The clashes in Israel.

Plus, some more good news on the vaccines.
Isaac Saul May 11, 2021
I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, ad-free, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum — then “my take.” You can read Tangle for free or subscribe for Friday editions, and you can reach me anytime by replying to this email. If someone sent you this email, they’re asking you to sign up. You can do that by clicking here.

Today’s read: 12 minutes.

We’re covering the violence in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Below, you’ll find a map for reference. Because of the complexity of this issue, we’re skipping today’s reader question.

Quick hits.

  1. The F.B.I. identified the group responsible for the cyber attack that took down a major fuel pipeline as DarkSide, a criminal gang of hackers. (The New York Times, subscription)
  2. Glenn Youngkin won the Republican nomination for Virginia governor. The Democratic primary is next month. Republicans have not won a Virginia statewide election since 2009. (CBS News)
  3. U.S. stocks fell as concerns about inflation continue to grow. (The Wall Street Journal, subscription)
  4. The Biden administration reversed a Trump-era rule that limited protections for transgender people when seeking health care. (NBC News)
  5. The FDA authorized the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine for children as young as 12. (Associated Press)

What D.C. is talking about.

Israel. For weeks, clashes between Israelis and Palestinians have been escalating. Islam’s holy month of Ramadan is typically a fraught time for Arab-Israeli relations, and this month has been no exception. Like many past conflicts in Israel, what’s happening now is rooted in conflicting claims over who has what rights to which parts of the holy city of Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is home to the “Old City,” the walled-off section of ancient Jerusalem that houses the holiest sites of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Israel won the war of 1967 and annexed East Jerusalem, which it claims full rights to, but holy sites in the city are still shared and partitioned among the major Abrahamic religions and Armenians.

One of the particularly contentious sites is the Al Aqsa Mosque compound. The Al Aqsa Mosque is the third-holiest site in Islam. But it sits next to the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism. Under a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan, Jews and Christians are prohibited from praying at the Al Aqsa mosque, though Israeli forces maintain security in the 35-acre area surrounding the mosque. Jews pray just below the mosque at the Western Wall, which is a remnant of the Temple Mount.

A few weeks ago, Jewish extremists marched near the Al Aqsa holy site chanting “death to Arabs,” which set off one of the first major escalations of this Ramadan. Around the same time, Palestinian teenagers were sharing videos on TikTok of themselves harassing or assaulting Orthodox Jews. Simultaneously with the holy month of Ramadan, this is also a time when Israel celebrates capturing the Old City more than 50 years ago, and is marked by Jerusalem Day on May 9th.

This year, Jerusalem Day coincided with Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power, the most holy day on the Islamic calendar. As Muslims came to the Old City to worship, Israeli police clamped down and clashes began. Meanwhile, Israeli authorities changed the planned route of a nationalist parade to avoid the Muslim quarter of the Old City this weekend in an apparent effort to avert further confrontation. However, it did little to cool the fighting.

For weeks, Muslims coming to the Old City to pray have clashed with police. The backdrop for this tension, along with the events above, is one of the most contentious eviction battles in recent memory; a lengthy legal dispute over the mostly Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in East Jerusalem, which has hit a fever pitch. Israelis claim ownership over the land, but it has been lived on by Palestinian refugees for decades. Now the Israeli government is moving in police to begin evicting dozens of families.

Meanwhile, Hamas and other Gaza militant groups have fired hundreds of rockets into Israel over the last week, citing the evictions, and Israel has returned fire with drone strikes and rocket attacks of its own. 24 people, including nine children, were killed in Gaza overnight in Israeli strikes. Six Israelis were injured and two were killed in the Israeli city of Ashkelon by rockets fired from Gaza. More than 700 Palestinians were hurt in clashes with Israeli forces across Jerusalem and the West Bank over the last 24 hours, including nearly 500 who were treated in hospitals.

What we’re witnessing now appears to be a volatile confluence of several charged issues: the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, the influx of Muslim worshippers into the old city during Ramadan, the exchange of rocket fire between Gaza militants and Israeli military, and the core battles over who has what rights to which holy sites in Jerusalem. Many officials and pundits are alarmed and fear the clashes could set up one of the worst outbreaks of violence we’ve seen in Israel in a long time.

Below, we’ll take a look at some reactions from the right and left.

What the left is saying.

The left is split on the issue, with some blaming the Israeli government’s increased antagonism towards Palestinians and others framing it as an inevitable flare-up in a centuries-old dispute.

In The Washington Post, Ishaan Tharoor said the U.S. is calling for calm, but it’s part of the problem when it continues to urge “both sides” for calm.

“The latest explosion of hostilities has a long tail, following numerous aggressive actions by both Israeli security forces and far-right Jewish supremacist groups in Jerusalem,” he wrote. “Two weeks ago, bands of Jewish extremists, including some settlers from the West Bank, marched through Palestinian-populated areas of the holy city, chanting ‘Death to Arabs,’ attacking bystanders and damaging Palestinian property and homes.

“Israeli attempts to evict a number of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah — a microcosm of what Palestinians view as part of a long history of dispossession and erasure at the hands of the Israeli state — had stirred Palestinian solidarity protests in various parts of the occupied territories and Israel proper… To pro-Palestinian activists, the Biden administration’s position reflects the broader legacy of U.S. policy in the region. A growing list of rights groups now see the status quo of Israeli military occupation over millions of Palestinians as tantamount to apartheid and see the United States as enabling a morally unacceptable status quo.”

In The New York Times, Thomas Friedman asked if this might be “the big one.”

“Let’s see, what happens when TikTok meets Palestinian grievances about right-wing Israeli land grabs in Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem?” he wrote. “And then you add the holiest Muslim night of prayer in Jerusalem into the mix? Then toss in the most emotional Israeli holiday in Jerusalem? And a power play by Hamas to assume leadership of the Palestinian cause? And, finally, a political vacuum in which the Palestinian Authority is incapable of holding new elections and Israel is so divided it can’t stop having elections? What happens is the explosion of violence around Jerusalem on Monday that quickly spread to the Gaza front, and has people asking: Is this the big one? Is this the start of the next Palestinian uprising?

“These overlapping sacred dates led to inevitable clashes in the alleyways of East Jerusalem and culminated Monday with the Israeli police raiding the Aqsa Mosque, where Palestinians had stockpiled stones,” he added. “Hundreds of Palestinians were wounded while more than 20 Israeli police officers suffered injuries. That situation was exacerbated by a long-simmering fight over what Halbertal called ‘sacred territory.’ In brief, right-wing Israeli Jews had gotten a court order to evict six Palestinian families who are living in homes on land that was owned by Jews in East Jerusalem before the city was divided in the 1948 war. Palestinian families are fighting their eviction in court. Indeed, Israel’s Supreme Court was slated to rule Monday on whether the Palestinians could be expelled but delayed the decision because of the violence. Palestinians argue that it is unfair that Jews can reclaim land or homes they owned in East Jerusalem before 1948 but Palestinians have no legal means to reclaim land they owned in West Jerusalem or anywhere else in Israel before 1948.”

In Al Jazeera, Jalal Abukhater said it was “frankly nauseating” to hear commentators describe a “cycle of violence” or call for a “return to calm.”

“The problem with these statements is that they whitewash the fact that Jerusalem is a city under violent occupation and its occupier, Israel, has made its intent to slowly uproot the native population quite public,” he wrote. “This past year had been particularly violent for Palestinian Jerusalemites. The impact of COVID-19 on our community is dwarfed by the effects of relentless harassment, arrests, home demolition and displacement by the Israeli authorities, ultimately aimed at the ethnic cleansing of the city… No one should be surprised at the amount of anger Palestinians hold towards the Israeli occupation authorities in the city. Their encroachments on the rights of our community are endless and are directly responsible for any uptick in violence.

Abukhater described how, in the first weeks of Ramadan, Palestinian youth successfully protested barricades that were erected at Damascus gate in the Old City.

“The ‘victory’ was bittersweet, however,” he said. “For almost two weeks, Palestinian youth were subjected to brutal suppression, getting beaten up, attacked with stun grenades and foul-smelling ‘skunk’ water cannon, and detained. And while foreign media paid attention to these dramatic images, it ignored completely Israel’s other sustained campaigns of brutality against Jerusalemites. While Palestinian youth were resisting encroachment on their public spaces, some Jerusalemites were facing brutal dispossession of their homes. In Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, 500 Palestinians from 28 families are facing eviction from homes that have belonged to them for generations. In February, a court ruled that six Palestinian houses where 27 people live are to be handed over to Jewish settlers.”

What the right is saying.

The right has defended Israel’s actions, arguing that the Palestinian people are being led by a terrorist organization and Israel has a right to the holy sites because of its military victories.

In The National Review, David Harsanyi wrote about the narratives the media “ignore.”

“An average American probably needs a translator to make sense of the coverage of this conflict,” he said. “When the media say ‘settlers,’ they mean ‘Jewish homeowners.’ When they say ‘ultranationalist Jews,’ they mean ‘Israelis with yarmulkes.’ When they say ‘Palestinian protesters,’ they mean ‘rock-throwing rioters.’ When they say, ‘Israeli car hits Palestinian amid chaos and clashes at al-Aqsa mosque,’ they mean, ‘Palestinians throw rocks at Israeli car until it loses control and crashes — and then attempt to lynch the people inside.’

“And when someone says ‘provocation,’ they mean ‘the Jewish presence in Jerusalem,” he added. “Despite the efforts of international organizations to deny the religious and historical connection between the city and the people, Jerusalem is not some concocted modern capital. Al-Aqsa sits on rubble of an ancient Jewish temple in a city with a permanent Jewish presence. Palestinian leadership, oftentimes with the help of American governments, keeps deluding their people into believing the city will be their future capital. As things stand, there is no conceivable peace agreement that could include a divided Israeli capital. The notion that Jerusalem proper would be handed to a hostile, illiberal organization like Fatah might be popular at the Brookings Institution, but it is fantasy. This is not a Likud stance. It’s one of the few issues that all major political parties, left and right, agree on in Israel. Rightfully so.”

In The Jerusalem Post, Emily Schrader said Palestinians continue to undermine their own position.

“Since Israel’s establishment, Palestinian leaders have missed countless opportunities to make peace and secure a state because of their rejectionist attitude,” she wrote. “From a purely political standpoint, their adamant refusal to accept Israel costs them more in negotiating power every year. For example, the negotiating standpoint after the UN’s Partition Plan would have been far more advantageous for the Palestinians than where it stands today – and in almost every single subsequent peace offer, the Palestinians chose to sabotage their own future in terms of land, self-determination, cooperation with Israel and, yes, Jerusalem.

“While the Palestinians never had Jerusalem – even east Jerusalem, which was under occupation by Jordan – their actions today demonstrate why they never will. For that, they have only themselves to blame… we have entire generations raised on glorifying violence against Jews. Most recently, we see Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority all ramping up their incitement to violence, with the world’s largest sponsor of terrorism, Iran, dousing the entire situation with kerosene and lighting the match… With the talk of Palestinian elections (which unsurprisingly have already been canceled), the PA increased the hate speech on their networks with more calls to violence, praise for ‘martyrdom’ and glorification of Palestinian terrorist operations like the Munich massacre. Around the same time, terrorist groups in Gaza increased calls to violence surrounding Ramadan, carried out rocket attacks and encouraged the most recent wave of explosive-laden balloons from Gaza.”

As criticism of Israel mounts, including people calling it an “apartheid state,” Warren Goldstein defended the country from that framing.

“Within the borders of the state of Israel, all citizens—Jews, Arabs or otherwise—have the right to vote and complete equality before the law,” he wrote. “They participate side by side in elections, and Israeli Arabs hold high-ranking positions throughout the Israeli government, including the Knesset and the Supreme Court. After the recent election, an Arab-led party holds the balance of power in the Knesset, and it was an Arab judge that convicted former Israeli president Moshe Katzav.

“There is a continuing and bitter dispute around establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, which aren’t legally part of Israel,” Goldstein added. “The Palestinian leadership has consistently rejected concerted efforts to create a separate Palestinian state in these territories, from the United Nations partition plan in 1947 to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer in 2006. Successive Israeli governments have demonstrated that they are willing to pay a huge price for a lasting two-state solution. Israeli overtures have been met with terrorist attacks, rockets and mortars.”

My take.

It’s worth stating, from the outset, that this is an extremely complex issue — one that is difficult to cover from all angles in a single newsletter. But we’re doing our best.

This is also an extremely difficult issue for me to write about. I am a Jew and I’ve lived in east Jerusalem. I believe in the ancestral rights that “my people” have to the land there, and I believe there is an abundance of archaeological evidence (as well as written and oral history) to demonstrate the persistence of Jews in Jerusalem. And, without any doubt, Israel has won the right to exist on that land through the gauntlet of wars over the last century, most of which it has won. All of this leaves me predisposed to view things through the lens of my own biases.

Similarly, I find claims of Israel being an apartheid state over the top, and agree that framing it as such removes most meaning from the word. Many progressive liberals who post to #FreePalestine couldn’t name the Palestinian leadership or five members of Israeli government. They couldn’t tell you how many hundreds of rockets landed in Israel this week, or how many Israelis died in those attacks. And that often makes these conversations difficult to engage in through the American lens.

But in this moment in history, that’s about where my defense of Israel ends.

I can hardly stomach what’s happening now. When I lived in east Jerusalem it was during a time of momentary calm. I played basketball with Arab neighbors, walked the Muslim Quarter of the Old City with little worry, and regularly engaged in heated, but reasonable political debates about the state of the country and the history of the magnificent city of Jerusalem. Shared among everyone there — regardless of religion and political affiliation — was a reverence for the ground we were on. And I felt that often.

But the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has become a safe haven for far-right extremism, including many Jews who proselytize the same kind of “kill the Arabs” mindset that Israel usually points to among Iranian extremists to note how unfit they are as a world power. And this latest spate of violence is not difficult to track.

Barricades erected at the Damascus Gate during Ramadan, the evictions in Sheikh Jarrah, the Jewish extremists marching through the Old City calling for death to Arabs — all of it came in succession, and all of it raised the temperature and led to escalations any casual observer could have anticipated.

The settlement expansions have been predictably violent, unwieldy and disastrous, and are at the root of the violence happening now. Which is why I have written strongly against them, despite my support for the state of Israel, in the past. Israel has outsized control and political power, enough to provide a good quality of life to its people and a necessary safe haven for Jews, but it keeps pushing for more. The videos of Israeli police decked out in military gear closing in on protesters and worshippers wielding rocks make the power dynamics clear.

And at the end of the day, that’s key for my own framing here: the power dynamics are obvious. Many commentators have pointed to TikTok videos of Palestinian youth beating Orthodox Jews as the spark for this latest spate of violence, but that’s a precarious game. We could go tit for tat on who did what to whom first and work our way all the way back to Abraham and Ishmael if we wanted, but none of it changes the present.

The Palestinian people, the Arabs in Jerusalem and the West Bank and Gaza, are all stuck between their own extremist leaders, whom they no longer trust, and an Israeli government that treats them as second-class citizens. While many news organizations have treated the conflict as if it was being suppressed, it’s really been bubbling this entire time, and as the Israeli government continues to expand its settlements and uproot families from their homes, there has always been an obvious outcome here. The Palestinian people, as any people would, are going to fight like hell to stop it.

Is there a negotiating partner on the Palestinian end right now? It appears not. Which is a part of this issue that cannot be ignored. I don’t know who should be speaking on behalf of the Palestinian people at the negotiating table and I think that’s a significant part of the problem. But it’s not as if Israel seems interested in coming to the table, either. A cursory look at the state of play tells an obvious story, one in which Israel is in a position of strength and using that strength to press harder on the people under the influence of it. That seems clear to me. And the American government needs to find a way to maintain its support for a longtime ally while insisting that it reverse course, before the advances and provocations lead to the kind of war we haven’t seen in decades.

Tangle’s goal is to expose people to views they may not agree with — and also to make sure they see parts of their own worldviews represented. We’re trying to create the only true holistic view of the day’s big debates. In order to keep us ad-free, and to keep the bulk of the newsletter available for free, please consider supporting the longevity of this work by becoming a subscriber.

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A story that matters.

More than 40 attorneys general have asked Facebook to abandon plans to build an Instagram for kids. Facebook currently prohibits youth under the age of 13 from having Instagram accounts, though there is little to stop someone from lying about their age. Instead, Facebook was reportedly planning to create a platform devised for younger users. The bipartisan group of attorneys general, from 44 states, urged Facebook to reconsider, citing the risks of social media to children’s mental health. Facebook has said it is committed to not showing ads in any version of Instagram designed for younger users. (CNBC)


  • 17%. The increase in voter turnout in Hawaii and New Jersey during the 2020 election (compared to the 2016 election), tied for the highest of any state.
  • -5%. The decrease in voter turnout in Arkansas during the 2020 election (compared to the 2016 election), the largest decrease of any state.
  • 20%. The percentage of reading skills American students from kindergarten to fifth grade have missed out on during the pandemic, according to a new McKinsey report.
  • 33%. The percentage of math skills American students from kindergarten to fifth grade have missed out on during the pandemic, according to a new McKinsey report.
  • 54%. The percentage of Americans who said they have gone out to eat in the last week, the first time that figure has been above 50% since Axios began tracking it a year ago.
  • 1 million. The number of Americans who have signed up for health coverage through the Affordable Care Act since February.

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— Isaac and the Tangle team

Have a nice day.

Confidence is growing that the coronavirus vaccines stand up well to variants. Researchers and citizens alike have been holding their breath, but a spate of studies and research papers are showing promising results.“Everything we’ve seen with the variants should provide marked reassurance, as far as the protection that is afforded by vaccines — particularly the vaccines that we have in the United States,” Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, said. Studies of variants in Britain, California, South Africa, Israel and Qatar are all being examined. (The Los Angeles Times)


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Isaac Saul

I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Buck County, PA — one of the most politically divisive counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.

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