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Intifada

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Riots in JerusalemRiots in Jerusalem
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I

Introduction

Intifada (Arabic for 'throwing off,' as a dog throws off fleas), uprising by Palestinians against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip territories. Palestinian discontent has resulted in two separate uprisings since 1987. Both were attempts to liberate portions of Palestine from Israeli control through a combination of force and negotiations. These uprisings have involved a series of demonstrations, strikes, riots, and violence against Israelis, their settlements, and their institutions. Originally characterized by civil disobedience, the movement became increasingly violent and included attacks against Israel in its sovereign territory (the land Israel held before capturing the Gaza Strip, West Bank, and Golan Heights in the Six-Day War of 1967).

II

First Intifada

The first intifada began in late 1987 in the Gaza Strip and spread rapidly across the Gaza and West Bank territories. It was characterized by civil disobedience and demonstrations during which Palestinian youths frequently stoned Israeli security forces and civilians. The intifada was distinguished from previous sporadic Palestinian attacks against Israeli occupation by the extent of popular participation, its long duration, and the prominent part played by Islamic groups.

The intifada was loosely organized, and three main groups participated in the movement, including the United National Command, which included the principal factions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas; and the Islamic Jihad. In the beginning the three groups advocated the creation of an Islamic state that would include all of historical Palestine, an area that includes sovereign Israeli territory. These groups also approved of an armed struggle, if necessary, to achieve their goals. However, in 1988 the PLO changed its policy and expressed support for a solution that would allow a Palestinian state to coexist with Israel.

As the intifada continued, its character changed. Popular participation decreased, violence increased, the Islamic groups grew in strength, and conflicts between militant and moderate factions became more prominent. Israel first attempted to repress the movement by increasing police and army presence, closing universities, deporting suspects, enforcing economic sanctions, and expanding Israeli settlement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As the intifada grew more violent, the Israeli military responded in kind. In time, the violence and destruction increased pressure on both sides to attempt a diplomatic solution.



The intifada was a factor leading to the September 1993 Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel. This agreement led to Palestinian self-rule in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho under the direction of the newly created Palestinian National Authority, headed by PLO leader Yasir Arafat. A second agreement, signed in September 1995, extended Palestinian self-rule to most of the remaining Palestinian towns and refugee camps in the West Bank. Several years of relative calm ensued.

III

Second Intifada

In the summer of 2000 a U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian summit at Camp David, Maryland, failed to produce a comprehensive peace agreement. The failure helped spark the outbreak of a second intifada, in September 2000. This intifada is known as the Al Aqsa intifada, after the holy Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Like the first intifada, the Al Aqsa intifada was characterized by Palestinian attacks on Israelis followed by strong Israeli military responses. On several occasions, in retaliation for violent attacks, Israel reoccupied lands that it had turned over to the Palestinians since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. In reaction to the second intifada, Israeli public opinion shifted noticeably to the right, and in February 2001 center-right politician Ariel Sharon, a vocal critic of returning the West Bank and Gaza Strip to Palestinian control, was elected prime minister. The second intifada took a heavy economic toll on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and loss of life was extraordinarily high. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 250 Israelis lost their lives in the first 18 months of intifada violence.

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