A breakdown of everything from the surge in Israeli-Palestinian violence to the mass protests against judicial reforms to economic concerns
Right now, these are are the three major issues unfolding In Israel that have the public on edge, and they are all inter-related:
1. Massive protests against the new government’s planned judicial reforms to overhaul the Supreme Court, which are turning violent
2. Widespread fear over the economic situation in Israel as investors and high tech companies pull funds out of Israel amid fears of judicial reforms, the shekel plunges in value, and the cost of living remains absurdly high nationwide with no clear government plans to address the situation
3. A wave of terrifying violence in Israel and the Palestinian territories that has led to the killings of dozens of people, which analysts say is slated to get worse as Ramadan and Passover approach
What is happening in this latest surge of Israeli-Palestinian violence?
The West Bank and Jerusalem are seeing another cycle of violence that has surged to levels not seen in years. Since the start of 2023, 14 Israelis have been killed in Palestinian terror attacks, all civilians except for a paramilitary police officer. Over 60 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces, which claim the majority were militants and gunmen, although some were also civilians.
On Monday, a 27-year-old Israeli American was shot and killed by Palestinian gunmen near the city of Jericho. The shooting happened after a fringe extremist group of Israeli settlers attacked Palestinian villages in the West Bank on Sunday night, burning dozens of cars and houses, injuring hundreds of Palestinians, and killing a 37-year-old Palestinian man.
The attack came as an act of revenge after two young Israeli brothers from a nearby village were shot dead by a Palestinian terrorist on Sunday. No Palestinian militant groups have taken responsibility for the killings, but the gunman who killed the brothers was reportedly wearing a shirt with the insignia of the Lions’ Den – an independent Palestinian terrorist group operating out of Nablus which has experienced a rise in popularity among Palestinians in the West Bank.
Why is the violence escalating right now?
There are always new triggers, but the latest round of violence between Israelis and Palestinians is happening because of the long and unresolved conflict between the two sides which has been left to fester with no viable peace plan in sight for decades. It is an open wound in the heart of the Middle East that leads to cycle after cycle of violence.
However, some analysts would trace this latest escalation back to March of 2022, when a series of fatal attacks by Palestinians on Israelis prompted a widespread Israeli military crackdown in the West Bank, called Operation “Break the Wave.”
Since then, Israel has conducted constant raids in the West Bank to arrest suspected militants and round up weapons. This has resulted in the highest death toll in the region since 2004. At least 146 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops during clashes in 2022, most of whom were militants, although some were civilians and youth throwing stones.
Meanwhile, 29 Israelis and two foreign nationals were killed in terror attacks by Palestinian or Israeli-Arabs, making 2022 the deadliest year for Israelis since 2015. All but four were civilians.
What is causing this violence?
Both sides blame each other. Palestinian attackers and their supporters claim they’re fighting against Israel and the occupation of their land, and are avenging Israeli attacks. Some of the assaults are being carried out by so-called “lone wolves,” or individuals acting on their own behalf. Many say the ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank undermines the hope for a future Palestinian state.
Israel says that the conflict is being perpetuated by the Palestinian refusal to acknowledge the Jewish right to a homeland, the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Israel accuses the Palestinian Authority, which governs parts of the West Bank, of inciting such attacks through its “Martyr fund.” The PA hands out generous rewards to Palestinians who carry out bombings, stabbings and other attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers, and even subsidizes their families in the name of the Palestinian fight for liberation.
Israel says its ongoing military operation in the West Bank is targeting militant groups to stop them from launching attacks against civilians. But, the raids often take place in densely populated refugee camps and urban areas where these groups are bunkered, which leads to much bloodshed.
The Palestinian Authority, which is losing public support, won’t act against Palestinian militants out of fear of putting its own survival at risk. But, many Palestinians see the PA as a puppet of the Israeli government, that is corrupt and neglects the needs of its own population.
What does Israel’s new government have to do with all of this?
The current Israeli government was sworn in on December 29, 2022. It’s helmed by veteran Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After several rounds of elections, he was able to return to power for a 6th term by forging a coalition with members of far-right and ultra religious political parties.
This makes the new government the most right-wing and religious coalition in the history of Israel. It’s focused on intensifying measures against Palestinian violence, which include accelerating the demolitions of attackers’ homes, allowing for assailants to be deported, and expanding Jewish communities in the West Bank.
Some of the most controversial figures in this government include Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who was once arrested for allegedly organizing an attempted terror attack and calls himself a “proud homophobe.” There’s also the newly appointed Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was convicted of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization in the past.
The new government is focused on strengthening Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, and cracking down heavily on anybody who threatens that, but many Israelis are concerned that minority and human rights are at risk because of the coalition’s hardline ideologies.
What’s happening with the massive protests in Israel?
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are protesting against the new government’s proposed judicial reforms, which they say will undermine the High Court of Justice and threaten democracy. On Wednesday, protestors called for a “day of disruption,” which saw demonstrators blocking roads and public transportation across Israel, along with massive work strikes.
In Tel Aviv, the demonstrations turned violent, with police using stun grenades and water cannons against protestors. Government ministers have accused the demonstrators of being “anarchists.”
Why are the protestors worried about judicial reforms?
For years, there have been calls to implement judicial reforms, with many saying that Israel’s High Court of Justice has too much power. However, critics say the judicial reforms proposed by his new government are going too far.
The plans aim to give the elected coalition decisive influence over the selection of judges on the High Court, and will limit the ability of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation and rule against the executive branch. Protestors say this endangers the political system of checks and balances, given that Israel has no constitution and only one parliamentary chamber that is controlled by the ruling coalition.
They also say that the changes are driven by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s drive to avoid conviction, since he is currently on trial for corruption, which he denies. Polls have suggested that the government’s plan is not popular, and that most Israelis want a compromise to be reached. In fact, a growing list of army reservists are threatening to refuse to perform reserve duty in protest.
What do supporters of the judicial reforms say?
Supporters believe the Supreme Court has too much power, and that the plan will strengthen democracy by correcting the balance between the branches. They point to the United States as an example, where Supreme Court justices are chosen by politicians, the president, and senators.
They say Israel has no written constitution, which calls into question the moral basis for Supreme Court rulings that override the Knesset’s decisions, by claiming they are “unconstitutional.” They also say it is time for new blood on the Supreme Court.
How is this affecting the economy?
Israel’s shekel depreciated by 6 percent in February, suffering the third biggest loss in the world’s major currencies. Similarly, the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s benchmark TA-125 index dropped about 5 percent, while the TA-35 index of blue-chip companies fell about 4 percent.
This comes amid investor concerns as the government presses with its judicial reforms. A number of local companies and startups have already started to shift money out of local bank accounts to diversify risk and hedge their assets before the planned reforms are set to be approved. This has been at the request of foreign investors.
This comes as the cost of living remains extremely high in Israel. Most Israelis say this is what they are the most concerned about: paying the bills.