Fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas has escalated drastically in the first few weeks of May 2021, leading to fears the conflict could develop into a protracted war.
The current outbreak of fighting began with a series of controversial Israeli actions in Jerusalem — including the attempted eviction of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem by right-wing Jewish settlers, an Israeli police raid on Palestinian worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque, and a planned provocative march by far-right Israelis — that prompted Hamas to fire a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem and other major cities in Israel. Israel responded with devastating airstrikes in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Both sides have continued their back-and-forth attacks for days, resulting in hundreds of deaths and widespread property damage, mostly but not exclusively on the Palestinian side, and the destruction of the Gaza media offices of Al Jazeera and the Associated Press in an Israeli strike.
Meanwhile, communal violence between Arab and Jewish Israelis has broken out on the streets of cities across Israel at a level unseen in years, a troubling sign of just how fractured Israeli society has become.
So what happens next? “The most likely scenario is unfortunately the one we’ve been in for the past 15 years,” says Ilan Goldenberg, the director of the Middle East Security Program at the Center for a New American Security. In the past, both parties have either unilaterally decided to stop bombing or agreed to an internationally brokered ceasefire. But that has done little to change the fundamental dynamics of the conflict, one Zack Beauchamp describes as the “Israel-Gaza doom loop.”
For the time being, Israeli leaders have pledged to continue the bombardment of Gaza indefinitely.
The latest fighting is also notable for the international response it has drawn. Pro-Palestinian solidarity protests around the world and a shifting political landscape in the United States have brought increased attention to the Palestinian cause, including from Democrats, who are increasingly split on the issue, and on social media.
President Joe Biden’s decision to publicly condemn Hamas’s attacks while staunchly defending Israel has drawn criticism from progressives within his own party who accuse him of hewing to an outdated approach to the conflict that has long seen the US fail to acknowledge the plight of Palestinians.
The Biden administration promised that human rights would be at the “center” of its foreign policy, but critics say his response to this crisis has shown that promise to be hollow when it comes to the rights of Palestinians.