Ancient tombs, new conflict
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Editorial

Ancient tombs, new conflict

Our thoughts are with Israelis – and indeed with all innocent civilians – at this grim time.

Smoke billows following Israeli
airstrikes on the southern Gaza
region of Khan Yunis.
Photo: Mahmoud Khatab/AFP
Smoke billows following Israeli airstrikes on the southern Gaza region of Khan Yunis. Photo: Mahmoud Khatab/AFP

AT least seven Israelis have been killed and dozens of others – including several children – injured in a barrage of more than 1000 rockets fired from Gaza over the course of the week.

In the Strip, there are claims 43 Palestinians have died, among them dozens of children, and hundreds injured by air strikes in the IDF’s Operation Guardian of the Walls.

And so, we see yet another Israel–Gaza conflagration. This time, the pretext was what the Zionist Federation of Australia described as “a property dispute layered with historical and nationalist complexities”.

In the 19th century, religious Jews purchased the Jerusalem land on which lies the tomb of Jewish sage Shimon HaTzaddik. Also located there is the tomb of Hussam al-Din al-Jarrahi, physician to Arab leader Saladin, and named Sheikh Jarrah. Jordan expelled Jews from the area during the 1948 Israel Independence War, and two years later annexed it, settling Palestinian refugees there. In 1982, with the area in Israeli hands since the 1967 war, an Israeli court established Jewish ownership, but protected Arab residents as tenants.

But the tenants stopped paying rent in 1990 at the instigation of the Palestinian leadership, prompting an Israeli court last year to approve their eviction. With Israel’s Supreme Court scheduled to rule on the matter, Sheikh Jarrah became a launchpad for various protagonists.

For Mahmoud Abbas, triggering this week’s riots gives him an opportunity to delay yet again – and offer a distraction from – the first Palestinian Authority election since 2006, one his Fatah faction was almost certain to lose.

For Hamas, the conflict is a chance to flex its muscle in the wake of the cancelled elections and force the Palestinian cause back into the spotlight – positioning itself as the Palestinian champion – after it was shelved by other Arab nations normalising relations with Israel.

As skirmishes continue in Jerusalem, as violent riots erupt across the country, as a Hamas leader calls for Jews (not Israelis) to be decapitated, and as rockets rain down on Israeli towns, this religious and nationalist flashpoint tragically ensures two ancient tombs will generate many new ones.

Our thoughts are with Israelis – and indeed with all innocent civilians – at this grim time.

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