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First Intifada

From Academic Kids

Template:NPOV The first Intifada was an uprising that took place from 1987 to 1991 or 1993 (see Intifada).

It was sometimes also called "the war of stones", because the Palestinians generally used stones and other makeshift weapons.

The intifada was a partially spontaneous phenomenon; after it began, the PLO attempted to claim that it had organized it, but historians view this as an after-the-fact attempt to assert more control than it really had. (This is the reverse of the situation with regard to the Second Intifada, which was billed as "spontaneous" although the PLO had apparently long planned it.)

In the months leading up to the first intifada, numerous events occurred that increased the hostility between Palestinians and Israelis. On October 1, 1987 Israeli military ambushed and killed seven men from Gaza believed to be members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Several days later an Israeli settler shot a Palestinian schoolgirl in the back. On the other hand, Palestinian militants attacked and killed many innocent Israeli citizens as well as Israeli soldiers. Daily, the riots escalated throughout the occupied territories and were particularly severe in the Gaza Strip.

Under these already heated circumstances, incorrect rumors easily spread. The mere presence of stories, reinforced by the real incidents above, caused wild panic and street fights against Israeli policemen and soldiers. It is well documented that the combined effect of these events constituted the proximal spark of the first intifada. The Intifada was the climax of growing tension and violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Arabs maintain 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), the increasing density of population (caused by both the traditional rapid rates of birth in poor areas and the limited allocation of land to new building or agriculture under the Israeli rule) and the growing unemployment (in particular, the income from jobs in Israel allowed Palestinians to provide university education for their children - but there were few available jobs for the graduates afterwards).

Others point out that Palestinians felt abandoned by their Arab allies, the PLO had failed to destroy Israel and establish a Palestinian state in its stead as promised. However, it did manage to block the Israeli attempts to call for an election inside the territories (beginning with 1974), and as it seemed to many of them, they would spend the rest of their lives as second class citizens, without full political rights.

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 man or organization. However, the PLO was very quick to take matters into its hands, sponsoring riot provocateurs and enhancing their presence in the territories (called the "tandhim", or "organization") that was to guarantee the continuation of riots. The PLO was not uncontested, however, competing in its activities for the first time with radical Islamic organizations - Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which also had a share in inducing further violence.

Much of the intifada was low-tech; dozens of Palestinian teenagers would ambush small patrols of Israeli soldiers, showering them with large rocks, attempting to kill with brute force and vastly superior numbers. However, this tactic soon gave way to using thousands of Molotov cocktail attacks, over 100 hand grenade attacks and more than 500 attacks with guns or explosives. Many Israeli citizens, civilians or in the military were killed this way.

In 1988, middle-class Christian merchants initiated a nonviolent movement (or as some analysts hold it, were forced by the PLO) to withhold taxes - the legality of which under international law is disputed - collected and used by Israel to pay for the administration 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.


Outcome

By the time the Oslo Accords were signed, 1,124 Palestinians and 90 Israelis had died source (http://www.btselem.org/english/Statistics/First_Intifada_Tables.asp). Significantly, in the first eighteen months of the intifada, 326 Palestinians had been killed, as opposed to only 10 Israeli casualties in the same period. This initially high fatality rate on the Palestinian side was due largely to the IDF's lack of resources and inexperience in pacification and crowd control. Often when facing demonstrators IDF soldiers had no riot control munitions and would feel compelled to shoot unarmed demonstrators with live fire.

As the intifada progressed, Israel progressively introduced various riot control methods (some, including a machine that broke up rocks and spat them at crowds, being rather exotic) that had the effect of reducing Palestinian casualties, although they still remained fairly high. Another possible 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.

The Intifada was never a military endeavour in either a conventional or guerilla sense. The Palestinian leadership (who had limited control of the situation in any event) never expected the uprising to make any direct gains against the Israeli state. However, the Intifada did produce a number of positive results for the Palestinians:-

1. 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".

2. The harsh Israeli countermeasures (particularly during the earlier years of the Intifada) resulted in adverse media publicity for Israel. The fact that 159 Palestinian children below the age of 16 (mostly stone throwers) had died was especially concerning for international observers. Significantly, numerous American media outlets openly criticised Israel in a way that had not been experienced previously. Furthermore, the conflict succeeded in putting the Palestinian question back on the internation 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, and American aid and support of Israel became more conditional that it was previously.

3. The intifada also dealt a heavy economic blow to Israel. The Bank of Israel estimated it cost the country $650 million in lost exports. The impact on the services sector, including the important Israeli tourist industry was notably bad.

4. The uprising lead directly to the Oslo accords, and thereby to the return of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from their Tunisian exile. Although the negotiations failed to fulfil 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.

Ultimately, Israel was successful in containing the Intifada. As the Palestinians' force was inferior in relation to the well equipped and trained Israel Defense Forces, and were generally unarmed. However, the Intifada pinpointed numerous problems with the IDF's conduct in the operative and tactical fields, as well as the general problem of Israel's prolonged control of the Palestinian territories. These problems were noticed and widely criticized, both in international forums (in particular, when humanitarian questions were at stake), but also in Israel's own public, in which the Intifada had caused a split.


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