Middle East Roundtable /
A Palestinian View:
A way of life
different opinions, among Palestinians as well as others, as to what has
been the nature of the intifada--now just over five years old--and as to its
duration and objectives.
This second intifada took its name from the famous non-violent popular
Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation that started at the end
of 1987. That uprising was characterized by civil disobedience and
"disengagement" from the occupation by avoiding paying taxes, registering
cars and applying for permits, as well as general strikes and the massive
popular and peaceful demonstrations that attracted the attention and
admiration of the outside world.
When the current intifada started, Palestinians had in mind a repetition of
the first, i.e., a popular, non-violent means of protesting the occupation.
Two factors contributed to changing it, in time, into an armed
confrontation. The first and most important was the excessively violent
Israeli response. The iconic incident was the killing of the boy Muhammad Al
Dura as he was cowering behind his father, but notable examples include the
killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the tens of Palestinian
civilians killed in and around the Aqsa Mosque. In the first ten days of
this intifada, an average of ten Palestinian civilians were killed daily,
with no casualties on the other side.
Several theories have been expounded to explain this excessive reaction by
Israel to what were, initially, unarmed Palestinian demonstrations. Some
Israeli analysts have suggested that Barak did not want to allow a repeat of
the first intifada, which cost Israel dearly, both politically and
ethically. Others suggest that Barak was trying to avoid a repeat of the
so-called tunnel confrontations of September 1996 when clashes between the
two sides following the opening by Israel of a tunnel alongside the Aqsa
Mosque ended up costing 20 Israeli and 80 Palestinian lives.
A third line of thought, current in the Israeli media and some official
Israeli circles, holds that in some of the areas that witnessed the largest
demonstrations, East Jerusalem and the Galilee, the Israeli police were
simply not equipped with anti-riot equipment and ended up using live
ammunition, thus causing the many fatalities.
The second reason why popular non-violent protests were abandoned was the
existence of weapons on the Palestinian side as a result of the existence of
the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. The combination of the
continued and unforgiving Israeli killings of civilians and the existence of
arms on the Palestinian side, led, roughly after the first half of the first
year of the intifada, to it becoming a semi-militarized struggle against the
Added to the violent confrontations were a wide range of Israeli measures of
collective punishment that included stopping Palestinian workers from
reaching their work places in Israel and restricting movement inside the
Palestinian territories. This led to a halving of the value of the
Palestinian economy and national income, and an increase in unemployment by
half of the labor force and in poverty by half of the population.
Thus were created the internal dynamics whereby the violent confrontations
and collective punishments reinforced each other and the Palestinian side
was caught in a vicious cycle of violence.
In addition, two later factors led to the deterioration of the image of the
Palestinian struggle against occupation. The first was the tendency, within
first Hamas and later other factions, to also target Israeli civilians
inside Israel. The other was September 11, which Israel exploited
successfully to frame the armed Palestinian uprising in the context of the
international war on terror, thus impacting the Palestinian side in a
If we interpret the initifada as ongoing violent confrontations between
Israelis and Palestinians, then it would seem to have gradually ground to a
halt. But if we mean an insistence and willingness on behalf of Palestinians
to reject the occupation, struggle against it and for their liberation and
independence according to the borders of 1967, then the intifada is a way of
life for the Palestinian people.
There are many lessons to be learned from this intifada. No matter who
achieves what in which round of confrontations, the conflict and the
struggle will continue for as long as the occupation exists. There is only
one way to bring peace, security and economic prosperity. That is to allow
Palestinians to live normal lives in an independent state in the Gaza Strip
and the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem.- Published
3/10/2005 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet
publications. He is the Palestinian Authority minister of planning and has
been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
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