The First Intifada (also known as simply the “intifada” or intifadah) was a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which lasted from December 1987 to 1993. The uprising began in the Jabalia refugee camp and quickly spread throughout Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Palestinian actions primarily included violence and civil disobedience. There were almost daily bus bombings and suicide bombers, general strikes, boycotts on Israeli products, refusal to pay taxes, graffiti, barricades, and stone-throwing.
Intra-Palestinian violence was a prominent feature of the Intifada, with widespread executions of alleged Israeli collaborators. While Israeli forces killed an estimated 1,100 Palestinians and Palestinians killed 164 Israelis, Palestinians killed an estimated 1,000 other Palestinians as alleged collaborators, although fewer than half had any proven contact with the Israeli authorities.
The Second Intifada was from September 2000 to 2005.
After Israel’s capture of the West Bank, Jerusalem, Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip from Jordan and Egypt in the Six-Day War in 1967, frustration grew among Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied territories. The “Iron Fist” policy of cracking down on Palestinian nationalism began by Israel in 1985. This was accompanied by economic integration and increasing Israeli settlements such that the Jewish settler population in the West Bank alone nearly doubled from 35,000 in 1984 to 64,000 in 1988, reaching 130,000 by the mid nineties. Referring to the developments, Israeli minister of Economics and Finance, Gad Ya’acobi, stated that “a creeping process of de facto annexation” contributed to a growing militancy in Palestinian society.
During the 1980s a number of mainstream Israeli politicians referred to policies of transferring the Palestinian population out of the territories leading to Palestinian fears that Israel planned to evict them. Public statements calling for transfer of the Palestinian population were made by Deputy Defense minister Michael Dekel, Cabinet Minister Mordaechai Zippori and government Minister Yosef Shapira among others.
Describing the causes of the Intifada, Benny Morris refers to the “all-pervading element of humiliation”, caused by the protracted occupation which he says was “always a brutal and mortifying experience for the occupied” and was “founded on brute force, repression and fear, collaboration and treachery, beatings and torture chambers, and daily intimidation, humiliation, and manipulation”
The First Intifada came when Palestinians were protesting against Israeli acts that they regarded as brutal and when there was a political stalemate between parties involved in the Arab–Israeli conflict. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) had not brought about any solutions to alleviate Palestinian suffering and in 1982, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the organization had been forced to relocate their offices to Tunis.
The Arab summit in Amman in November 1987 focused on the Iran–Iraq War, and the Palestinian issue was shunted to the sidelines for the first time in years.
Palestinians and their supporters regard the Intifada as a protest against Israeli repression including extrajudicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, deportations, and so on. While relatively few houses were demolished in the years before the Intifada, Israelis believed that house demolitions had “deterrent value”. After the Intifada began, and the PLO began to compensate affected families, demolitions “were transformed into a stimulus to further escalation of resistance.” Further causes to the Intifada can be seen in the Egyptian withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the Jordanian monarchy growing weary of pursuing its claims to the West Bank.
High birth rates in the Palestinian territories and the limited allocation of land for new building and agriculture contributed to the increasing population density and a rise in unemployment. While income from manual labor in Israel benefited some Palestinians, unemployment was increasing, even for those with university degrees. At the time of the Intifada, only one in eight college-educated Palestinians could find degree-related work.
One incident that was often claimed as a motivation is the perceived IDF failure in the “Night of the Gliders”, or the “Kibia action”, in which a Palestinian guerrilla infiltrated an IDF army camp from Lebanon and killed six soldiers.
According to Donald Neff, “The immediate cause” of the First Intifada came on 8 December 1987, “when an Israeli army tank transporter ran into a group of Palestinians from Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza Strip, killing four and injuring seven. An Israeli salesman had been stabbed to death in Gaza two days earlier and there were suspicions among the Palestinian Arabs that the traffic collision had not been an accident.” By contrast Qumsiyeh contests the accuracy of this dating, maintaining that the intifada began with the multiple youth demonstrations in the month prior to the truck incident.
The large number of Palestinian casualties provoked international condemnation. In subsequent resolutions, including 607 and 608, the Security Council demanded Israel cease deportations of Palestinians. In November 1988, Israel was condemned by a large majority of the UN General Assembly for its actions against the intifada. The resolution was repeated in the following years.
The Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices
In its annual report of 26 August 1988, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices reported about the intifada in detail. Following next reports, the General Assembly reacted on 8 December 1989 with an unusually strong condemnation of Israel in Resolution 44/48. Israel was condemned for a long list of bad behaviours, which were inter alinea called “war crimes and an affront to humanity”. The long list of charges included inter alia annexation, deportation, expulsion, destruction, collective punishment, administrative detention, torture, illegal exploitation, curtailing of free press, killing and wounding of defenceless demonstrators, breaking of bones and limbs of thousands of civilians, use of toxic gas and arming of Israeli settlers with the purpose to perpetrate and commit acts of violence against Palestinians and other Arabs, causing deaths and injuries. Israel objected to the UN investigations due to their pre-conceived, biased nature and ignorance of the fact that every act of Palestinian political violence itself was a war crime. All resolutions were opposed by Israel and the United States.
Failing Security Council
On 17 February 1989, the UN Security Council unanimously but for US condemned Israel for disregarding Security Council resolutions, as well as for not complying with the fourth Geneva Convention. The United States, put a veto on a draft resolution which would have strongly deplored it. On 9 June, the US again put a veto on a resolution. On 7 November, the US vetoed a third draft resolution, condemning alleged Israeli violations of human rights
On 14 October 1990, Israel openly declared that it would not abide Security Council Resolution 672 and refused to receive a delegation of the Secretary-General, which would investigate Israeli violence. The following Resolution 673 made little impression and Israel kept on obstructing UN investigations.