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The Intifadas in Israel Essay

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Updated: Aug 26th, 2020


In June 1967, a six-day war between Israel and some Arab nations arose. The Arab forces that had camped around the border of Israel and the Arab world encouraged the war. When Israel responded by introducing attacks on Syria and Egypt, the military strengths of these Arab nations was challenged. Jordan later joined the war but was also defeated. This case suggested that Israel forces were much stronger compared to those of all these nations. Indeed, after the six days of continuous fighting, the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza strip, West Bank, the section on East of Jerusalem occupied by Arabs, and the Syrian Golan Heights, both under Jordan’s rule, fell in the hands of Israel.

The UN moved in calling for a break of the fighting. Nevertheless, Israel was more than twice its size. This situation caused an immense problem, which possibly explains the emergence of the first intifada that was characterized by Palestinian rebellion against Israel’s taking up of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, starting from 1987. Israel was instructed by the UN to return all territories that it had captured. Instead, it fully annexed East Jerusalem. Until today, Arab nations, including Palestine (although Israel has completely shown no interest in supporting the formation of a Palestine state), consider Israeli an occupier.

Acts of terror and launching of rockets targeting Israelis by Palestine are arguably all contributed by this historic enmity between the two neighbors. This enmity also constitutes an important cause of the first intifada. This paper argues that the perception of the Israeli occupation of Gaza strip and West Bank territories and the historic enmity between Palestine and Israel are critical reasons for the emergence of Palestinian intifadas. Upon considering the effects of the intifadas, the paper concludes that the enmity has had negative outcomes on Israel, the Arab world, and even on Palestinians.

Rise of the First Intifada

The intifadas, which emerged in 1987, were concluded in 1991. However, some historians argue that the signing of Oslo Accord in 1993 marked the actual conclusion of the first intifada (Jaeger et al. 528). The Palestine uprising emerged following a collision between Israeli Defense Forces and a civilian car where four Palestinians were killed. It started at Jabalya immigrant campsite on 9 December 1987 (Jaeger et al. 528).). Indeed, three of the four of them killed Palestinians who came from the camp, which is the largest in Gaza Strip. Many Palestinians who were going back to their homes from their day-to-day toil observed the disaster.

More than 10000 people later that evening attended the funeral for those killed in the accident. After the burial, a huge demonstration ensued. Unsubstantiated information began spreading that the accident was intentional with the goal of retaliating the stubbing of businesspersons from Israel in Gaza some two days earlier (Rullansky 84). An Israeli patrol car was also attacked using a petrol bomb in Gaza Strip a day after. Consequently, the Israeli forces targeted angry crowds with live bullets. One Palestinian was killed while 16 others were left seriously wounded (Rullansky 85). The killed girl was named the first intifada martyr.

The Palestinian leadership stepped in to help in calming the situation. For example, “On 9 December, several popular and professional Palestinian leaders held a press conference in West Jerusalem with the Israeli Leagues for Human and Civil Rights in response to the deterioration of the situation” (King 31). However, it was clear that Palestinians have declared an insurgency protest, not only spreading across West Bank but also across East Jerusalem.

The insurgency started when the protests focused on civil disobedience accompanied by resistance. General strikes then followed coupled with boycotts within Israeli institutions of civil administration in West Bank and Gaza Strip. The participants in the protests refused to work in all Israeli settlements. They also declined from embracing Israeli products. Besides declining to pay taxes, they refused the plan to drive all Palestinian cars that were licensed by Israel. They also barricaded roads (Glenn 126).

Israel defined acts of protests and their consequences as comprising riots. Therefore, it argued that the application of force in the form of repression was vital to help restore and maintain law and order (Glenn 126). However, in a span of few days, all Israeli-occupied territories had a full-blown demonstration coupled with commercial strikes within a scale that was not anticipated by Israel.

The angry mob targeted some specific infrastructure, especially military and Banks. Nevertheless, at the early stages, no Israeli casualty was identified. The Israel settlements were also not destroyed. Israeli authority was surprised by the active participation in the unrest. Women and children also participated in the fighting in thousands. Amid efforts by the Israeli administration to control the insurgency, its momentum only increased (Seddon 52).

As the protest continued, other strategies for reacting against Israel were adopted. For example, Fleischmann observes that the protesters engaged in “widespread throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF and its infrastructure within the Palestinian territories” (354). Israel became agitated by these actions. Therefore, it responded by deploy about 80000 IDF soldiers to help manage the uprising (Fleischmann 354). At first, the soldiers fired live bullets towards the protesters, killing many people of Palestinian origin. Indeed, within 13 months into the intifada, 12 Israelis and 332 Palestinians were left dead (Fleischmann 355).

The battle of the powerful against the weak then emerged. Israeli soldiers used clubs to beat up Palestinians through a policy that Freedman describes as “breaking Palestinian bones” (62). Firing semi-lethal bullets towards the Palestinians then followed. As these events unfolded, within the first year of the intifada, some 311 Palestinians had been killed (Farsakh 57). Farsakh further informs that 53 of those killed were children below 17 years while an estimated 7% of all Palestinians less than 18 years suffered injuries related to beatings, launching of tear gas canisters, and shootings (5).

Causes of the Intifadas

The first Palestine intifada was initiated by the death of four Palestinians in an accident involving a row of civilian vehicles and a military tank. Although this case is the common explanation offered by Palestinians concerning the root of the intifada, arguably, there were deep-seated problems and that the only way that Palestinians could communicate these challenges was through an uprising (Fleischman 371). Even before this incident occurred, a17-year-old Palestinian girl had thrown a petrol bomb targeting an Israeli patrol car.

This case suggested the possibility of a conflict between the two neighbors in pre-intifada. Did Israel fail to read between the lines? Did the killing of about 1250 to 1600 Palestinians within a span of six years help to manage the civil unrest? A quick response to this inquiry is that civil arrest could not be effectively managed by mass-killing and/or advocating suffering for children (Jaeger et al. 532). However, Israel could not listen to Palestine intifada participants’ concerns. It was not ready to deliberate on issues, including the occupation and continued settlement in Gaza Strip and West Bank.

The intifadas may be argued as comprising Palestinians’ protests against the Israeli- acerbated repression. The repression included the demolition of Palestinian houses, beatings, deliberate killing of Palestinians, and shootings coupled with deportations (Jaeger et al. 533). Israelis also detained Palestinians without any trial. They also extended their imprisonment periods. The aim was to suppress them to mitigate any possibility of reaction against acts such as resistance to the establishment of settlements in the Israeli-occupied territories in East Jerusalem, Gaza Strip, and West Bank (Rullansky 85).

Indeed, when Israelis took into custody regions such as Gaza and West Bank among others following the late 1960s combat that lasted for almost a week, Palestinians became aggravated because of their rivals’ move. A chain of subordination followed. For example, Israel made its labor market porous for the Palestinians in all its new territories that had been captured.

The laborers were recruited to join the employment market in the capacity of semi-skilled or unskilled laborers. Israelis turned down these jobs. Indeed, when the first intifada came into reality, 40% of Palestinians worked for Israelis in the capacity of unskilled or semi-skilled workers, yet these territories had been captured from them (King 33). Hence, Palestinians were concerned about unfairness in the labor sector within the captured territories, but they could not articulate the issues. Therefore, an uprising was an indication of a possibility to breach the unfairness.

Moreover, the occupation of Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza Strip created pressure on Palestinian communities. Israeli confiscated land belonging previously to Palestinians. Meanwhile, the birth rate among Palestinians was high. Minimal land was allocated for the construction of new homes coupled with agricultural activities.

This situation created conditions of increasing population density accompanied by large unemployment. The problem of unemployment was so severe among Palestinians to the extent that by the time the first intifada occurred, only one out of eight degree-graduate Palestinians could secure a degree-related job opportunity (Farsakh 59).

This situation was made worse by the advancement of Palestinian higher education structures to accommodate people living in immigrant sites, the developing urban areas, and even in rural communities. The outcome was the generation of a highly elite Palestinians society with low social strata. This generation was highly confrontational and dominated by activists. It knew and understood the Israeli suppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Therefore, an uprising led by these elites was inevitable, even if the collision never occurred. The collision was a wakening moment for Palestinians to rise against Israelis.

Toward the end of 1885, Yitzhak Rabi had increased deportations. This move was part of a policy for reducing Palestinian nationalism (Seddon 95). The outcome of the iron ‘fist policy’ was 50 deportations of Palestinians within a span four years. This policy was implemented parallel to a plan for increasing settlements in the occupied territories up to 64000 in 1988 compared to 35000 in 1984. In the 1990s, this population had risen to about 130,000 (Freedman 107). Arguably, policies aiming at driving away Palestinians from the occupied territories accompanied by more influx of Israeli settlements implied a perception that Israel had a hidden agenda of evicting Palestinians.

Michael Dekel, an Israeli Deputy Minister for Defense, made public sentiments advocating mass transfer of Palestinians (Freedman 112). This experience humiliated Palestinians. The outcome was the continuous modification of occupation experiences. The occupation was anchored on repression coupled with brutal force. Fear, torture, and beatings were deployed to ensure that Palestinians did not resist the occupation (Freedman 112). Such manipulation, intimidation, and humiliation were a sufficient cause for actions against Israelis. The experience proved so bad to the extent that even women and children came out in mass numbers in the course of the intifadas to demonstrate and display their discontent with Israelis through riots.

The arguments developed in this section are important in scrutinizing the possible causes of Palestine-Israel intifadas of 1987 running through to early 1990s. However, Israel always comes out to defend its position on the use of torture and force. Israeli authorities say that since the threats they face are enormous and more compared to the situation in any other country of the world, torture comes as a viable option of getting vital information to safeguard the rights to the security of its people (Gross 126).

For instance, Gross gives an example of a case where the Israeli authorities have used torture and justified their acts (229). In one famous case, Palestinian terrorists kidnapped Nachshon Waxman, a 19-year-old soldier. In the ensuing efforts to recover him, the Israelis captured the driver of the car that the soldier had been taken away in before severely torturing him until he disclosed the location.

While Waxman was killed during the rescue operation, the Prime Minister of the time, Yitzhak Rabin, defended the acts of torture arguing that the move followed since such act made them able to locate Waxman and make a rescue attempt. An emerging question is whether a similar argument or defense could also be advanced to justify the witnessed deportations, shootings, and various forms of torture used by Israelis on Palestinians in the pre-intifadas, post-intifadas, and during the intifadas.

Effects of the Intifadas

The intifadas were an important turning point for the Palestinians. Through the insurgency, Israel understood that Palestinians could not be underestimated, especially on their capacity to counter intimidation and humiliation (Rullansky 85). In fact, through the intifadas, the Palestinians could express their discontent with Israeli occupation coupled with increased settlements on disputed lands, especially in the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and West Bank. The notion that these regions had become part of the Israel was challenged.

The intifadas clearly indicated that both parties incurred losses in the conflict and that perhaps the best way to counter such losses was by pursuing peace. Israel resorted to using force and brutality to help calm the continuously escalating situation as time progressed. However, such efforts yielded no fruits since as the demonstrations continued, Palestinians garnered more confidence to continue with the unrest and economic strikes. The intifadas legitimized Palestinian’s uprising against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the international limelight, the first intifada provided the international community with an opportunity to understand and sympathize with the Palestinians’ position on Israeli occupation. As argued in this section, the intifadas had implications on Palestinians, Israelis, and the Arab world.


Israel’s rejoinder to the intifadas was severe. Beating and shootings were a common experience for the Palestinians taking part in demonstrations and mass riots. As at 12 December 1987, six Palestinians were already dead while about 30 were badly injured while participating in the violence (Farsakh 69). On 13 December 1987, Palestinian rioters threw petrol bombs targeting the American consulate located in East Jerusalem. However, no person was hurt during the incident (Farsakh 69). Nevertheless, Israel’s reaction to this incident was unsympathetic.

Israeli soldiers killed large numbers of Palestinians at the onset of the intifada. Many of those killed met their death while engaging in rioting and demonstrations. The slaughtered people were mainly civilian young people (Farsakh 69). The Palestinian institutions also experienced the effects on the intifadas. For example, Israel closed down universities that were providing education services to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip for the better part of the intifadas. The West Bank was also not spared. Its schools were closed down for about 12 months (Farsakh 69). This initiative was adopted as a mechanism for collectively punishing Palestinians for supporting and taking part in the intifadas.

Apart from targeting those participating in violence, Palestinian communities collectively suffered because of supporting the intifadas. For example, in the first year of the uprising, an all-day-round curfew was imposed for about 1600 times in the cause of the first year of the uprising (Seddon 53). Palestinian neighborhoods had their accessibility to electricity, firewood, and even water interrupted.

Jaeger et al. assert, nearly 26,000 Palestinians were forced to stay within their houses with no permission to move freely from place to place (541). Palestinians’ trees that were growing on their firms were uprooted. All agricultural produce from the firms was barred from reaching the market. The intention was to destabilize Palestinians economically. The Israelis were sure that without economic capability, the Palestinians would run out of money and hence give up participating in the uprising via demonstrations and riots.

Within the first year of the intifada, more than 1000 people lost their homes following the demolition or the blocking policy that sought to intimidate and lower the morale for participating in intifada (Seddon 43). The refusal-to-pay-taxes initiative was countered by property and licenses confiscations. The Israelis also introduced new taxes on vehicles while large fines were imposed on any family that had a member or members participating in throwing stones (Glenn 127).

From December 1987 to June 1991, about one hundred and twenty Palestinians had been injured. More than fifteen thousand were arrested while about 1882 Palestinian homes had already been demolished (Glenn 127). In fact, Fleischmann approximated, “in the Gaza Strip alone from 1988 to 1993, some 60706 Palestinians suffered injuries from shootings, beatings or tear gas” (381). The author further reveals that within five weeks of the uprising, 35 Palestinians had been killed. About 1200 more suffered wounds. Nevertheless, this casualty rate only catalyzed the intifadas.

Representatives of some essential Palestinian institutions were arrested. For example, lawyers in the Gaza Strip called for a strike complaining about the incapacity to get permission to see their clients who had been detained by the Israelis. Indeed, the assistance for the lawyers’ association of Gaza was detained without trial for a period of 6 months (Farsakh 59). The head of association for Gaza Medics was also detained for a similar period. In the month of Ramadhan, various camps located in Gaza were put under intensive curfew for a number of weeks (Farsakh 59). This plan prevented residents of these camps from having access to food. Heavy tear gas bombing was also experienced in camps such as Jabalya and Al-Shati. Almost 20 casualties were recorded in these bombings (Jaeger et al. 538).

The intifadas had the effects of intra-communal violence. From 1988 to 1992, some 1000 Palestinian lives were lost due to intra-Palestinian aggression (Jaeger et al. 539). Even though the intifadas seemed to have lost direction by the end of 1990, there were increased deaths for Palestinians due to allegations of collaborating with the Israelis. Accusation of compromising with Israeli led to more than 17000 Palestinians being alleged to have given intelligence to the Israeli forces (Freedman 173). Such people received death threats in case they desisted from collaborating with the enemy. A special troop executed those who failed to heed to the instructions of not collaborating with the Israelis. This effect ran throughout the entire life span of the Palestinian-Israel intifadas.


The first intifada asserted the Palestinian pursuit of securing the territories captured by Israeli 13-day war of 1967. Although this case was not much expressed during the demonstrations, it was clear that Palestinians were saddened by Israeli occupation to the extent that a young girl could throw a petrol bomb targeting Israeli car. Hence, one of the effects of the intifadas on Israeli was the feeling of being challenged in terms of its policy and position towards the Palestinian question. Before the insurgency and following the victory in the 1967 war, Israel was sure that no nation in the Arab world could challenge it or its occupation policy. Therefore, it could build settlements without questioning. Where questions would arise, it could counter them with necessary force. Such force only increased the morale for demonstrations with children and women turning out in hundreds or thousands to assert the Palestinians’ position on the deportations, torture, shootings, and repressive policies.

When full-blown demonstrations accompanied by barricading of roads and violence targeting the Israeli military and banks among others facilities emerged, Israel deployed more than 80000 IDF men to help restore normalcy (Freedman 185). However, the intifadas also resulted in injuries and deaths on the Israeli side. The Israeli official statistics indicated that 200 Israelis met their death following the emergence of the insurgency while 3100 (1700 being soldiers) suffered injuries (Seddon 286). Indeed, the deployment of the IDF did not yield the anticipated success.

The failure of the IDF indicated that Israeli could no longer impose oppressive and intimidating policies on the Palestinians. This case meant that Palestinians in the occupied territories became ungovernable. The Israeli position in the Arab world and in the Middle East was challenged to the extent that the victory of 1967 war began to lose sense (Seddon 286).

A new wave of Palestinian struggle for self-governance emerged. The wave suggested and supported the capability of Palestinians to compel Israel to accept a two-state solution to historic Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hence, while Egypt decided to recognize the existence of the state of Israel in exchange with the Sinai Peninsula, the intifadas only amplified the position of the other Arab nations, which vowed never to emulate Egypt and that they would deploy all resources within their disposal to defend the territories captured by Israel.

Arab World

The first Palestinian intifada attracted support from the surrounding Arab nations. Indeed, the nations were highly attentive to the quest for self-determination advanced by the intifadas. Some leaders in Arab world made open public sentiments in support of the insurgency. Some of the nations even supported the insurgency by offering monetary support coupled with logistical aid to ensure that the occupation resistance among Palestinians grew. Nevertheless, Freedman asserts that part of the support was self-serving and rhetorical in some instances (2). Indeed, although some nations in the Arab world supported the Palestinians’ quest for self-rule, others were highly concerned about regional bilateral relationships.

The Palestinian intifadas aroused the spirit of Arab nationalism. For example, Palestinian political leadership drummed up support for the unrest from the Arab world. This plan had the effect of making “Arab politicians throughout the Middle East to convene a meeting as a demonstrative sign of their solidarity with the Palestinian demand for self-government and their collective opposition to Jewish development in Palestine” (Freedman 2). Hence, the nations that considered Israel a common enemy, for instance, Jordan, now realized that it was possible to address the Israel forceful and oppressive policies. This effect on the Arab world is more accurate considering that Rabin was ready to seek a diplomatic solution to the intifadas, although he had initially supported policies that oppressed and humiliated Palestinians.

Jordan allocated its residual financial and administrative resources to West Bank. This move occurred in the “face of sweeping popular support for the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Organization” (Freedman 7). However, following the emergence of the intifadas, Jordan cut its support to the region. Hence, Israel was to carry the entire load as the primary administrator since it occupied territories in West Bank. The situation was even more difficult considering that West Bank vehemently opposed Israeli occupation. Following the recognition of PLO as the true representation of the Palestinians’ affairs and concerns by the Arab world and Islamic nations together with western nations such as the US, Israel knew clearly that the situation had already gotten out of hand.

In the sphere of diplomatic relations with some Arab nations, the fact that the intifadas received backing from PLO made the support for insurgency difficult. For example, PLO incredibly opposed the war in Iraq (Persian Gulf War). This move led to diplomatic hitches between the PLO and Kuwait. In the six years and before the intifadas, Saudi Arabia withdrew its financial support for the Palestinians with more than 300000 Palestinians being forced out of Kuwait (Seddon 287).


The intifadas comprised a Palestinian rebellion against Israelis’ move to capture West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The rebellion lasted for six years. Although Israel deployed IDF to help get the situation under control, it failed. The more the IDF shot, beat up, and/or intimidated demonstrators and rioters, the more the uprising gathered energy.

This energy was so intensive to the extent that Israel sought diplomatic solution to the problem. The efforts gave a better ground for Arafat to articulate his concern for Palestinian self-rule, a plan that culminated in the quest for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that emerged since the 1967 six-day war. Despite the fact that Israeli suffered less casualties compared to Palestine, the effects of the intifadas were felt not only by the two parties but also in the entire Arab world.

Works Cited

Farsakh, Leila. “Palestinian Economic Development: Paradigm Shifts since the First Intifada.” Journal of Palestine Studies 45.2 (2016): 55-71. Print.

Fleischmann, Leonie. “Beyond Paralyses: The Reframing of Israeli Peace Activism Since the Second Intifada.” Peace and Change 41.3 (2016): 354-385. Print.

Freedman, Robert. The Intifada: Impact on Israel, the Arab World, and the Superpowers, Florida, Fl: Florida International University Press, 2003. Print.

Glenn, Robinson. The Palestinians: The Contemporary Middle East, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2013. Print.

Gross, Leah. “Regulating Torture in a Liberal Democracy: Death and Indignity in Israel.” Polity 36.3 (2004): 124-143. Print.

Jaeger, David, Esteban Klor, Sami Miaari, and Daniele Paserman. “Can Militants use Violence to win Public Support? Evidence from the Second Intifada.” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59.3 (2015): 528-549. Print.

King, Elizabeth. A Quiet Revolution: The First Palestinian Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance, New York, NY: Nation Books, 2007. Print.

Rullansky, Ignacio. “Forecasting the Third Intifada Storm? Thoughts on Suitability of the Terms to address violent Outbreaks in East Jerusalem.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture 21.2 (2015): 83-89. Print.

Seddon, David. Intifada in a Political and Economic Dictionary of the Middle East, New York, NY: Taylor & Francis, 2004, Print.

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