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Flag Day, new settlements, and the continuous Palestinian-Israeli plight


Gaza and the West Bank have been making the headlines once again. An issue that has been ongoing for years, with no plan to end the battles in sight, the Palestinian side finds itself once again at an impasse with the Israelis over basic rights and freedoms, as the Israeli side keeps pushing settlements in the West Bank triggering international and US criticism.

By Marita Kassis

Palestinians and Israelis alike have been living in constant turmoil that has marked the region for generations. The latest escalations that took place between Israel and the Islamic Jihad, the second-strongest militant group in the Gaza Strip, resulted in a ceasefire.

Estimates report that at least 33 Palestinians were killed in the intense days of bombardments; 1 Israeli was killed by Palestinian rocket fire. The sad reality identified by the disproportionate number of casualties is a direct result of the dire status quo in which the enclave and its people find themselves.

The Gaza Strip is considered the militant apparatus fighting Israel and seizing every opportunity to change the balance of power. The West Bank on the other hand is more of the political wing, where Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization run Palestinian territories following an administrative agreement signed with Israel that divides the lands under “Area A, B, C.”

Better known as the Oslo II Accords, signed in 1995, the agreement administratively divides the West Bank into three areas, originally intended to be a transitional and temporary arrangement until a final agreement was reached. No changes are in sight, as Israeli expnsionist plans under the Netanyahu government seem to be persisting and on the rise. Area A is administered by the Palestinian Authority, Area C by Israel, and Area B is under joint control resulting in a mosaic of scattered territories, limiting people’s movements and challenging the Palestinians’ presence.

These plans don’t seem to be slowing down, despite international and particularly US criticism. Just on Sunday, the Biden administration criticized Israel “over an order that allows Jewish settlers to establish a permanent presence in a West Bank outpost that Washington has warned Jerusalem it should avoid legitimizing.” These outposts have been a growing concern for the Palestinian side.

“We are deeply troubled by the Israeli government’s order that allows its citizens to establish a permanent presence in the Homesh outpost in the northern West Bank, which according to Israeli law was illegally built on private Palestinian land,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement as quoted by Reuters.

What’s flag day?

This day, for the Israelis, marks the day that the government was able to reunify Jerusalem, by capturing East Jerusalem in 1967. Every year, thousands of Israelis walk through a designated route that marches through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter.

This is seen as a direct provocation to the Palestinians, which results in incessant and repeated attacks. The original route does not cross or enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a point of contention between the two sides, and considered the third holiest site in Islam – always leading to an almost renewed intifada. Nevertheless, calls for the establishment of a Jewish temple there, have also pushed for the encouragement of people on Flag Day, also known as Jerusalem Day, to enter Al-Aqsa.

The march has been ongoing for years with heavy police and Israeli security personnel being deployed to avoid any potential clashes with the Palestinians. This year around 2,500 officers were on the ground.

The Old City is densely populated by Palestinians who view the march as yet another Israeli attempt to enforce their presence and isolate the Arabs. Every year, as the day approaches, tensions start running high; this time, threatening the fragile ceasefire that came into effect on Saturday via an Egyptian mediation.

Flag Day 2023

According to media reports, tens of thousands took part in the march on Thursday, with no major incidents being recorded, although young Orthodox Jews were expected to seize the momentum. 

Palestinian shopkeepers who fill the street of the Old City, shut their doors as Jewish pilgrims and members of parliament made their way to the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The increasing number of Jewish visitors has been considered an incitement by both the Palestinians and Jordan, the custodian over Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Muslims say Jewish visitors are violating a “decades-old ban on non-Muslim worship on the compound. Israel says it prevents such prayer and maintains the status quo,” reported Reuters.

In response to this year’s event, Palestinians organized marches of their own in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, some only a few meters away from the Israel-Gaza fence.

According to Ahmad Melhem, a Palestinian journalist residing in the West Bank who spoke to The Diplomatic Courier, “The Palestinians view the march as a provocative step against them and their city, Jerusalem, and an attempt by the settlers and settlement associations to show sovereignty over the city and its residents.” According to him, they view the parade as part of the overarching far-right plan to Judaize the city and change its Arab features.

When asked about the parallel marches organized by the Palestinians, he said “The Palestinian flag has always been one of the national symbols that Israel fought against, and the Palestinians found it a symbol of resistance. In the first intifada in 1987, many Palestinians were imprisoned just for raising the Palestinian flag. Today, in response to the Israeli Flag Day, the Palestinians raised the flag and organized marches.”  

In fact, a few days ago, the Knesset and Israeli lawmakers started pushing for a bill that punishes any gathering of more than 3 people who raise the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem or inside the Green Line. Considered an offense and a hostile entity, it would be punishable by up to one year in prison.  The Knesset approved the preliminary reading of the bill. Three additional votes are needed for the bill to pass. 

Status-quo following the 5-day war

“Our will to fight will never back down,” read the statement issued by militants in the Gaza Strip, including Hamas, who runs the enclave. The 5-day war-ravaged entire neighborhoods in the Gaza Strip.

The escalation came as a direct result to the death of Khader Adnan, a Palestinian detainee who died in an Israeli prison on May 2 following a hunger strike that lasted 87 days. It is unclear whether the truce will lead to the return of his body.

His death unleashed around 100 rockets from Gaza into Israel. The latter responded with “three dozen Israeli fighter jets carrying out surprise airstrikes that killed three Islamic Jihad leaders in separate residential locations.” This time, however, the escalation did not see any military interference by Hamas.

Based on a source in Gaza closely following the daily developments, who spoke to The Diplomatic Courier on condition of anonymity, “Hamas supported Islamic Jihad in this battle as part of the united factions’ operations room, but did not use its military capabilities for many reasons, among them the ongoing Gaza reconstruction after the May 2021 battle which didn’t finish yet.”

According to the source, Hamas won’t engage in a battle spearheaded by the Islamic Jihad with no apparent gains of its own, “Hamas is currently focusing on putting pressure for a new round of prisoners deal while preparing its military capabilities for new achievements and undertakings.”

It is important to note that even Israel didn’t directly engage with Hamas outposts in order to avoid an all-out war. It seems that the reluctance of both sides to directly get involved might be in preparation for a bigger engagement yet to come.

The post 5-day war might focus on reconstruction and healing, but a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli file is far from being reached. On Monday at dawn, three Palestinians were killed during a raid by the Israeli forces in the Balata refugee camp in the West Bank.

Escalations and rounds of violence are perpetual affecting a region that has long suffered, from the political ramifications as a direct result of the lack of negotiation and serious plans to settle the matter.

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