This year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls and the events surrounding it were quite unlike anything Israel has experienced before.
Israel was simultaneously exposed to endless rocket barrages, Arab-Jewish violence in the country’s mixed cities, and delegitimization campaigns from abroad. As I reflect on what took place during those few uncertain weeks in May, I find myself coming back to the question: “How did we get here?”
A perfect storm befell Israel as years of suppressed tension suddenly rose to the surface. It began with riots breaking out in East Jerusalem against the background of several Palestinian families set to lose their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood following a Jerusalem municipal court order. The timing couldn’t have been worse—the riots began during the height of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan. Videos of the clashes spread like wildfire on social media, placing the conflict of a small country in the Middle East back in the center of global attention.
This could have shaped up to be any typical Ramadan. However, Hamas exacerbated the situation by launching a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem on Jerusalem Day, May 10, 2021.
Shelters and Stairwells
I was walking through the halls of the Knesset when the air-raid siren sounded throughout Jerusalem. The faint echoes from outside communicated a clear message to those of us trapped inside. We were rushed to the bomb shelter by Knesset security. We gathered with parliamentary aides and well-known politicians. At that moment it became clear that this was not just another round of violence with Hamas, nor was it a typical tension-filled month of Ramadan.
As clashes continued in Jerusalem and rockets rained down on Israel’s southern cities of Sderot and Ashkelon as well as Tel Aviv, the chaos unfolding before us intensified. Additional riots broke out, and intercommunal violence erupted between Arabs and Jews in Israel’s mixed cities—Jaffa, Lod, and Acre. Cars were torched, Molotov cocktails were thrown at homes, places of worship were attacked, and storefronts were vandalized. That kind of violence happening inside Israel had not been witnessed since the early years of the Jewish state.
I live with my wife in Jaffa. On consecutive nights we found ourselves huddling together in our apartment stairwell, the darkness punctuated by explosions from the Iron Dome’s rocket interceptions. This was nothing we hadn’t experienced in the past. This time, however, we were afraid to go outside in our own neighborhood at night due to fear of being targeted as Jews.
The Media Blitz
Following the eleven-day operation, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad launched more than four thousand rockets from the Gaza Strip. They targeted Israeli population centers almost exclusively. At the same time, Israel was bombarded on the international stage with vitriolic rhetoric, accused of apartheid and war crimes. Israel was displayed in the media as indiscriminately attacking the Gaza Strip as if it had been the sole instigator of the violence that had erupted.
From talk shows to celebrity Instagram accounts to the halls of the United Nations, Israel was treated as a villain simply because they possessed more military power than Hamas. American TV hosts Trever Noah and John Oliver both presented monologues explaining that one of the main issues at the crux of this conflict was the fact that there was a serious imbalance of power between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel was portrayed as a vicious warmonger because of its military superiority in advanced technology and defense systems. There could not be a more simplistic way of describing the very complex reality. Ironically, the heart of the recent criticism against Israel is the nation’s investment in defense systems, such as the Iron Dome, which were built to defend its citizens from incessant rocket attacks. Israel is decried as illegitimate because not enough Israelis have died. The world uses the death toll as a measurement for determining who is right and who is wrong in this conflict.
So long as Hamas is weaker than Israel militarily, it is accorded the right to fire barrages of rockets toward Israel with impunity. This is despite the fact that the more than four thousand rockets launched from the Gaza Strip were aimed almost entirely at population centers and not military targets. Each one of those attacks is a blatant war crime according to international law. They are being excused, however, because of the power disparity. A more honest assessment would admit that a disparity in power does not make the act of targeting Israeli non-combatants any less severe. It is only because Israel has invested in highly advanced defense systems that civilians have been protected from the vast majority of the rockets.