As the sun was about to set over the Gaza horizon on May 10, 2021, the community would not have known what was to happen that night. But they are citizens of Gaza, and what did happen would not have taken them by surprise. Israeli bombardment overnight of the besieged strip has claimed the lives of 21 Palestinians, including nine children. As dawn broke, there was devastation and a fresh round of Israeli attacks killing another three people. By the time of writing this, at least 26 lives have been lost to Israeli attacks.
The attacks have been a follow-up of Israeli clampdown on Palestinian protestors in the occupied East Jerusalem, who are being threatened with forced eviction from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood by Israeli authorities. This move is being considered illegal by most world powers, including the United Nations, because East Jerusalem is part of the Occupied Palestine and it is illegal to evict the residents by the occupying forces.
"We wish to emphasise that East Jerusalem remains part of the occupied Palestinian territory, in which international humanitarian law applies . . . The occupying power . . . cannot confiscate private property in occupied territory," stressed Rupert Colville, a rights office spokesman for the United Nations.
He further suggested that the Israeli action of evicting the Palestinis from Sheikh Jarrah "may amount to war crimes".
Tensions have mounted over this issue for some time as Israel has geared up measures to dispossess the Palestinians residents of East Jerusalem and push new Israeli settlers. For instance, on May 1, 2021, a Jerusalem District Court ruled that six Palestinian families living in the neighbourhood for generations must vacate their home.
To suppress the Palestinian voices seeking justice and their basic rights, the Israeli security have also raided the al-Aqsa Mosque, where they had been protesting. According to media reports, the Israeli police have raided the compound and even entered the mosque where worshippers had been praying, and used stun grenades, rubber-coated steel rounds, and tear gas to disperse them. On Monday alone, more than 300 Palestinians have been injured in the clashes with the Israeli police.
On the same day, Hamas fired rockets at Jerusalem after the expiry of the ultimatum period and which was followed by an Israeli airstrike on Hamas-controlled Gaza. Casualties have been reported on Israeli side as well: according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, two Israelis have been killed after rocket fire from Gaza. The result: fear, bloodshed, destruction. And just ahead of Eid, one of the biggest religious festivals for the Muslims. But then, for the Palestinians this is not an unusual phenomenon.
The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been firm and determined in his commitment to establishing Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem and supressing the Palestinian protests. "We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem ... I say also to the best of our friends: Jerusalem is Israel's capital and just as every nation builds in its capital and builds up its capital, we also have the right to build in Jerusalem and to build up Jerusalem. That is what we have done and that is what we will continue to do," the Israeli premier said in a televised addressed.
Unfortunately, most of the free world leaders, including the US have been decidedly prosaic in their response to the Israeli aggression, with the US, only saying they were "deeply concerned" and urging Israeli "authorities to approach the residents … with compassion and respect". Except for a few Muslim nations, the other countries have been cautious in their response to the situation.
But things in East Jerusalem or Gaza are not right. Amnesty International has said in a statement that "Israeli forces have repeatedly deployed disproportionate and unlawful force to disperse protesters during violent raids on al-Aqsa mosque and have carried out unprovoked attacks on peaceful demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah."
Saleh Higazi, Amnesty International's Middle East Deputy Director warned, "Israel must not be allowed to continue its rampage against Palestinians who are simply defending their right to exist and protesting against their forced displacement."
But these will fall on deaf ears. Israel will keep doing what it has done for the last so many decades: persecute the Palestinians and encroach their lives and livelihoods.
One cannot also rule out the possibility of Netanyahu exploiting this anti-Palestinian narrative to muster popular support targeting a fifth round of elections. In the last two years, Netanyahu has failed to gather enough support to form government after the four elections that have bene held during this time. This time around, Netanyahu's rival Yair Lapid—leader of the centrist party Yesh Atid—has been asked by the country's President to try and from the government.
Lapid needs to secure a parliament majority to form the government. If not, then the country goes into a fifth round of elections. Media reports suggest that the two most potential parties Lapid can form the coalition or unity government with are the right-wing Yamina party led by Naftali Bennett and the Arab Islamist party Raam, led by Mansour Abbas.
While forming a coalition government with the right-wing Yamina and the Arab Islamist Raam, is a precarious challenge on any given day, in view of the current situation this looks even more difficult.
And if the country goes into a fifth round of elections, Netanyahu will seek to solidify his position with more votes. And what better way than to gain popularity than riding high on narratives of nationalism and patriotism.
There have been suggestions that the Modi government in 2019 had utilised the India-Pakistan tension to muster more votes during the parliamentary polls, and there remains the possibility that Netanyahu might use a similar approach to gain more public popularity.
Xenophobia, Islamophobia, fear of terrorism, existential insecurity—these are unpleasant sentiments and the common people would always want to throw their support behind a leader who would provide them with a sense of security and safety.
With his staunch anti-Palestine position, Netanyahu might as well utilise this recent escalation to emerge as a leader who can assuage these uncertainties. And the timing of the escalating tensions could not have been better for Netanyahu.
But the long night continues for the citizens of Gaza, where innocent lives are lost, as a matter of course. No one knows for how many Palestinians today's sunset is going to be the last they would see.
For us, we just have to be content with writing about these from the safety of our homes.
Tasneem Tayeb is a columnist for The Daily Star. Her Twitter handle is: @TayebTasneem