The First Intifada: Israeli-Palestinian Conflict – Part Twenty Seven
In 1982, the PLO relocated to Tunis, Tunisia after it was driven out of Lebanon by Israel during Israel’s six-month invasion of Lebanon. Following massive raids by Israeli forces in Beirut, it is estimated that 8,000 PLO fighters evacuated the city and dispersed.
In 1985, Israeli Air Force F-15s bombed the PLO’s Tunis headquarters, killing more than 60 people in Operation Wooden Leg. The Tunis period was a negative point in the PLO’s history, and led to capitulation in future negotiations and the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The PLO in exile was distant from a concentrated number of Palestinians and became far less effective. There was a significant reduction in centers of research, political debates, and journalistic endeavours that had encouraged an energized public presence of the PLO in Beirut. More and more Palestinians were abandoned, and many felt that this was the beginning of the end.
The First Intifada
The First Intifada or First Palestinian Intifada was a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories lasting from December 1987 until the Madrid Conference in 1991 though some date its conclusion to 1993. The uprising began on December 9th in the Jabalia refugee camp after a series of escalating actions and deaths of Palestinian and Israeli citizens. Tensions reached a boiling point when an IDF truck struck a civilian car, killing four Palestinians. Rumors that the crash was deliberate quickly spread throughout Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Israel deployed some 80,000 soldiers and initially fired live rounds, killing a large numbers of Palestinians in response to:
- general strikes
- boycotts of Israeli civil administration institutions in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank
- civil disobedience in the face of army orders
- an economic boycott consisting of refusal to work in Israeli settlements on Israeli products, refusal to pay taxes, refusal to drive Palestinian cars with Israeli licenses, graffiti, barricading, and widespread throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF and its infrastructure within the Palestinian territories,
In the first 13 months, 332 Palestinians and 12 Israelis were killed. Given the high proportion of children, youths and civilians killed (53 under the age of 17 in the first 12 months), Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin adopted a policy of ‘might, power, and beatings,’ namely “breaking Palestinians’ bones” instead of using live ammunition against civilians. The global diffusion of images of soldiers beating adolescents with clubs then led to the adoption of firing semi-lethal plastic bullets.
Over the first two years, according to Save the Children, an estimated 7% of all Palestinians under 18 years of age suffered injuries from shootings, beatings, or tear gas. Over six years, the Israeli Defense Forces killed an estimated 1200 Palestinians while Palestinians killed 100 Israeli civilians and 60 IDF personnel and injured more than 1,400 Israeli civilians and 1,700 soldiers.
Intra-Palestinian violence was also a prominent feature of the Intifada, with widespread executions of alleged Israeli collaborators, including an estimated 822 Palestinians killed as alleged collaborators between 1988 and 1994. It would be proven that fewer than half had any proven contact with the Israeli authorities.
Turning of the Tide
The intifada was neither a military nor a guerrilla conflict. The PLO had some control of the situation and never expected the uprising to make any direct gains against the Israeli state, as it was a grassroots, mass movement and not their venture. However, the Intifada did produce a number of results that Palestinians considered positive:
- The Intifada resulted in international attention to the Palestinians’ cause.
- The Palestinians showed for the first time that there were two sides to the Israel-Palestine issue.
- Many American media outlets openly criticized Israel in a way that they had not before.
- Criticism of Israel also came from the United Nations, the European Community as well as the Arab states.
- Many problems with the IDF’s conduct in the operative and tactical fields were exposed.
- The general problem of Israel’s prolonged control of the West Bank and Gaza strip. These problems were noticed and widely criticized.
- By engaging the Israelis directly, rather than relying on the authority or the assistance of neighboring Arab states, Palestinians were able to demonstrate their identity as a separate nation worthy of self-determination.
- The failure of the “Iron Fist” policy, Israel’s deteriorating international image, and Jordan cutting legal and administrative ties to the West Bank along with U.S. recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people forced Israel to seek an end to the violence though negotiation and dialogue with the PLO.