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Background and Root Causes: the 1987 Palestinian Intifada Descriptive Essay



On December 9, 1987, the Palestinian uprising or intifada broke out in the refugee camps at the territories of Gaza Strip and the West Bank where Palestinians lived, and which were occupied by Jewish settlers since 1967.

The uprising can be discussed as the non-violent opposition of the Palestinian population to the repressive policies provided by the Israeli government in relation to the economic and social development of Gaza and the West Bank territories.

The resistance of the Palestinians in the form of demonstrations, strikes, and boycotts was the reaction to the twenty years of the economic and social decline at the territories influenced by following the Israeli policies which were developed to support the Israel’s growth, but these policies were not oriented to the local needs of population at the occupied regions.

As a result, the Palestinians’ riots symbolized the rejection of the years of the Israeli occupation and the unity of the Palestinians’ people. The uprising started in 1987, and it can be discussed as ceased after 1993 when the first Oslo Accord was signed.

Thus, the main causes of the Palestinian uprising developed during 1987-1993 are the Israeli policy of ‘Iron fist’ in relation to the economy at the occupied territories and the agricultural and settlement policies according to which the Palestinians living in Gaza Strip and the West Bank were repressed.

The Background and Main Aspects of the 1987 Palestinian Intifada

The Palestinian intifada was developed as one of the main sides of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The territories of Gaza and the West Bank were occupied as a result of the Six Day War of 1967. The Palestinians living at these territories were involved in the economic relations with Israel, and the Israeli government supported the policy of settling these territories with the Jewish population actively (Nassar and Heacock 71-72).

The Palestinians’ opposition to the processes grew and some triggers in 1987 made people develop a kind of riot against the Israelis and the possible annexation of the Occupied Territories.

The first demonstrations and strikes of the Palestinians against the Israelis and their occupation were triggered by the traffic accident with the Israeli tank in which four Palestinians were killed and seven people were injured. However, this accident could not be considered as the real trigger for developing the uprising, but the rumor about the causes of the accident impressed the Palestinian population much.

People said the accident was the reaction to the fact of killing the Israeli salesman (Nassar and Heacock 56; Peretz 965). That is why, the Palestinians started their non-violent movement of opposition, resisting the Israelis’ humiliating activities. The most active members of the rioting movement were the representatives of the refugee camps living at the Occupied Territories.

The Israelis discussed the possibilities to suppress the Palestinians’ uprising with the help of non-violent actions such as definite political and economic sanctions. However, the uprising developed, and the repressed Palestinian population accentuated the idea of intifada as the possibility to free themselves from the Israelis’ occupation and colonization of the lands.

In spite of the economic sanctions and factual economic isolation of the Occupied Territories provided by the Israeli government, the Palestinians developed their movement. If the first days of the uprising were associated with boycotts, demonstrations, and refusals to follow the tax policy, the Palestinians began to use the tactics of rock-throwing and road-blocking more actively during the next months.

Guns were used occasionally to accentuate the non-violent character of the opposition (Nassar and Heacock 317). The Palestinians also made accents on the role of youth and women in rioting for benefits of the national liberation movement.

Moreover, it is impossible to state that the uprising started on December 9, 1987, without any causes and earlier triggers. It is the fact that “confrontations and clashes with the Israeli army in the form of stone throwing, Molotov cocktails, strikes … raising Palestinian flags, chanting, and decorating walls with nationalist slogans, are daily practices in most refugee camps” (Nassar and Heacock 74).

During the uprising, these activities were intensified, and the citizens of the towns and villages were involved in the process. Thus, the Palestinians’ actions could be discussed as more nationalist in character. Later, the uprising was more organized ideologically with references to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Thus, “the mosques became the natural place for … social structuring of the uprising by Hamas” (Peretz 183).

The Palestinians became more aggressive and radical with the development of the uprising movement, and their opposition acquired the strong ideological fundament in the form of the Islamic organizations.

It was necessary for the Palestinians to develop the liberation movement because during a long period of time the urgent and controversial Palestinian question was not discussed by the politicians in detail. That is why, it is important to determine two more causes for starting the uprising.

The case of the Palestinians in Lebanon was not resolved successfully, and “the Arab League summit in Amman during November 1987 produced little apparent support for the Palestinians”, and they “perceived the secondary attention it devoted to their problem as a slight, an attempt to avoid confronting the Palestinian issue head on” (Peretz 966).

The real actions were necessary to change the situation, supporting the idea of the Palestinians’ liberation.

The Root Causes of the Palestinian Intifada

The Effects of the Israeli Economic Policies on the Occupied Territories

The Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank resulted in imposing new economic policies on the territories. The policies’ principles were beneficial for the Israelis, and they supported the dramatic economic position of many Palestinians in the regions.

As it is stated in the book by Nassar and Heacock, the main cause of the Palestinian uprising is the growing effects of two decades of “Israeli colonialism in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza. This colonialism, deliberately and systematically perpetrated, drastically transformed the structure of Palestinian society: demographically, economically, politically, institutionally, and ideologically” (Nassar and Heacock 29).

The demographic and economic problems were associated with the fact that the Palestinian population at the Occupied Territories grew, and the problem of unemployment became more urgent as well. A lot of Palestinians had to work in Israel, but they had no abilities to be paid equally to the Israelis.

The problem was in the fact the Occupied Territories were discussed as the effective market for Israel. Thus, the Palestinian economy was under control of the Israeli government during two decades. The Israelis developed the effective trade and taxation policies, but these policies were advantageous for Israel and made the Palestinian economy, infrastructure, and other sectors work for the Israeli benefits.

It was important to provide the economic integration of the Occupied Territories and Israel according to the Israeli rules fixed in the policy. According to Peretz, while the Occupied Territories “were flooded with imports from Israel, little if any industrial development took place. Gaza and the West Bank became major markets for Israeli products, importing far more from the occupier than they exported to it” (Peretz 971).

Furthermore, the taxation policies were also developed to support Israel’s economy. As a result, the activists of the uprising movement paid attention to boycotting the Israeli economic principles, and the territories of the West Bank and Gaza began to suffer from more economic problems because of the economic isolation from Israel. This approach to the economic problems was not effective.

The Impact of the Israeli Agricultural and Settlement Policies on the Palestinians

The Palestinians at the occupied territories were challenged by a lot of repressive actions performed by the Israelis against the local population during the period of 1967-1987. Thus, mass detentions and house demolitions were justified by the needs of the Jewish settlers who began to occupy the territories of Gaza and the West Bank after 1967.

In this case, “twenty years of direct, daily contact with occupation authorities has, perhaps more than any other factor, created deeply ambivalent feelings of resentment and irrepressible frustration” (Peretz 966). It is possible to state that the Palestinians’ uprising was also based on their fear of being deported from these lands.

More Jewish people settled at the Occupied Territories each year according to the Israeli settlement policy. These settlements could contribute to the progress of the Israeli dominance in the region, but they also became the causes for the national intifada of the Palestinians.

The difference between the positions of the Palestinians in the refugee camps and the Israelis in the settlements can be observed. Thus, “the Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories were equipped with a complete infrastructure of roads, electricity, water, and telephones” when the Palestinians lived in worse conditions and “no consideration was given to the interests of the Palestinian population” (Nassar and Heacock 42).

Settling at the Occupied Territories, the Israelis not only expropriated the lands but also confiscated the agricultural equipment. Furthermore, the expansion of the Palestinian urban areas was limited and “50 percent of land and most water sources [were] under Israeli control, frequently at the disposal of the new Jewish settlers” (Peretz 965).

That is why, the Jewish settlers were discussed as invaders, and it was important to rebel against such repressions directed toward the Palestinians.

The Particular Features of the Palestinians’ Organization against the Israeli Occupation

Although the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) should be discussed as the most influential organization to support the rights and ideas of the Palestinians, rioting against the Israeli occupation and repressive policies, it was rather weak during the period of uprising, and many Palestinians did not see the ways to achieve the necessary liberty with the help of PLO.

Peretz states that “what began as sporadic protest by random groups of restless youth not only spread, but developed into an organized resistance movement with an underground leadership” (Peretz 967).

The activists of the movement motivated the Palestinians to participate in the uprising paying attention to the patriotic slogans and the effective strategy of involving new participants. The first leaders of the movement were the representatives of the different nationalist organizations, and they combined their efforts to achieve the common goal.

The accents were made on the role of community councils. If the first activists were associated with PLO, such organizations as Hamas and Islamic Jihad were more influential later.

Peretz pays attention to the fact that “the intifadeh already has had a widespread impact on the occupied Palestinian community, galvanized to action and unified as never before” (Peretz 968). Thus, the role of community was extremely important, and the movement leaders emphasized the part of everyone in the success of the uprising.

The Role of Women and Youth in the Riots

The support of the uprising was vast. Women and the youth participated actively in many demonstrations. Moreover, the young people were the main activists of the movement, and all the situations with using the Molotov cocktails and stone throwing are associated with the youth and their role in the intifada.

If the participation of the youth can be discussed with references to the nationalist character of the uprising, the role of women in the movement should be discussed with references to the other facts.

According to Peretz, the role of women in the uprising movement is also active, and it is even the key one because “many are skilled professionals in medicine, education or law, who have set up emergency teams to treat the wounded or have organized child care to deal with pupils during the strikes or militarily imposed school closings” (Peretz 970).

The roles of women were rather various. It was necessary to organize the provisions, to perform as the volunteers, to help the activists with instruments and means for demonstrations and riots.

Moreover, sometimes women were rather violent in their activities and also participated in throwing stones and building the blocks at the roads. Thus, women participated in demonstrations and popular protests. Some women were also active in relation to the political context, and thousands of women were arrested during the years of the uprising as the active members of the movement (Kuttab 77-79).

Therefore, it is possible to speak about the active role of the Palestinian women in the uprising movement, and this fact is important to note with references to the traditional role of women in the Islamic society which can be discussed as rather socially passive.


The Palestinian uprising or intifada which started in 1987 opened a new page in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The uprising was based on predominantly non-violent forms of the Palestinian’s opposition to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

The typical military actions were changed with strikes and boycotts. It was important to state the nationalist character of the movement and accentuate the idea of the Palestinian liberation. That is why, the uprising was actively supported also by women and young people. From this point, the uprising raised the Palestinians’ consciousness supporting their national identity.

The main causes of the intifada are the unjust economic policies provided by the Israeli government at the Occupied Territories, the situations of house demolitions, and the people’s deportations from the territories where the active settlement policy was observed along with the active growth of the local Palestinian population’s rate.

The Palestinians living at the Occupied Territories faced a lot of problems and suffered from different kinds of repressions supported by the Israeli government. From this point, the Palestinians’ reaction to the economic and social processes in the form of riots and strikes can be discussed as an attempt to state the idea that Palestinians are the nation which cannot be suppressed by the Jewish people.

Works Cited

Kuttab, Eileen. “Palestinian Women in the Intifada: Fighting on Two Fronts”. Arab Studies Quarterly 15.2 (1993): 69-80. Print.

Nassar, Jamal, and Roger Heacock. Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York: Praeger, 1990. Print.

Peretz, Don. “Intifadeh: The Palestinian Uprising”. Foreign Affairs 66.5 (1988): 964-980. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Background and Root Causes: the 1987 Palestinian Intifada." June 3, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/background-and-root-causes-the-1987-palestinian-intifada/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Background and Root Causes: the 1987 Palestinian Intifada'. 3 June.

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