The forced eviction of Palestinians living in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem, by Israel has triggered a spike in tensions between both parties. The residents of Sheikh Jarrah responded with demonstrations and were met with blockades by Israeli police. Those involved in the protests faced threats of expulsion from their homes in the neighborhood. It then continued to escalate following the Friday (7/5) night riots when Israeli police dispersed Palestinians who were performing Tarawih at the Al Aqsa Mosque. On Monday (10/5), Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, fired rockets at Tel Aviv and a number of other Israeli territories in response to what happened in Jerusalem. Israel responded to the attack by bombarding the Gaza Strip using fighter jets, which resulted in damage to buildings and casualties.
Middle East political observer and UGM International Relations lecturer Siti Mutiah Setiawati viewed that the long-standing clash between the Israelis and Palestinians was not entirely due to religion. But, religious elements indeed contributed significantly to the outbreak and growth of this war. The conflict started when the Jewish people desired to return to what they regarded as the ancient homeland. It was located in the territories that the Palestinian Arabs claimed and inhabited for centuries. Historically, the Jews had resided in the said territories before the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Romans exiled them.
“They were then scattered in several countries across Europe, America, and Latin America. Some went to Asia, but the numbers were small,” she said, Tuesday (18/5).
As a result of the Jewish diaspora, along with discrimination they experienced in several areas, such as Eastern Europe and Germany, the Jews then came up with an idea to return to and establish a state in the land of Palestine.
“1897 marked the first International Zionist Congress, in which they expressed the desire to return to Palestine. Under the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the British government, who at that time ruled the land, then declared support and promise of the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people despite the existence of Palestinian Arabs there,” she explained.
The declaration had huge impacts on many parties. The Jews gradually moved to Palestine as they felt the British government had permitted them to do so. The Palestinian Arabs, on the other hand, felt the British government ignored their centuries-long habitation in Palestine. On May 14, 1948, Israel declared independence.
“The Jews had several alternatives prior to the declaration, including areas in the Sinai Peninsula and Argentina. But, they insisted on establishing it in Palestine following the belief that it was the land promised by God. This point proves the existence of religious motives within the conflict,” she added.
Palestinians have resided in the territories far longer before the Israeli declaration of independence, or approximately for 1800 years. According to the international agreement, Palestine has a right to become a sovereign state. Siti is of the opinion that the people who have lived in the territories for such a long time deserve to become rulers. She took the Sipadan-Ligitan case as an example, in which Indonesia lost its sovereign rights over the islands because of its less significant contribution compared to Malaysia. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has lasted much longer than the Sipadan-Ligitan dispute, which began later in 1969.
“Israel has violated international law and agreements. The recurring conflict cannot be resolved because they don’t want to back down,” she stated.
She also emphasized that building peace between Palestine and Israel, or any other conflicting parties, required a simple action: ensure no violation of the human rights conventions occurred. Rights, such as the right to associate and assemble, the right to an adequate standard of living, and the right to perform religious practices by their respective beliefs, must exist and be fulfilled. Siti added that the current Israeli and Palestinian generation showed no intention to practice and pass down the teachings of peace. Both should start implementing the actions of justice, equality, openness and stop discrimination and racism.
“Those are basic human rights. There won’t be any peace if rights are violated and the current generation doesn’t get the teachings of peace. Violent conflict will continue,” said Siti.
Siti believes that the key to achieving peace lies in the commitment and adherence of both parties to the negotiation results. The Israeli-Palestinian peace process, including the United Nations resolution for the Arab-Israeli war in 1967 (also known as the Six-Day War) and the Madrid Conference of 1991, has been ongoing for many years, but some efforts have remained unsuccessful.
“If the negotiations were deemed successful, there would be a guarantee of security for both parties. But, Palestinians remain attacked now, even after various Arab-Israeli negotiations take place. So, what’s the key (to ultimately end the conflict)? Both sides should adhere to the resulting peace agreement. The UN, as the mediator, must remain neutral and impose sanctions on those violating it. Israel didn’t comply with the UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, but the UN responded with silence. They should have intervened and issued an order to the Israeli Jews to leave the occupied territories,” she concluded.
Author: Agung Nugroho