What exactly is an intifada?

By Updated at 2017-12-08 01:35:24 +0000

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Intifada is an Arabic word that translates literally as 'shaking off' or 'Uprising'. In the Arab-Israeli conflict, it means a concerted Palestinian effort to shake off Israeli power and gain independence.

When intifada is used in the context of the decades of fighting between the Palestinians and Israelis, it means an organized, both grassroots and politically-backed uprising of local Palestinians against the Israeli military.

The opposing sides already fought two such conflicts. The first one started in 1987 and ended in 1993, and the second one, far bloodier, broke out in 2000 and lasted for over four years.

The militant Palestinian group Hamas is now calling for a third intifada, angered over U.S. far-right nationalist President Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinian officials also claim that East Jerusalem, currently occupied by Israel, should becomethe capital of a future Palestinian state. Placing the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem is seen as the US openly taking Israel's side.

Who are the Hamas?

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Hamas senior leader Ismail Haniya at a political event in the Gaza Strip

Hamas is a militant, Islamist Palestinian faction which incorporates both a political and a military wing. They are also the second-largest political force in the occupied Palestinian territories, behind the less hawkish Fatah. The two groups are working on bridging their divide to form a unity government.

Hamas denies Israel's right to exist and has called for the destruction of Jewish state. It has fought several wars against Israel in recent years, including the bloody conflict in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. The faction also committed a range of terror strikes and suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Hamas was founded in 1987, in the opening year of the first intifada.

What was The First Intifada?

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The beginning: The First Intifada started when an Israeli military truck crashed into a civilian car transporting Palestinian workers, who were waiting to return to the Gaza Strip on December 8, 1987.

Four Palestinians were killed in the impact. While the Israelis maintained that the driver lost control of his vehicle, many Arab observers believe that the truck intentionally rammed the vehicle, seeking revenge for a deadly stabbing which claimed the life on an Israeli some days earlier. The preceding months were characterized by simmering violence on both sides.

The escalation: The deaths of Palestinian workers prompted violent riots against Israeli soldiers, who repeatedly used live rounds against the crowds. The violence escalated in the following days, with protesters raising barricades and pelting Israeli vehicles with stones.

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Arafat, left, sits with members of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, formed in 1964 as an umbrella union of groups fighting against Israeli occupation of Palestine. After 1967's Six-Day War, Arafat's Fatah gained prominence, and he became PLO chief in 1969.



While the unrest was initially spontaneous, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), lead by the late Yasser Arafat, soon started directing the events.

At the same time, many Palestinians also refused to go to work in Israel, pay taxes, or buy Israeli products, among other acts of civil disobedience. The opening of the first Intifada also saw the birth of Hamas, which was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin with the aid of the Muslim Brotherhood and religious members of the PLO.

Israel launched a crackdown in occupied areas to quell the revolt. Israeli forces imposed curfews and notably used beatings, torture, and mass arrests — exacerbating the conflict.

The ending and death toll: After years of violence, the first intifada ended with the signature of the Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and the PLO in 1993. The document created the Palestinian Authority and enabled a measure of self-governance to the occupied regions, but it was rejected by Hamas.

While estimates on the death tolls differ among various sources, Israeli NGO Btselem claims that 1,203 Palestinians were killed by the end of 1993, compared to 179 Israelis. Israel's brutal crackdown also seriously damaged its international reputation.

What was the Second Intifada?

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The beginning: On September 28, 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the Israel-occupied areas of East Jerusalem, triggering the Second Intifada.

Palestinian leaders saw the visit as Israel laying claim to both the occupied territories and Islam's holy sites at Jerusalem's Tempe Mount. While Sharon served as the leader of opposition in Israel's parliament at the time of the visit, he was elected prime minister several months later.

The move also fed pre-existing resentment among the Palestinians, linked to the breakdown of peace talks in Camp David in July 2000.
Sharon visited the Temple Mount under massive police escort, but reportedly steered clear of the renowned Al-Aqsa mosque, which was also at the center of the repeated outbreaks of violence in 2016 and 2017. Still, his visit sparked riots and condemnation in the Palestinian media. Protesters attacked hundreds of police officers guarding Sharon and his fellow lawmakers. The violence escalated quickly once again, and two days later a shootout in Gaza Strip claimed the life of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah in a widely publicized incident.

The escalation: Hamas declared October 6, 2000 a "day of rage" and called on Palestinians to attack Israeli army outposts, further escalating the conflict which continued for years.

Unlike the first intifada, which saw Palestinians use mostly stones and Molotov cocktails against the Israeli forces, the second mass uprising included Hamas and other jihadist groups fight gun battles with Israeli soldiers and shelling Israeli towns. Both sides also engaged in high-profile assassinations.

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Police and paramedics inspect the scene after a suicide bomber blew himself up on a rush-hour bus near the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo during the Second Intifada, on June 18, 2002


Notably, Hamas used suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians. Their targets included buses, restaurants, and hotels.

In turn, Israel launched airstrikes against targets in Gaza and large-scale military attacks in occupied territories. The intifada also prompted Israeli officials to start constructing the large "anti-terror" barrier.

The ending and death toll: The Israeli daily Haaretz estimates that some 1,330 Israelis were killed and also notes 3,330 victims on the Palestinian side in the five years of fighting.

While the Second Intifada has no clearly determined end date, some observers point to the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 as the decisive moment. However, lethal attacks continued for months after his death.

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