- Last week North Korea cut ties with South Korea, leading to fears of rising tensions on the peninsula
- On Tuesday, fears were further stoked when the country blew up an inter-Korean Liaison Office on the border.
- The North is mad about balloons traveling from the South that contain leaflets and information critical of the regime.
The North Cuts Ties
At 2:50 pm local time, people at Daeseong-dong – a village in South Korea that sits just across the border from Kaesong – heard a series of explosions. Surveillance footage and subsequent statements have revealed that North Korea destroyed the inter-Korean joint liaison office building. This is just the latest in a series of escalations the North has been engaged in since early June.
Prior to this, North Korea had declared South Korea an “enemy’ and cut off communication between the two nations at the beginning of the month.
The recent escalations started over balloons sent out by North Korean defectors living in the South. The existence of these defectors, and the South’s open embracing of them, adds a lot of tension to the relationship.
These balloons are also seen as a massive provocation by the North because of the content attached to them. Sometimes activists will attach USB’s with shows, movies, and news articles from the rest of the world. More often, though, it’s leaflets with anti-North Korea messaging and news.
North Korea claims that these balloons violate a 2018 deal made between Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-In.
After the last round of balloon at the end of May, North Korea finally reacted. On June 4th, Kim Yo-Jong, the Supreme Leader’s sister and de-facto second in command, had this to say about the balloons and the groups behind them in a statement on official North Korean news outlets.
“Human scum little short of wild animals who betrayed their own homeland are engrossed in such unbecoming acts to imitate men. They are sure to be called mongrel dogs as they bark in where they should not.”
“I would like to ask the south Korean authorities if they are ready to take care of the consequences of evil conduct done by the rubbish-like mongrel dogs who took no scruple to slander us while faulting the “nuclear issue” in the meanest way at the most untimely time.”
It’s unlikely that these balloons are the only thing to upset the North. They have a history of complaints against other actions they perceive as aggressive; notably the joint US-South Korean military drills held every year.
Relations have continued to sour since the last Kim-Trump summit in Vietnam. And as of June 16th, North Korea still haven’t haven’t answered multiple routine calls from different South Korean agencies and the military; putting talks that were started in 2018 back to square one.
However, South Korea has tried to adhere to the 2018 deal that prevented propaganda balloons from going north. In the past, the government would partake with their own balloons and other provocative acts – like playing music across the border. However, these recent balloons were from private groups, which complicate things because South Korea does allow for the freedom of speech and expression.
In the past the country has stated that because of those reasons, they wouldn’t take action. Just a day after Kim Yo-Jong issued her statement South Korea’s Ministry of Unification announced that they were taking the balloon-groups to court to get them to stop. The government also plans to move legislation forward that would ban the leaflets.
Joint Inter-Korean Liaison Office
This past weekend, we saw even further escalations when Kim Yo-Jong said: “Before long, a tragic scene of the useless North-South joint liaison office completely collapsed would be seen.”
That office has been officially closed since January over coronavirus concerns, but, in reality, it hasn’t been used since March 2019 after the failed Trump-Kim Vietnam summit. As of today the site as been destroyed.
The destruction caused the Blue House to host an emergency meeting about the situation, where afterwards officials said:
“The destruction … is an act that breaches the hope of all people wishing for the development of inter-Korean relations and a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
“The government makes clear that all responsibility caused by this rests totally with the North Korean side. We sternly warn that if North Korea takes steps further aggravating the situation, we will respond strongly to it.”
This isn’t the first time North Korea has closed themselves off after opening up to negotiations. It’s also previously happened in 2010, 2013, and 2016.
Where is Kim Jong-Un?
Amid the escalations, there are rumors from as far back as April that Kim Jong-Un is either dead, sick, or hiding in a villa. As with many rumors out of North Korea, it’s hard to know for sure. There are have been statements from the leader, as well as photos and appearances that were allegedly taken recently.
This seems to contradict the reality that Kim Yo-Jong, his sister, seems to be making the decisions right now. Normally, official threats to South Korea are done by the Supreme Leader, not an underling.
Some experts don’t think this is because Kim Jong-Un is dead or sick, but rather a calculated move to bolster his sister’s credibility with other high-ranking officials and generals in North Korea.
North Korea is known for it’s extremely patriarchal society, and a woman in a high-ranking position is nearly underheard of. However, Kim Jong-Un may have a soft spot for his sister, in addition to the fact that leadership in North Korea is a family affair.
Both Jong-Un and Yo-Jong both spent many years in Switzerland together during their youth to be educated. Other photos and videos seem to show the two working closely together.
So it’s possible that these recent statements are a move by the Paektdu blood-line, the decedents of Kim Il-Sung, to secure their hold on the country.
See what others are saying: (Yonhap News) (Chosun Ilbo) (Financial Times)
Israel-Hamas Fighting Continues To Escalate as Tensions Take Over Social Media
- Fighting between Israel and Hamas forces within the Gaza strip escalated into Thursday, as both sides have continued rocket attacks and airstrikes, killing nearly 100 and injuring hundreds more.
- Many fear the violence could turn into a ground war as Israeli forces gather on the border. At the same time, Israel is experiencing domestic conflict as angry Arab and Jewish citizens clash in the streets.
- Numerous celebrities have spoken out about the fighting, though all faced criticism regardless of whether they shared pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, or neutral stances that called for peace.
- The backlash highlights how divisive and complicated the over 70-year conflict between Israel and Palestine is.
Escalating Every Day
The situation between Israel and Palestine has dramatically escalated over the last two days, and as of Thursday morning, nearly people 100 are dead across both sides.
Hamas officials at the Gaza Ministry of Health claim that over 480 people have been wounded and 83 Palestinians have died in the conflict. That includes 17 children and at least one top commander, although Israel claims to have killed almost only militants and at least 10 top commanders. In Israel, six Israelis and one Indian national have died while dozens of others were wounded.
On top of the conflict with Gaza, Israel is also facing some of its most violent confrontations in decades between Jewish and Arab citizens. There have been reports of angry Arabs setting vehicles, a restaurant, and a synagogue ablaze. Meanwhile, in other communities, ultra-nationalist Jewish residents enacted their own violence by vandalizing Arab-owned cars.
In addition to this, there have also been accusations of what are described as lynchings by both groups.
Most Arab protesters deny that they are targeting Israelis as a whole, but instead are aiming at the ultra-nationalist, ultra-conservative Jewish communities that make up the vast majority of the Israeli settler movement. These same settler groups are using the Israeli government to force Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, which is one of the catalysts for recent events.
“How hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”
As with any situation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, opinions are extremely divided. Some appeared to want to show support for their homeland while still having empathy for everyone involved, such as actress Gal Gadot who tweeted, “My heart breaks. My country is at war. I worry for my family, my friends. I worry for my people.”
“This is a vicious cycle that has been on for far too long. Israel deserves to live as a free and safe nation, our neighbors deserve the same. I pray for the victims and their families, I pray for this unimaginable hostility to end, I pray for our leaders to find the solution so we could live side by side in peace. I pray for better days.”
The post was widely criticized, with users suggesting that calling the ongoing fighting a “war” implied some kind of power balance. That power imbalance was particularly highlighted in a video by late-night host Trevor Noah. In it, he pointed out that trying to get to “who’s wrong” is a wasted effort, and no matter what, important context will always be left out.
“Like just set aside motives and intentions and just look at technology alone. Israel has one of the most powerful militaries in the world. They can crush Gaza like that,” he added. “Not to mention one of the most powerful defense systems in the world. You shoot a rocket at them and it’s probably not going to do anything because of its defense system.”
“But I just want to ask an honest question here. If you are in a fight where the other person cannot beat you, how hard should you retaliate when they try to hurt you?”
Noah’s stance was a little more nuanced than many online, as he seemed to imply that Israel should have the ability to at least respond in some way to Hamas’ rocket strikes. Figures such as Bella Hadid didn’t agree. She painted the situation as more black and white, posting an image to Instagram that has one person asking if the conflict was over religion. The other person in the image responds, “They are not ‘fighting,’ Israelis are the oppressors and Palestinians are the oppressed and the situation is about anything but religion.”
That post has led others to use the same format to argue that Bella’s take is a reductionist argument that leaves out any context about the situation that is far more complex than it portrays.
For example, many noted that Bella discounts the importance of religion in the conflict, even though it’s always been a pillar and facet of identity that has helped fuel it. Her sister Gigi also posted about what’s going on, advocating that people look at this from the lens of human rights, as Israel has long been accused of being a de facto apartheid state that unfairly treats Palestinians.
Then there were those like Rihanna who took a “middle-of-the-road” approach. She wrote, “My heart is breaking with the violence I’m seeing displayed between Israel and Palestine!”
“I can’t bare to see it! Innocent Israeli and Palestinian children are hiding in bomb shelters…. There needs to be some kind of resolve! WE are sadly watching innocent people fall victim to notions by government and extremists, and this cycle needs to be broken!”
Pro-Palestinian users were quick to jump at her post, writing things like, “rihanna is giving such “all lives matter energy.” I’m disappointed. It’s not a conflict!! It’s one sided.”
As the outrage online continues, so does the fighting, with both Israel and Gaza firing at each other. There are reports that Israel is building up ground forces across from Gaza, and that the situation may escalate dramatically as at least three rockets were launched into Israel from southern Lebanon, a stronghold of the Islamist group Hezbollah.
See what others are saying: (Associated Press) (Al-Jazeera) (The Independent)
Hamas and Israel Exchange Deadly Strikes Over Conflicts at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah
- Tensions between Israel and Palestine have risen dramatically over the last month since Israel restricted access to al-Aqsa mosque, along with other religious and traditional sites during Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month.
- On top of this, there are ongoing clashes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, where an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families out of their homes despite a 1956 agreement that stated they could keep their homes after three years.
- The two situations have jointly fueled weeks of massive protests in Jerusalem, leading to hundreds of injuries.
- Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, issued an ultimatum to Israel to stop its actions. When the deadline passed Monday night, it launched over 400 rockets into Israel, which retaliated with its own airstrikes.
Actions at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Sheikh Jarrah Fuel Anger
Dozens were killed across Israel and the Gaza Strip between Monday and Tuesday after both sides conducted airstrikes over rising tensions between Israel and Palestinians in Jerusalem.
At play are two unique situations that have led to Palestinians becoming particularly frustrated at what they feel is unjust treatment by Israel. The first is what Palestinians describe as Israeli restrictions on religious and cultural practices during Ramadan. The other is the looming evictions of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Eastern Jerusalem.
The religious clashes began about a month ago at the start of Ramadan when Israeli security forces put up barriers to stop people from hanging out at the Damascus Gate, a popular spot during the holiest month in Islam.
The situation was made worse when Israel imposed a 10,000 person limit on prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites. The 10,000 person limit meant tens of thousands of Palestinians were turned away or forcibly removed in a series of raids into the mosque and compound, the most recent of which caused a fire in a tree in the area.
Israel tried to de-escalate the ongoing protests by removing the barriers at the Damascus Gate to little avail.
Sheikh Jarrah: Microcosm for Entire Conflict
On top of the situation at the al-Aqsa compound, there have also been also large demonstrations over evictions in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. The area was developed in the ’50s by Jordan when it controlled that part of Jerusalem as part of an agreement with Israel. Part of that agreement was that the families living there would be allowed to keep the homes after three years. Jordan eventually lost control of Sheikh Jarrah and seven decades later an Israeli court has ordered Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah to leave their homes.
The court agreed with the accusation that the homes were illegally built on Jewish-owned land and should be returned to Jewish residents. In turn, Israeli settlers moved into the area and entered homes with families still living inside — a move that has been described as little more than blatant theft.
The evictions at Sheikh Jarrah have led to weeks of massive protests and this past weekend was no different with hundreds of injuries across both sides.
The entire situation was supposed to be settled, at least legally, during a Supreme Court hearing on Monday, but that was postponed until an unknown date, leaving many to feel like the situation won’t be resolved and fueling further protests.
Hamas Issues Ultimatum
In response to all of this, Hamas and its territory of the Gaza Strip decided to issue an ultimatum for Israel to leave the al-Aqsa Mosque complex and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood or it would launch rockets. When that failed to happen at 6 p.m. on Monday, Hamas launched a massive attack of over 400 rockets into Israel. Many fell short or were stopped by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
However, some did find their targets and injured at least 10 Israelis and killing two. Israel responded by conducting airstrikes against Gaza, reportedly killing 26. Both sides have continued to bombard the other through the last 36 hours with promises to escalate the situation further.
Over the next few days, it’s likely that the death tolls will rise and the bloodshed will be used as its own excuse to continue the violent cycle that the region has been locked in since the middle of the 20th century.
See what others are saying: (CBS News) (Jersualem Post) (The New York Times)
German Catholic Priests Defy Vatican by Blessing Same-Sex Unions
- Priests throughout Germany openly defied the Roman Catholic Church and blessed same-sex marriages over the weekend as part of an organized effort that has extended into this week.
- In the past, the vast majority of willing priests would refuse to bless such marriages due to the ambiguity of the Church’s position, which was clarified in March 2021 as against blessing same-sex unions.
- The effort by German priests has received some support in progressive nations but has been widely opposed by the greater Church.
- The Vatican is unlikely to back down from its position; however, the challenge is large enough to potentially set off a debate on the issue within the Church.
Pope’s Stance on Blessing Same-Sex Unions
Catholic priests throughout Germany openly challenged a group of new rules by the Vatican this weekend and set the stage for a large debate over LGTBQ+ issues within the church.
At the center of the debate is a clear and complete ban on blessings of same-sex marriages by the Holy See from March of this year. Pope Francis’ official stance, and thus the Church’s official stance, is that priests cannot bless gay marriages because they are sinful, and the Church cannot “bless sin.”
Blessings are different from engaging in marriage ceremonies themselves and are used to bring marriages carried out by secular officials “into” the church.
The Pope’s stance received a lot of push back both within and outside of the church. Activists around the world felt it was overly restrictive and undermined Pope Francis’ other statements about loving LGBTQ+ members of the church. At the same time, hundreds of clergymen around the world, and especially in Germany, signed open letters with plans to defy the pontiff and bless same-sex unions anyways.
Such blessings weren’t completely unknown in the church because even without the Holy See’s official stance in March, it was assumed by clergymen that such blessings were forbidden; however, some carried them out anyways in secret.
Open Defiance of the Church
That secrecy largely came to an end this weekend in Germany. Sunday morning saw one of the first seemingly organized efforts in that defiance, with priests throughout Germany openly blessing same-sex marriages. The organized effort also includes another event planned for Monday, May 10, including live-streamed services.
Despite the progressive push by parts of the German church, most Catholic dioceses in the country back the Church’s official stance, and that support is even more widespread worldwide.
Beyond doctrinal differences, many German parishes are pushing for more progressive stances to cope with the fact that people are leaving the church in droves, partly because of its social stances. In some respects, those decisions have proven popular.
As it stands, it’s unclear what will happen next to the priests and bishops who backed blessing same-sex unions, and whether or not other dioceses in progressive countries will take a similar stance and back them. It’s also unlikely that the church will change its stance on same-sex marriages.
In the meantime, hundreds of gay Catholic couples throughout Germany and neighboring countries plan to get their marriages blessed at a Catholic Church for the first time.