Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Israel: The First Intifada (1987-1993)

First Intifada
A confrontation between Palestinian demonstrators and the Israeli army in the West Bank

The continuation of the occupation of the Palestinian territories eventually led to the outbreak of a popular uprising (the First Intifada) of Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, starting in December 1987. It came as a shock and a surprise for the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership alike. It soon became clear that the methods used by the Israeli army to quash the uprising, were ineffective. On the contrary: a five-year period of confrontation commenced. As a consequence, the calls – also in the West – for an end to the occupation swelled.

The tactics of the Intifada were multiple: organized labour strikes, shop closures, boycotts of Israeli goods, endless demonstrations. Many youngsters took part in the uprising, waving Palestinian flags, and throwing stones at the Israeli military. The refugee camps were inexhaustible sources of recruitment. The uprising was far from non-violent. According to Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, in the course of six years 1,376 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli Armed Forces or Jewish settlers, and 185 Jewish Israelis by the Palestinians. More than 15,000 Palestinians were imprisoned. Some hundreds of Palestinians, suspected of collaborating with Israel, were killed by fellow Palestinians.

Although the uprising was a spontaneous reaction to the occupation, it was soon organized by local leaders. Among them were leaders of a new current in Palestinian politics, especially in Gaza: the Islamists of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Both organizations remained, by choice, outside the PLO.

In order to regain control over political developments in the Occupied Territories, the PLO leadership in exile in Tunis took two steps. The first move was the endorsement on 15 November 1988, by the Palestinian National Council of UN Resolutions 242 and 338, thus formally supporting a two-state approach in future negotiations. At the same time ‘terrorism in all its forms (including state terrorism)’ was rejected. For the United States this finally opened the way for a formal dialogue with the PLO (soon afterwards ties would be severed because of the PLO’s pro-Iraqi stand in the Kuwait Crisis).

The second step, on the same day, was the Declaration of Independence of Palestine, solemnly proclaimed by PLO chairman Arafat at the Palestinian National Council meeting in Algiers (Algeria). Although only of a symbolic nature, the objective was clear: the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Both steps were made easier after King Husayn of Jordan, who over the years had lost political influence on the Palestinians on both sides of the Jordan River, cut Jordan’s legal and administrative ties with the West Bank on 31 July 1988, only months after the outbreak of the Intifada. Autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank in association with Jordan – the long-time preferred option of the Israeli Labour Party – was thus off the agenda. (For more in depth information, see also Intifada in Arab-Israeli Negotiations)

Fanack Water Palestine