Bus Bombs, Tunnels, and Murder: An Update on Israel and Palestine
On Monday, an explosion ripped through an empty bus in Israel before the flames spread over to a bus full of people. It injured 21 people and reminded the country once again of the shaky ground they stand on with Palestine in the decades-long fight that has left thousands dead and offered no hope for a peaceful resolution. Tensions have always been one incident away from reigniting into the kind of bloody fighting that flares up every few years in the area—most recently in the 50-day fight that left more than 2,100 Palestinians and 70 Israelis dead in 2014.
The bus bombing is part of a larger and more worrying trend of violence that has taken hold of the region over the past six months, killing 28 Israelis and 188 Palestinians. The attack on the Israeli bus was a shocking return to bombing tactics that Palestinian terror group Hamas relied on during the Palestinian uprising that lasted from 2000 to 2005. Speaking out in the aftermath of the attack, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “We’ll get to those who prepared this bomb, and settle the score with the terrorists.”
The phrase “settle the score” will probably do little to ease the very real worry that this attack could be the catalyst for another all-out battle between the two groups ahead of the Jewish holiday of Passover. Israelis and Palestinians have been fighting for weeks over Al-Aqsa Mosque, the holy site in Jerusalem known to Jews as Temple Mount. The mosque falls under a decades-old arrangement that allows Jews to visit the site, but not to pray there. Every year at Passover, large crowds visit the site and, like clockwork, trigger increased tension that has often led to violence. A growing number of visitors are expected at the site this year, prompting a warning from Palestinians that Israel could potentially desecrate the spot.
The bombing also follows the discovery of a new tunnel in the region as well as the gruesome murder of a defenseless Palestinians at the hands of an Israeli soldier last month. As the news about the bus bombing unfolded, a lesser known story was circulating about a fresh, new tunnel created by Hamas that connects the Gaza Strip to Israeli territory. The Israeli military announced yesterday that it had discovered this tunnel—the first one, in fact, since 2014—and had “neutralized” it. The discovery was a technological achievement given that the tunnel was still in the process of being built and was 100-130 feet underground. Tunneling systems have been one of the key methods of transporting material and fighters for Hamas and, in the aftermath of the 2014 fighting, Israeli officials have accused the group of using millions in aid to rebuild the tunnels instead of the bomb-blasted region of Gaza.
It’s within this still-recovering region that often violent skirmishes between Palestinians and the Israeli military have broken out and, in once instance, brought international pressure. Condemnation struck Israel after a video surfaced showing Elor Azarya—a medic and soldier who’d been called a “Hero of Israel”—execute a Palestinian man named Abdel Fattah Al-Sharif while he was lying facedown and barely moving after being severely injured. Al-Sharif was shot in the head from a few feet away by Azarya and forced the Israeli military to issue a statement calling it a “grave breach” of their values and standards. In the aftermath, Azarya has been arrested for manslaughter and will be tried for his crimes in court.
While this is a small victory for Palestinians, the events surrounding the murder also reflect a trend of disproportionate violence against them that has long held the attention of non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International. They’ve tracked the violence in the region for years and discovered that, “In many cases, there is evidence to suggest that the Israeli forces have not used force in accordance with their obligations under international law.”
As the international community braces for the aftermath of yesterday’s bus bombing, we’re reminded of the instability that has embroiled Israel and Palestine in a tense deadlock. While presidential candidates and world leaders try to come up with solid plans to help bring peace to the region once and for all, we can only hope that the violence will ease before another battle erupts once again.
Stay tuned to Milk for more on this developing story.
Images via Getty, Times Israel, Reuters, and RT.