Israel and Palestinian militants are on the brink of full-blown war after a week of violence and chaos. At the heart of the escalating conflict is the potential eviction of four Palestinian families from a neighbourhood in occupied East Jerusalem.
The Iskafi, el-Kurd, Jaanoi and Qassem families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood face an anxious wait to find out whether they will be evicted from their homes, pending the outcome of a delayed court hearing in a case originally brought by Jewish settlers, who argue that the land was historically owned by Jewish people. Meanwhile three other families –Hammad, Dagani and Daoudi – have already been told to evacuate their houses by the start of August.
The families are part of a wider population of 750,000 people expelled from their homes during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war who later settled in Sheikh Jarrah in the 1950s in houses built by the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and with the approval of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees.
Throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, tensions simmered. Members of Lehava, the far-right ultra-conservative Jewish group, marched from the west of Jerusalem chanting "Death to Arabs." Tensions grew particularly high following a series of videos circulated on TikTok showing Palestinians randomly attacking orthodox Jews, and assaults on Arabs by Israelis.
This took place against a backdrop of cancelled Palestinian elections after Israel refused to allow people to vote in East Jerusalem and an Israeli political vacuum following a fourth inconclusive election in two years. Benjamin Netanyahu, facing corruption charges, is still Prime Minister, but opposition leader Yair Lapid is currently tasked with forming a coalition government.
Al-Aqsa Mosque, home to the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism and a frequent if not constant flashpoint, witnessed nightly skirmishes between Palestinian youths and Israeli forces during Ramadan gatherings and activities, which peaked last Friday after police raided the mosque’s compound, fired stun grenades, tear gas, and water cannon at the worshipers and demonstrators trapped inside.
The Supreme Court was initially due to rule on the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah this week, but the hearing was adjourned at the last minute. By then it was too late. Violence has not just been limited to Jerusalem and has broken out in streets across Israel. Israeli air strikes against the Gaza Strip have killed 119 Palestinians and eight Israelis have died as Palestinian militants have fired rockets into Israel.
Despite intense speculation, Israel is yet to commit to a ground operation in the Gaza Strip, which would mark the first ground incursion since the war in 2014.
But this week’s violence has some new aspects: rockets fired by Palestinian militants from the Gaza Strip have bypassed Israel’s Iron Dome defence system more successfully than in the past.
Israel’s biggest fear is a two-front war. With the Lebanese border restive and Israeli forces using live rounds on protesters in the West Bank, deterioration on any front could lead to a serious military escalation.
And throughout everything, four Palestinian families still wait to hear whether they will be evicted from their homes next month.