Religious Riots in Jerusalem: Reignited Tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Religious Riots in Jerusalem: Reignited Tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Months of quiet intermission in the rivalry between Israel and Palestine ends as new tensions emerge between the feuding states, ranging from riots in Jerusalem caused by religious extremists to exchanges of missiles over the Gaza Strip. These latest clashes in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict represent the frailty in their relationship, serving as a reminder that even when tensions appear to be low for a time, hostilities can be triggered and reignited at any time. Further underlined by the particularly long period of time that these states have been rivals, it is left unanswered when, and even if, the conflict will ever be firmly resolved.  

Toward the end of April a new escalation in hostilities between Israel and Palestine has been seen, with Gaza firing more than forty rockets onto Israel, reportedly the largest barrage of airstrikes in their conflict since 2018. Predictably, Israel swiftly responded with their own air attacks, thereby signifying a renewal of rivalry and enmity between the two feuding territories. The severity of these rising tensions can be further emphasised and explained by addressing the riots in Jerusalem that have occurred roughly at the same time as the airstrikes. Though unconfirmed, it has been speculated that these airstrikes from Palestinians in Gaza were done in a form of retaliation against Israel for the widespread chaos in the city, caused by antagonising Jewish extremists. The violence began when Lehava, a far-right Israeli organisation, marched across East Jerusalem, seemingly challenging Palestinians with chants of ‘Death to Arabs’. Considering the details of the reports, this riot was by no means a minor or insignificant one, with more than a hundred people injured, dozens of arrests made, and Israeli police resorting to water cannons and stun grenades in an attempt to restore order.

Vicious Cycle of Attacks and Retaliations

Given the long history of hostility between Israel and Palestine, this latest clash of violence should not be seen as particularly surprising. However, the impact of this recent aggression has left its mark substantially, as seen by Egypt’s public condemnation of the Lehava’s attacks on Palestinian civilians, thereby indicating the seriousness of the situation. Whilst it is not yet certain if these recent events – the riot and exchange of rocket barrages – will leave a permanent or decisive effect on the overall conflict, it could be suggested that these clashes will only deepen the division between Israel and Palestine. It has certainly demonstrated the enmity that many across the two states still feel to one another.

This is further emphasised by exploring further into the motives of the Lehava’s march, where it has been claimed that they were inspired to protest apparent anti-Jewish violence following released footage of Arabs attacking Jews. Here, there is shown to be an evident scene of an endless cycle of attacks and subsequent retaliations between the peoples of Israel and Palestine. Though the full extent of any potential long-term damage remains to be seen, it is clear that these countries are still a notable way off from cementing a worthwhile sense of peace between them. Potentially, these events may even have hindered the peace process and served to push these states further apart, and so prolonging the conflict. It could also be further argued that this riot illustrates the possibility that Israel and Palestine might never be able to come together so long as there are groups that hold prejudiced views against the other and so inevitably clash with one another.

Impact of Religious Differences in the Conflict

It should be stressed that this riot was not the action of Israel as a state, but only of the extremist Jewish group Lehava, who targeted Palestinians at least partly on the basis of them being Arabs. As extremists, it is indicated that their severe anti-Arab sentiments are closer to being in the minority of Israelis rather than the majority. However, this introduces an interesting point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict where their religious differences have evidently caused substantial frictions that can only have added to the feud between these states. When considering the importance of religion to both Israel and Palestine, it can be wondered if these two sides will ever be able to find a common ground, at least in this context, or if the differences in their respective faiths will only keep them divided? It certainly seems unlikely to be a coincidence that the Lehava extremists chose their anti-Arab march during the Islamic time of Ramadan in the spring of this year. Given the claims that they were responding to Arab attacks on Jews, chanting slogans of ‘Death to Arabs’ during Ramadan, this can be interpreted as deliberately provocative and therefore only adding to the escalating enmity, which is clearly influenced to a strong extent by religion.

The impact of Israel and Palestine’s religious differences is further highlighted here, as seen by Israel’s construction of barricades to prevent Islamic Palestinians from celebrating Ramadan for vaccination reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although this may be considered a necessary measure for health and safety reasons, it has nonetheless contributed to the rising tensions between the two states, and certainly played a notable role in prolonging the riots in Jerusalem. Angered by the disruption to their Islamic festival, hundreds of Palestinians rioted, which predictably led to fights between Arabs and Jews. From this, it could be argued that this latest surge of riots and clashes in the Israel-Palestine conflict serves to illustrate how the significance of religion affects those in the region and how. Even if only a minority of people hold extremist prejudiced views and carry out protests and riots against their rival state, they have still shown to use religion effectively to hinder state relations, increase tension, prolong the conflict and potentially disrupt the efforts to make peace. As a significant factor in these states’ relationship, this may help explain, at least in one context, why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has endured for so long, and why it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.


About Author