kroizer—both from the far-right Otzma Yehudit party—as well as Likud MKs Dan Illouz, Amit Halevi and Ariel Kallner. They were also among the nearly two dozen lawmakers who later that day attended the Flag March. (ToI)