Second Intifada

The second Intifada, also known as the Intifada Al-Aqsa, erupted on the 28th of September 2000, as a result of the controversial visit of Arial Sharon, then leader of the opposition party Likoud, to the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem. The visit, approved by the government of Ehud Barak, who had lost the majority in the Knesset, stirred an outburst of anger amongst Palestinians, exasperated by the stagnation of the peace process, as well as by the continuing occupation and settlement expansion. The next day, the first clashes broke out without any centralised directive. The violent repression of Palestinian demonstrations demanding the immediate ending of the occupation killed more than 200 Palestinians in one month, of which one third was under 17 years old. To respond to this brutality, the Intifada became militarised as from the beginning of November 2000.

In comparison with the first Intifada, the new uprising is dominated by armed actions against the Israeli army, the settler population, and Israelis living inside the “Green Line” (the pre-1967 borders between Israel and the Palestinian Territories). This time, limited violent clashes took place at the fringes of autonomous Palestinian zones, in the outskirts of Jewish colonies, and at army checkpoints. Whereas the first Intifada was characterised by mass civil mobilisation, the present Intifada is an insurrection that rests upon the participation of a minority, even though it has the support from the majority.

From the start, Fatah took the lead of the uprising, and a national and Islamic high committee was established to coordinate the activities of all groups. However, today, Arafat’s party no longer entirely controls the revolt, more and more characterised by operations led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

If Ehud Barak’s government had already put huge means into tackling the Intifada, the accession to power of Ariel Sharon in February 2001 considerably intensified the repression. He generalised the policy of extermination of Palestinian activists, through numerous extra judicial killings, and multiplied incursions and raids into autonomous Palestinian zones. Militants from Hamas, Islamic Jihad and al-Aqsa Brigades (close to Fatah), for their part, launched suicide bombings throughout Israeli cities, and the cycle of violence escalated further.

The United-States, spearheading international efforts aiming at calming the violence, entrusted the envoy George Mitchell with the writing of an inquiry report on the uprising, while the director of the CIA George Tenet attempted to negotiate a cease-fire. None of the initiatives resulted in bringing the clashes to an end.

The huge offensive of the spring 2002, responding to a wave of suicide bombings that left many Israelis killed in the beginning of the year, targeted the structures of the Palestinian National Authority and its leader Yasser Arafat. All the West Bank cities were reoccupied and the army proceeded to the systematic destruction of the infrastructures (some of which had been financed by the European Union) and of the material and social fabric of Palestinians’ life, by means of house demolitions, bombarding of refugee camps, looting, destruction of olive plants, mass arrests and administrative detentions. Sharon had decided to render the Palestinian leader irrelevant, and to burry once and for all the Oslo peace process to which he had always been opposed.

The “Road Map for Peace” presented by the Quartet (United-States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations) on the 30th of April 2003, which advocates the two state solution, is the latest official initiative aiming at putting an end to the conflict. Arafat and Sharon both committed themselves to implement the peace plan, but so far the efforts resulted in a stalemate, and the peace perspectives seem increasingly remote.

The current Intifada has extremely severe consequences for both Palestinian and Israeli populations. The military incursions into the Occupied Territories, as well as the imposition of curfews and restrictions of movement, including the frequent blockade of cities and sealing off of the West Bank and Gaza, have made existence practically unbearable for the entire Palestinian civil population, impeding social, economic and political life in the territories. Economic activities have practically ceased, and the majority of Palestinian workers were prohibited from entering Israel. Consequently, two of the three million Palestinians live under the poverty line, and the unemployment rate has risen to 60 %. The wall that is currently under construction intensifies significantly the difficulties daily faced by Palestinians and reinforces the “carving up” of the West Bank into segments with no contact between each other.

On the Israeli side, suicide bombings have forced the population to live in constant fear with strict security measures. The economy has also suffered, especially in 2002, when the Gross National Product loss was estimated at 3.5%. The sectors of tourism and construction (in which 25% of the workforce was Palestinian before the Intifada) were the most affected, notwithstanding the huge amounts spent in national defence and occupation.

The death toll rose to 4.046 in May 2004, of which 3.057 are Palestinians, and 918 Israelis. After nearly 4 years of Intifada, a deep gulf separates the two populations, and a return to peace is increasingly difficult to envisage.