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14 May 2021updated 22 Jul 2021 5:32am

Israel-Palestine: death toll continues to rise

The US adminsitration has dispatched an envoy to the embattled region, but the future for civilians remains unclear.

By Emily Tamkin

As I write on Friday morning in Washington, DC, 119 people, including 31 children, have been killed by Israeli strikes inside the Gaza Strip, according to Gaza health authorities. Rockets from Hamas have killed seven civilians and one soldier in Israel. The Israeli strikes on Gaza in response to rockets from Hamas are ongoing.

The first rockets fired towards Jerusalem by Hamas on Monday came after days of violence in the city itself. In the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah there is, as my colleague Ido Vock puts it, a “long-running legal battle”. Jewish settlers say that Palestinians are living there illegally, in homes that belonged to Jews who left after 1948. The Palestinians, in turn, say that firstly, these are their homes and have been for decades, and secondly, that it is discriminatory that there is no Arab equivalent for a law that allows Jews to reclaim property lost in 1948. A court ruling meant to settle the matter on Monday was delayed as a result of linked unrest.

[Hear more on the World Review podcast]

There have been rockets and airstrikes before. But there is also, as my colleague Dimi Reider notes, another somewhat unprecedented element to the latest exchange. Jews and Palestinians throughout Israel are physically turning against one another. A Jewish man shot and killed a Palestinian man in Lod; Palestinian businesses were attacked in Bat Yam; Jewish-owned businesses were set aflame in Akko. As Reider says, “The scale, intimacy and decentralisation of the violence this risks engendering is nothing like anything we’ve seen in Israel-Palestine in living memory.”

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“The internal rift threatens us,” Defence Minister Benny Gantz said on Wednesday. “It is no less dangerous than Hamas’s missiles. We must not win the battle in Gaza and lose the battle for home.” But what would it even mean to win “the battle for home”?

The political backdrop to all of this is chaos. In March the fourth parliamentary election in two years left various politicians struggling to form a government. Yair Lapid, the centrist politician helming the opposition, tried to make the case on Tuesday that the civil and military violence showed it was time for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to go. The leader of the right-wing Yamina Party, Naftali Bennett, meanwhile, said that talks for a “change government”, composed of an unlikely opposition coalition (including right-wing Zionists and a Palestinian Islamic party), were off. He now prefers a unity government, he said, and so would return to talks with Likud and Netanyahu.

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Netanyahu, who is standing trial on criminal charges including fraud, may yet pull through this political moment. The future for millions of civilians is less clear.

Whether or how the world can help Israel-Palestine out of this is unclear, too. An Egyptian delegation went to Tel Aviv for ceasefire talks, though a ceasefire has yet to arrive. The US does not enter direct talks with Hamas, but does, in theory, have leverage with Israel, to whom it provides billions of dollars in military aid every year. 

On Wednesday the Biden administration dispatched an envoy. The administration’s line has been traditional: Israel has a right to defend itself, though it has an “extra burden” to try to avoid civilian deaths. But the left flank of the Democratic Party has been more vocal in its condemnation of Israel’s behaviour and killing of civilians. 

Speaking on the House floor on Thursday, Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American and a member of the “squad” of progressive representatives, asked: “How many Palestinians have to die for their lives to matter?” 

[See also: Why Netanyahu and Hamas both risk losing control of the conflict]