Will the latest Israeli-Palestinian confrontations escalate further?

Will the latest Israeli-Palestinian confrontations escalate further?

More than 100 Palestinian protesters were killed by Israeli armed forces in a recent confrontation at the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip. What is the risk of these clashes escalating further in both scale and intensity?

Why are Palestinians protesting?

The militant group Hamas, together with other civil society groups, organised a protest called the “Great March of Return”. It was timed to coincide with the anniversary of ‘al-nakba’ (catastrophe), which refers to the displacement of Palestinians when the state of Israel was first established in 1948. President Trump’s decision to re-open the US embassy in Jerusalem has also been a source of growing frustration among Palestinians. The US was the first country to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but the city has been at the heart of the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as it holds great religious importance for both Judaism and Islam.

The clashes

In response to these protests, the Israeli army shot dead 64 Palestinians near the fence bordering with Israel. The Israeli government has claimed it had long ago ruled out a Palestinian right to return, arguing that instead it was a guise for terrorist groups to enter into Israeli territory and carry out attacks. This rationale was used to declare that it would be permissible for Israeli soldiers to fire live ammunition to any individual or groups that attempted to damage the border fence, or even anyone within 300 meters of it. In spite of this, thousands of Palestinians did approach the fence as part of their protests, to which Israeli armed forces responded with live ammunition, tear gas and rubber bullets.

Justification for the use of force?

The number of Palestinian deaths rose to over 100, and has been referred to as the biggest massacre in the region since 2014. Despite this, Israel has attempted to justify its use of force by repeating the narrative that Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields as part of a strategic move to encroach on Israeli land, and thus any response on behalf of Israel falls under the banner of “self –defense”.

Meanwhile, Hamas leader Ismail Haniya has vowed that protests will continue along Israel’s border:

We are coming to tell the whole world: no to the deal of the century and no to the moving of the embassy to Jerusalem and Jerusalem is our eternal capital, the capital of the Palestinian state and Jerusalem’s identity will not be changed by a resolution from Trump, no Netanyahu.

This determination on behalf of both the Palestinians and the Israelis indicates that there is a realistic probability of an escalation in clashes between the two sides. This probability is heightened by President Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, as this marks as a drastic turn of events in Israel’s favour in the conflict. However, actions by the international community to support the Palestinian cause and condemn Israel’s actions could prevent these clashes from escalating to a daunting level.

International Community Responds

Human rights groups have stated that Israel used excessive force, which was not in accordance with international human rights law. It holds that “the intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life”, and in this case, attempting to cross a bordering fence with Israel does not amount to a life-threatening act, which would justify the use of force.

Furthermore, the UN has agreed to investigate international war crimes due to Israel’s reaction to the protests being “wholly disproportionate”. In addition to this, the United Nations Security Council is due to begin talks concerning an international protection force to ensure to the well-being of Palestinian civilians. Whilst these are important steps to take by the international community, verbal condemnation will not suffice to bring these clashes to a standstill. Rather, more pressing and punitive action would be required. The international community would need to reach a consensus on the appropriate socio-economic sanctions to impose for Israel’s violation of international human rights law, as these disciplinary measures penetrate deeper than the usual verbal condemnation cloaked in political correctness. Having taken these measures, which would severely impact Israel’s economic climate, should provide the international community with the bargaining power it needs to prevent the Israeli armed forces from taking further military action against Palestinian civilians.

As a result, if these rhetorical measures translate into meaningful action on behalf of the international community and the United Nations to help pacify the clashes by adopting a punitive stance in response to Israel’s continuous violation of international law, then we can confidently say the risk of these clashes escalating is unlikely. However, if the international community fails to do this, then there is a likelihood of these violent clashes continuing in a vicious cycle.

Categories: International, Politics

About Author

Sehr Nawaz

Sehr Nawaz is a junior analyst based in London. She holds a BA Hons in International Relations from King’s College London, and an MSc in Conflict Studies from the London School of Economics. She specialised in the Middle East region, particularly on religion and politics in the Middle East, as well as researching international law and the law of armed conflict. She currently works in the Private Equity & Operations team at 3i Group in London.