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Palestinian Intifada

Palestinian Intifada against the Israeli occupation

First Intifada (Dec. 1987 - 1990)

"Intifada" is an Arabic word for "uprising".

Palestinian uprising refers to a series of violent incidents between Palestinians and Israelis between 1987 and approximately 1990.


The growing sense of frustration among Palestinians, particularly on the West Bank and in Gaza, at the lack of progress in finding a durable resolution for their humanitarian and nationalistic claims after the establishment of Israel in 1948 and the Six-Day War in 1967. The Palestine Liberation Organization had failed to make any significant headway against Israel since the 1960s, and had in 1982 been forced to establish its offices in Tunis.

On December 8th 1987, when four Palestinian refugees from the Jabalya camp were killed in a traffic accident in Gaza the following day, rioting broke out in Jabalya. An 18-year old Palestinian was killed by Israeli soldiers during these riots after throwing a single stone, sparking further riots.

Palestinians and their supporters assert that the Intifada was a protest of Israel's brutal repression which included extra-judicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, indiscriminate torture, deportations, and so on. In addition to the political and national sentiment, further causes to the Intifada can be seen in the Egyptian withdrawal from their claims to the Gaza Strip as well as the Jordanian monarchy growing weary of supporting Jordanian claims to the West Bank. Rapid rates of birth and the limited allocation of land to new building or agriculture amidst increasing Zionist settlement under the Israeli rule contributed to the increasing density of population in the Palestinian territories. Unemployment was growing, and while income from service labor in Israel allowed Palestinians to provide university education for their children, few jobs were available for the graduates afterwards. Others point out that Palestinians felt abandoned by their Arab allies and the PLO had failed to successfully challenge Israel and establish a Palestinian state.

Considering all of the above and the mass scale of the uprising, it is of little doubt that it was not initiated by any single person or organization. However, the PLO was very quick to take matters into its hands, sponsoring provocateurs and enhancing their presence in the territories. The PLO was not uncontested, however, competing in its activities for the first time with Islamic organizations - Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. And most importantly, the uprising was predominantly led not by any of these groups, but by community councils consisting of ordinary Palestinians creating autonomous structures and networks in the midst of Israeli occupation. These councils, though they mainly engaged in armed resistance, also focused on creating independent, often-underground infrastructure, such as autonomous schools, medical care, food aid and other basic institutions.

Prior events

On October 1, 1986 Israeli military ambushed and killed seven men from Gaza believed to be members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group. Several days later an Israeli settler shot a Palestinian schoolgirl in the back. On December 4, 1986 Shlomo Sakal, an Israeli plastics salesman, was stabbed to death in Gaza. On December 8, there was a traffic accident in which an Israel Defense Force truck crashed into a van, killing 4 Palestinians from Jabalya. Under these already heated circumstances, many rumors began to spread. The mere presence of stories, reinforced by the real incidents above, caused anger and street fights against Israeli policemen and soldiers.

The uprising

On December 8, 1987, an uprising began in Jabalya where hundreds burned tires and attacked the Israel Defense Forces stationed there. The uprising spread to other Palestinian refugee camps and eventually to Jerusalem, the eastern part of which was and is occupied by Israel. On December 22, the United Nations Security Council condemned Israel for violating Geneva Conventions due to the number of Palestinian deaths in these first few weeks of the Intifada.

Much of the Palestinian violence was low-tech; dozens of Palestinian teenagers would confront patrols of Israeli soldiers, showering them with rocks. However, at times this tactic gave way to Molotov cocktail attacks, over 100 hand grenade attacks and more than 500 attacks with guns or explosives. Many Israeli soldiers were killed this way. The IDF, in contrast, possessed the latest weaponry and defense technologies.

In 1988, the Palestinians initiated a nonviolent movement to withhold taxes collected and used by Israel to pay for the occupation of territories. When time in prison didn't stop the activists, Israel crushed the boycott by imposing heavy fines while seizing and disposing of the equipment, furnishings, and goods from local stores, factories, and even homes. On April 19, 1988, a leader of the PLO, Abu Jihad, was assassinated in Tunis. During the resurgence of rioting that followed, about 16 Palestinians were killed. In November of the same year and October of the next, the United Nations General Assembly passed resolutions condemning Israel.

As the Intifada progressed, Israel introduced various riot control methods that had the effect of reducing the number of Palestinian fatalities. Another contributor to the high initial casualties was Yitzhak Rabin's aggressive stance towards the Palestinians (notably including an exhortation to the IDF to "break the bones" of the demonstrators). His successor Moshe Arens subsequently proved to have a better understanding of pacification, which perhaps reflects in the lower casualty rates for the following years.

Attempts at the peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were made at the Madrid Conference of 1991.


By the time the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, 1,162 Palestinians (241 of them children) and 160 Israelis (5 of them children) had died . This initially high fatality rate on the Palestinian side was due largely to the Israel Defense Force's inexperience in pacification and crowd control. Often when facing demonstrators IDF soldiers had no riot control munitions, and would shoot unarmed demonstrators with live fire. The Palestinian fatalities include many killed by their own side as collaborators.

The Intifada was never a military endeavour in either a conventional or guerrilla sense. The PLO never expected the uprising to make any direct gains against the Israeli state, as it was a grassroots, mass movement and not their venture. However, the Intifada did produce a number of results the Palestinians considered positive.

By engaging the Israelis directly, rather than relying on the authority or the assistance of neighbouring Arab states, the Palestinians were able to globally cement their identity as a separate nation worthy of self-determination. The era marked the end of the Israelis referring to Palestinians as "South Syrians" and largely ended Israeli discussion of a "Jordanian solution".

The harsh Israeli countermeasures resulted in international attention returning to the plight of the Palestinians, as prisoners in their own land. The fact that 159 Palestinian children below the age of 16 were killed was especially alarming for international observers. The conflict succeeded in putting the Palestinian question back on the international agenda, particularly in the UN, but also for Europe and the United States as well as the Arab states. Europe became an important economic contributor towards the nascent Palestinian Authority.

The intifada also dealt a heavy economic blow to Israel. The Bank of Israel estimated it cost the country $650 million in lost exports, largely through successful Palestinian boycotts and the creation of local microindustries. The impact on the services sector, including the important Israeli tourist industry, was notably bad.

The uprising can be linked to the Madrid Conference of 1991. Although the negotiations failed to fulfill their potential, it is notable that prior to the first Intifada, it was doubtful whether there would ever be a Palestinian state. After the Oslo accords, an independent Palestine of some sort, at some time in the future seemed relatively certain.

Al-Aqsa Intifada (Sep. 2000 - 2005)

The Intifada never ended officially. However, the relative success of the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit, the truce agreed on by President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian militant organizations, and the relatively low levels of violence during 2005, were considered by many to mark its effective end, commonly attributed to the change in Palestinian government following the death of Yasser Arafat and the Israeli unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

The death toll both military and civilians of the entire conflict in 2000-2006 is estimated to be 3,651 Palestinians and 1007 Israelis although this number is criticized by some sources for not differentiating between combatants and civilians. During the conflict from September 2000 to January 2004, 36.2% of Palestinians killed were non-combatants caught in crossfire.

Prior events

By signing the Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organization committed to curbing violence in exchange for phased withdrawal of Israeli forces from parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and Palestinian self-government within those areas through the creation of the Palestinian National Authority. However, both sides ended up deeply disappointed in the results of the Oslo Accords.

In the immediate five years following the Oslo signing, 405 Palestinians were killed. In addition, due to forced enclose of Palestinian areas by Israeli security fences, many Palestinians lost their jobs in Israeli cities, causing the unemployment rate to spike by 50% and cause the standard of living to drop by 30%

In 1995, Shimon Peres took the place of Yitzhak Rabin, assassinated by Yigal Amir, a Jewish extremist opposed to the Oslo peace agreement. In the 1996 elections, Israelis elected the Likud candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, who promised to restore safety for Israelis by conditioning every step in the peace process on Israel's assessment of the Palestinian Authority's fulfillment of its obligations in curbing violence as outlined in the Oslo agreement. Netanyahu continued the policy of construction within and expansion of existing Israeli settlements, in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Though construction within the settlements was not explicitly prohibited in the Oslo agreement, many Palestinians believed that the continuing construction was contrary to the spirit of the Oslo agreement.

Sharon visits Al-Haram Al-Sharif mosque

On September 28, 2000 the Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon, with a Likud party delegation, and surrounded by hundreds of Israeli riot police, visited the mosque compound of the Al-Haram Al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in the Old City of Jerusalem. The mosque compound is the first Qibla of Muslims and the third holiest site in Islam. It also contains the area for the most holy site in Judaism. The pretext for Sharon's visit of the mosque compound was to check complaints by Israeli archeologists that Muslim religious authorities had vandalized archeological remains beneath the surface of the mount during the conversion of the presumed Solomon's Stables area into a mosque.

Sharon's impending visit was officially announced and approved in advance with many Palestinian officials including Arafat himself, though prior to it some people on both sides protested, because of his controversial political stance. His visit was condemned by the Palestinians as a provocation and an incursion, as were his armed bodyguards that arrived on the scene with him in claims that Palestinian protesters threatened his life. Sharon knew that the visit would trigger violence, and that the purpose of his visit was political.

When Sharon expressed interest in visiting the Al-Haram Al-Sharif mosque (Temple Mount), Barak ordered GSS chief Ami Ayalon to approach Jibril Rajoub with a special request to facilitate a smooth and friendly visit. Rajoub promised it would be smooth as long as Sharon would refrain from entering any of the mosques or praying publicly. Barak approached Arafat and once again got assurances that Sharon's visit would be smooth as long as he did not attempt to enter the Holy Mosques. A group of Palestinian dignitaries came to protest the visit, as did three Arab Knesset Members. With the dignitaries watching from a safe distance.Palestinians saw Sharon's visit as an assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque. For this reason, the whole conflict is known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada. On September 29, 2000, the day after Sharon's visit, following Friday prayers, large uprising broke out around Old Jerusalem during which several Palestinian demonstrators were shot dead. Already in the same day, the September 29, 2000, demonstrations broke out in the West Bank. In the days that followed, demonstrations erupted all over the West Bank and Gaza.

Source: Palestine History
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