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Why does isolated conflict lead to a rise in global hate crimes? Israel-Palestine explored

Leaders around the world have expressed their concern about a rise in xenophobia and racism after the recent resurgence of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.

The eleven-day battle between Israeli and Palestinian armies has come to a close, with both sides declaring ceasefire from the 21st of May.

At least 230 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed in the attacks, making this period the deadliest resurgence of the conflict in recent years.

Though the Israeli armed forces and Hammas (the Palestinian resistance movement) have agreed to stop inciting violence on one another, the tensions between the two communities in Israel-Palestine will not be stifled overnight.

It is likely that this complex conflict will exist within Israel-Palestine as it has done for hundreds of years.

A brief overview

Both Israelis and Palestinians have stood by their right to the ownership of this area of the Middle East, known to us as Israel. Jerusalem, the capital city, is considered an important holy land for both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims and Christians.

The two communities have coexisted in brief moments, with Palestinians and Israelis praying at the holy site regularly in the capital.

However, the fight over who owns the sacred land is ever-present below the surface, brewing immense tension that is further escalated by ethnic discrimination and differing religious beliefs.

When Israel was declared a country in 1948, the UN – aiming to satisfy both groups living there – divided the land amongst both Israeli and Palestinian communities, with Palestinians residing in the land which surrounded Jerusalem.

Israelis, unhappy with this outcome, seized the city of Jerusalem and began pushing Palestinians out of the land allocated to them – rendering hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees.

Two million Palestinians have now been forced to the Gaza Strip, a relatively small coastal region on the west side of the nation, as well as the occupied territority referred to as West Bank.

Other Palestinian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.

In the days leading up to this month’s resurgence of violence, Palestinian families living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood in East Jerusalem were protesting a recent Israeli court order that approved a decision to evict them from their homes to make way for Israeli settlers.

A video went viral online as it captured the moment an Israeli settler told a Palestinian homeowner: “If I don’t steal your home, someone else is gonna steal it.”

The impending forced evictions of innocent Palestinians have been cited as one of many catalysts for the violence that unfolded over the next week and a half.

A battle of unequal sides

The ruling Israeli government has long secured the support of larger, powerful nations such as the US and the UK, who have supplied the national army with modern weapons of war and wearable protection.

Palestine, on the other hand, has a much weaker line of defence.

Hammas, formed out of Palestinian’s need for protection and a motivation for reclaiming ownership of the land allocated to them, has not been equipped with the kind of military arsenal afforded to Israeli forces.

This unequal power dynamic has allowed Israel to exert intense authority over Palestinians who, as a result, have been labelled as second-class citizens.

Primary control over borders, airspace, immigration and emigration are held by the Israeli government. The movement of goods, national security and registration of the national population are also commanded by Israel.

This has made it increasingly difficult for Palestinians to obtain any form of legal status or identification cards.

Thus, Israel has had free reign to shape laws and policies in favour of their own demographics by awarding themselves with further political power and reclaiming ownership of land.

As Palestinian-Muslims gathered for prayer during the holy month of Ramadan, Israeli police arrived unannounced using tear gas and stun grenades to disperse the crowd from Al-Aqsa mosque which is one of Islam’s holiest sites as well as being the holiest site, known as Temple Mount, in Judaism.

Palestinians, angered by weeks of increasing pressure to prevent them from visiting the holy site in East Jerusalem,  responded by throwing rocks at Israeli police.

This moment of retaliation was a key turning point, resulting in the latest eruption of violence.

What has been the global response?

Many Western leaders have been apprehensive in condemning either Israeli or Palestinian armies. The United Nations suggested peace talks as an avenue for the way forward.

Lack of concise positioning or interference from powerful governments has frustrated those monitoring the situation from around the world, sparking protests in one hundred major cities – from New York to London, Cape Town and Auckland.

The support of protesters is mixed. A large majority view Palestinians as being victims of decades of oppression, while others support Israel’s determination to take full ownership of the land.

However, several international Jewish communities have spoken out against the violent approach of the Israeli government, arguing that the use of oppressive measures towards any group is an inaccurate representation their values.

The hashtag #NOTINOURNAMES was tweeted by young Jewish communities in Europe to urge for peace on the ground in Israel.

These citizen-led movements are proof that the actions of governments do not always translate to the beliefs of the communities they stand for.

The connection between crisis and hate crimes

In times of conflict, emotions run high. On several occasions, protests across Europe and the USA have resulted in vandalism, verbal harassment and acts of violence.

Police presence at rallies has increased to mediate tension, as crowds of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine protestors meet on city streets to express their discontent.

In the UK alone, anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim incidents have risen 500% since the beginning of May, when the latest bout of unrest began.

According to reports conducted by the United Nations for Human Rights, hate-speech in online spaces continues to rise, with extremist groups operating unchecked on social media, gaining further traction and followers.

While it is important to be aware of global events as well as to develop informed personal opinions, targeting members of local communities as a scapegoat for anger is never acceptable.

To speak plainly, supporting the Palestinian cause does not mean holding views of anti-Semitism. Likewise, supporting Israel does not permit spreading Islamophobic messages.

As easy as it may be to find and share media supporting our own views online, Solutions Not Sides has developed a useful guideline for assessing the types of content and narratives worth engaging with.

It is vital to remember that Jewish and Palestinian communities living in other areas of the world are not responsible for the action of the government and armies on the ground in Israel.

Drawing parallels

Similar events have unfolded in recent times, from a rise in neo-Nazi symbolism and activity post-Brexit referendum, to attacks on Asian communities living overseas as COVID-19 cases spread globally.

There appears to be a pattern, that in looking for someone to blame during times of hardship, innocent members of ethnic communities living in other regions of the world become the target of violence.

Senseless acts of violence motivated by race, religion, ethnic identity or sexual identity are categorised as a hate crime which are punishable by law in most countries around the world.

Standing in solidarity with any group during times of conflict does not warrant fostering hostility towards a perceived opposition.

Participating in these acts only contribute further to the problem, resolving nothing.

So, what happens next?

Thankfully, the exchange of weaponry violence between the Israeli army and Hammas has come to a halt.

The truce was met with much relief for Palestinians, many of whom have lost not only their homes, but members of family and friends due to the air strikes in Gaza.

For Palestinians, the next chapter will be one of rebuilding in both a literal and figurative sense.

Many buildings and other essential forms of infrastructure in Gaza will need repairing, most of which were already crumbling due to lack of government funding in the region.

It has been reported that Israeli officials have privately expressed regret for carrying out the air strikes, now that efforts to survey the damages are being carried out.

In a rare and unexpected move, neighbouring countries such as Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are stepping in to help facilitate peace talks.

It is vital that members of the global public allow for Israel and Palestine to attempt in getting a step closer to working through their long history, without fuelling xenophobic and racist attitudes in their home countries.

Clashes took place in the city of Jerusalem just hours after the announced ceasefire, proving that for a nation with such a long history of conflict, navigating the road to a solution will already be complex and tricky enough.

As online technologies provide a platform for all perspectives to be amplified, it’s up to users to ensure we aren’t promoting ideologies that fuel hate and increase reputational damage to minority communities.

Whether it’s by calling out others when we hear them using racial slurs, making a stronger effort to be critical of the content you see online or by reporting posts or accounts that promote hate speech – every small action helps.