Aqsa Intifada, Al-
AQSA INTIFADA, AL-
Al-Aqsa Intifada, or the Second Intifada, began after Ariel Sharon, a leader of Israel's right-wing Likud Party, visited al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount in Jerusalem on 28 September 2000. AlHaram, which contains al-Aqsa Mosque, is the third holiest shrine of Islam. The visit itself was provocative, especially because Sharon was accompanied by 1,000 riot police. But what triggered the Intifada the following day was the Israeli police's use of live ammunition and rubber bullets that killed 6 and injured 220 rock-throwing (but otherwise unarmed) Palestinian demonstrators.
The fundamental cause of the Intifada ("shaking off") was the continued Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israeli–Palestinian negotiations at Camp David in July 2000 that were supposed to end the occupation had broken down. Palestinians had expected that the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) recognition of Israel would lead to an end of the thirty-three-year Israeli occupation and to the establishment of a Palestine state. However, in the 1990s the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank and Gaza had doubled to 200,000, for which Israel confiscated more Palestinian land for the settlements and their access roads. Israel extended its policy of closures, which restricted movements, and its network of checkpoints, where Palestinians were often humiliated. Israel also continued to demolish homes and to uproot and burn olive and fruit trees for security reasons and as a form of collective punishment for acts of terrorism. In short, Israeli repression and Palestinians' unmet expectations of freedom and independence had contributed to years of pent-up Palestinian frustration, despair, and rage.
As in the first Intifada (1987–1991), in October 2000 Palestinians began by using nonviolent methods. But after 144 Palestinians had been killed, Islamist groups such as HAMAS and Islamic Jihad began a campaign of suicide bombings against mostly civilians in occupied territories and Israel. Groups associated with al-Fatah such as al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade focused on resisting Israeli army incursions and attacking settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. Starting in January 2002, al-Aqsa Brigade also began conducting suicide bombings against mostly Israeli civilians, a practice condemned by the international community. Although Yasir Arafat, head of al-Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization, and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) since 1996, did not initiate the Intifada, he reportedly gave tacit approval to armed resistance and terrorism despite his promise made in the Oslo Accord in 1993 to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to renounce "the use of terrorism and other acts of violence."
Palestinian violence contributed to the downfall of Israel's Labor prime minister Ehud Barak and to the rising popularity of Ariel Sharon, who became prime minister on 6 February 2001. Sharon—a proponent of Greater Israel, an architect of the settlements, and an opponent of the Oslo process—proceeded with broad public support to use harsh measures against the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. In response to Palestinian violence he initiated a policy of assassinations—euphemistically called "targeted killings"—of suspected terrorist leaders, that sometimes included activists and innocent bystanders. He reoccupied major Palestinian cities, using helicopter gunships, warplanes, and tanks. Some of Sharon's methods were considered to be war crimes by human rights groups, and were condemned by the United States.
The Intifada was costly to the Palestinians, to Israel, and to the United States. Some Palestinian analysts considered the militarization of the Intifada to be a blunder. The Oslo process was destroyed, Arafat sidelined, the Palestinian economy damaged, and PA areas occupied, as Israeli settlement construction and a separation barrier (called wall by Palestinians and fence by Israelis) continued apace. By early 2004 Sharon's harsh measures had led to the deaths of about 3,000 Palestinians, of whom most were civilians, including about 500 children. In addition, the Palestinians lost much popular, moral, and diplomatic support around the world. The Intifada also cost the lives of about 900 Israelis, most of whom were civilians, and brought insecurity to the everyday lives of Israelis, who lost faith in the Palestinians as peace partners. It also contributed to Israel's worst economic recession, for which the government sought a large loan from the United States. President George W. Bush's neglect of the peace process and support for the hard-line policies of Sharon resulted in anger at the United States in much of the Muslim and Arab world, which has helped anti-American Muslim extremist groups to recruit members.
The Intifada also had unintended positive consequences. Pressure from Sharon and Bush prompted reform of the PA, which most Palestinians had sought for years because they viewed the PA as corrupt, inept, and autocratic. A new office of prime minister was created to assume many of the duties and much of the authority of the president of the PA. One diplomatic by-product of the Intifada was the Arab League's approval in March 2002 of a Saudi plan calling for Arab recognition and normalization of relations with Israel, provided that United Nations Resolution 242 is implemented and an independent state of Palestine is created. Another was the United States's initiation of another peace effort, the Road Map, in 2003, The Intifada also increased support within Israel for the dismantling of most of the settlements and withdrawal from Gaza. Despite the violence, destruction, and insecurity, and despite the failed leadership of Arafat, Sharon, and Bush, most Israelis and Palestinians continued to support the concept of a two-state solution as the only viable solution to the Arab–Israel conflict.
see also arab–israel conflict; arafat, yasir; bush, george walker; fatah, al-; gaza (city); hamas; haram al-sharif; intifada (1987–1991); islamic jihad; israeli settlements; west bank.
Carey, Roane. The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid. London: Verso, 2001.
Grossman, David. Death as a Way of Life. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2003.
Journalists of Reuters. The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict: Crisis in the Middle East. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Reinhart, Tanya. Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2002.