The Second Intifada Begins

In September 2000, a new wave of violence erupted.

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When heavy rocks began raining down from the compound on the Mount onto Jewish worshippers in the plaza below, the Israeli border guard contingent opened fire on the Palestinian rioters with rubber bullets, killing four and wounding more than 100 persons. The second Intifada had been sparked with its first casualties. More than 1,100 Israelis and 5,500 Palestinians were been killed in the conflagration.

The appellation Intifada--which means resurgence in Arabic--was almost universally applied to the violence that erupted in the year 2000 as if it were a continuation of the Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from 1988 until 1992. But the differences between the two rapidly became clear. Where the first Intifada was characterized most memorably by Palestinian youths throwing stones at Israeli soldiers, the second Intifada was far bloodier, taking on the aspects of armed conflict, guerilla warfare, and terrorist attacks. The stone-armed Palestinian child of 1990 was replaced by the armed adult fighter of 2000.

Exploding Buses and Rocket Attacks in Israel's Center

The Israeli civilian population knew of the first Intifada mainly from televised pictures and stories brought home by soldiers. But the second Intifada brought fear home to the streets of Israeli towns in the form of exploding buses and rocket attacks. It dealt a grievous blow to the entire Israeli political left, which had been associated with and supportive of the peace process.

As in many other aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation, there are conflicting claims, analyses, and narratives surrounding the question of what sparked the second Intifada, who fueled the confrontation, what strategic aims it was supposed to serve, where it was headed, and even what it should be called. Any understanding of the issues, however, must begin with historical context, including the major events affecting the Middle East conflict over the past decade: the Oslo agreements, the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, the attempt to negotiate an end to the conflict at Camp David in July 2000, and the post-September 11 atmosphere in the United States.

From Oslo to Camp David

The official and almost unanimous Palestinian position on what Palestinians call the Al-Aksa Intifada--named after a mosque on the Temple Mount--is that it was a spontaneous and authentic outpouring of pent-up Palestinian wrath at the continuing Israeli occupation of their lands, which finally erupted when sparked by Sharon's provocative tour of the Temple Mount. According to this narrative, the signing of the Oslo agreement between Israel and the PLO on September 13, 1993, gave the Palestinian people hope that they would shortly see Israeli settlements dismantled, their economic condition dramatically improved, and their flag raised in a sovereign State of Palestine in all of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Seven years later, Israeli settlements had only expanded, the average Palestinian was mired deeper in poverty than before, and the Palestinian Authority--not state--controlled a disappointing less than half of the West Bank. When the Camp David summit meeting of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, U.S. President Bill Clinton, and Arafat in July 2000 failed to conclude an agreement leading to the creation of a Palestinian state, the Palestinian public mood dropped to new lows of despair and heights of anger.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.