Why Palestinians say this Gaza conflict is different
'I've stopped feeling alone, like it's only Gaza,' says one resident
Nael Mosallam's family apartment shakes from incoming Israeli airstrikes and naval barrages around Gaza City's Al Shati refugee camp on the Mediterranean coast. Hospitals are at a breaking point in the densely packed coastal enclave of Gaza, swamped with wounded of all ages, and water and power infrastructure, crippled by years of wars and blockade, is collapsing again.
Trapped at home with nowhere safe to go, Mosallam, 43, is worried about what's to come in the recent escalation of fighting between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza.
The translator and comedic actor endures airstrike after airstrike while watching news on his phone about the unrest on the streets of Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
In scenes unprecedented during past periods of escalating military conflict in Gaza, when civil unrest would have dissipated as fighting escalated, thousands of Palestinians are confronting Israeli soldiers at checkpoints in the occupied West Bank and protesting and rioting on the streets of Jewish-Arab Israeli cities and occupied East Jerusalem. On Tuesday, a general strike by Palestinians swept across parts of Israel and the occupied territories.
Outside Israel, Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon living in refugee camps built for those who were forced or fled from their homes during and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war have protested at Israel's borders and rocketfire was exchanged across the Israeli-Lebanese border.
"I feel like we are all in the same situation," Mosallam said.
Speaking before Thursday's announcement of a ceasefire, Mosallam said he feared a repeat of the prolonged ferocity of the 2014 war, which also escalated from clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem but ended in a full-scale Israeli ground invasion of Gaza. That war claimed the lives of 2,251 Palestinians over seven weeks, according to the UN Human Rights Committee (Palestinian fighters have not officially claimed casualty numbers); 67 soldiers and five civilians in Israel were killed, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The recent conflict, which ignited over attempts by Jewish settlers to evict several Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, has killed at least 230 Palestinians in Gaza, including 65 children, and wounded 1,710, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health, which does not break the numbers down into fighters and civilians. At least 12 civilians in Israel have been killed, including two children, and 300 wounded, according to Israeli emergency services.
Mosallam says he has taken some solace in seeing Palestinians outside Gaza rise up in protest.
"I've stopped feeling alone, like it's only Gaza," he said. "It feels like the people are waking up."
WATCH | CBC speaks with residents of Israel and Gaza living through the conflict:
Those sentiments, however, last only as long as the lull between airstrikes. When a drone strike hit his neighbour last Thursday, he felt the oxygen sucked out of his apartment in the vacuum created by the nearby exploding shell.
"There was no warning," he said on a video call with CBC, the scream of Hamas rockets being fired at Israel in the background. "His mom and sister are dead."
The next day, an Israeli airstrike on a three-storey apartment building down the street killed 10 members of the same family, eight children and two women.
'A unity of purpose'
For Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the misery Mosallam and other Gazans are enduring has pushed their own frustrations to the breaking point.
"There is a unity of purpose, a unity of suffering everywhere," Husam Zomlot, 47, Palestinian ambassador to the U.K. and an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said from London.
"The question is why do Palestinians have to come to the streets."
Mariam Barghouti, 27, has been witnessing the protests and clashes from her home in Ramallah, the administrative capital in the West Bank, surrounded by Israeli settlements and a wall built in the early 2000s to cut it off from Jerusalem, 15 kilometres away.
"We are doing what we can on the ground. What can change is for the rest of the world to also move," said the writer and researcher as West Bank protests, which have now killed at least 12, spread.
She and other advocates for Palestinian rights see anything short of sanctioning Israel as giving it tacit approval to continue the status quo. They want the U.S. and other allies to exert economic and diplomatic pressure on Israel and withhold military aid rather than issuing statements of support and condemnation such as the one Canada did earlier this week.
"We have been hearing these statements for 25 years, and they don't do anything," she said. "They alleviate governments from their actual responsibility."
Barghouti agrees with Zomlut that in this recent escalation, the differences between Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the West Bank, those in blockaded Gaza and those living in Israel feel less stark than a shared experience of oppression. However, while agreeing with the message, she is no fan of the messenger.
"Now, no one is talking about any Palestinian 'factional leadership,'" she said, referring to the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the rival movements in power in the West Bank and Gaza, respectively.
"Palestinians are saying, 'This hasn't worked. Maybe it's time to listen to our actual voices.'"
Tired of waiting for diplomatic solution
Barghouti says young Palestinians no longer see the Palestinian leadership as representing their interests, in part because, after decades in power, they have failed to secure their freedom, and have also given up waiting on Arab states or the West to intervene on their behalf.
"We don't have the chance to wait for any diplomatic solution," she said. "It's a fight or flight moment, and Palestinians are choosing to fight."
While Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have lived under Israeli military rule since the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, military control over Palestinians who remained in what became Israel in 1948 ended in 1966. They make up 20 per cent of the population, enjoy voting and individual legal rights but have experienced some structural discrimination when it comes to things such as land rights or policing. The 2018 Israeli nation state law makes clear that only Jews have the right to national self-determination in Israel.
Aida Touma-Suleiman, 56, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament from the left-wing Arab-Jewish unity party Hadash, said she was stunned by the violence that broke out on the streets of her hometown of Acre and other mixed Israeli cities, such as Haifa, Lod and Ramla, where Jewish nationalists and Arab citizens have clashed and riots have left behind a trail of damaged schools, synagogues, cars and homes and instilled fear in residents.
"It's just young people who are going out and confronting," she said from Acre. "They understand that the state is telling them that they are a second- or third-class citizen, an unwelcome resident."
Communal violence spreads in mixed cities
Oren Ziv, 35, a correspondent for the left-leaning +972 Magazine covering Israel and the Occupied Territories, was one of the first journalists on the ground in Lod as violence erupted in the wake of protests over the security crackdown at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem, which was one of the events that kicked off the current round of fighting.
He watched the riots spread and escalate as far-right Jewish settlers who came to the city from the West Back clashed with Palestinian residents. Two Arab residents and one Jewish man were killed.
"What I am seeing is the most-severe wave of violence between civilians that we have seen since 1948," he said on the phone from Tel Aviv.
"We never saw such a thing. We know there is anger, we know there is frustration, but it takes a certain combination of things.… When I speak to [Palestinian youth in Lod], they talk about years of frustration."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decried the violence.
"What is happening in Israel's cities over the past few days is unacceptable," he tweeted last week.
"We have seen Arab rioters set fire to synagogues and vehicles and attack police officers. They are attacking peaceful and innocent citizens. This is something that we cannot accept; it is anarchy.… nothing justifies the lynching of Jews by Arabs, and nothing justifies the lynching of Arabs by Jews."
Omar Shakir sees the unprecedented unrest as the violent convulsions of an entrenched, unequal system. The Israel and Palestine director of Human Rights Watch authored a recent report, disputed by Israeli officials and some of Israel's allies, that accused Israel of enforcing apartheid policies in the occupied territories and within Israel.
"The most-terrifying aspect, outside of the bloodshed in Gaza and the rockets being fired by Hamas authorities, has been the communal violence that has broken out inside Israel," said Shakir, who was expelled from Israel in 2019 for allegedly violating a state boycott law.
"[It] underscores the reality that Human Rights Watch documented of a government policy geared across all areas of Israeli control to ensure the well-being of one people at the expense of another."
The Israeli government, which called the report's claims "preposterous and false," is adamant that Palestinian citizens of Israel enjoy equal individual rights. Netanyahu has said in the past that no one in Israel is a second-class citizen.
WATCH | Clashes and protests erupt in mixed Jewish-Arab cities in Israel:
Politics at play on both sides
Yossi Mekelberg, an associate fellow with the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House based in Bristol, U.K., said he's relieved his own brother in Tel Aviv has so far remained safe amid the more than 3,000 rockets Palestinian militants have fired at Israel but doesn't mince words about what he fears is happening in his home country.
"Under the surface, it's bubbling to a boiling point for a while," he said. "There are some that conveniently refuse to see that, and I think the biggest wake-up call is what is happening inside Israel."
He says Hamas feels it has achieved its political objectives of showing it can act on behalf of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, "strike anywhere ... and inflict suffering on Israelis." Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges while scrambling to form a governing coalition, will, Meckelberg says, use the conflict with Hamas to hold on to power.
"No one is better than Netanyahu in exploiting a situation like this," Mekelberg said.
"The question is, can [Israeli society] become reflective and say, 'Is it the lack of solution that brings hate?' They might reach the exactly opposite conclusion that the other side only understands force, and we just haven't used enough force, which worries me, actually."
WATCH | Calls for ceasefire increase as toll from Israeli-Hamas violence mounts:
LISTEN | Analysts discuss the implications of the recent escalation of violence: