Palestine’s First Intifada

1st intifada

Intifada comes from Arabic word meaning shaking off, and the First Intifada saw the people of Palestine embark on a fierce resistance campaign from December 1987 to October 1991 in an effort to force an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Background Causes Of The First Intifada

By 1987 Arabs living under Israeli rule in Gaza and the West Bank were becoming frustrated due to Israel’s increased building of settlements in the West Bank and Gaza Strip which had resulted in the encroachment on what Palestinian’s regarded as their Ancestral land prior to the formation of Israel after World War 2.

The 1980s were also characterised by a rise in Arab Religious Nationalism which was based on Islam as groups like the Muslim Brotherhood emerged, merging religion and the Palestinian cause into a new and attractive Political ideology.

A series of isolated skirmishes in which Isreali forces and Jihadists were killed marked the start of the First Intifada in early 1987.

However, the events of 8 December 1987 in which an Israeli truck driver crashed into a row of cars containing Palestinian workers waiting at an Israeli check-point in Gaza would ignite a full scale resistance as demonstrations quickly erupted at Palestinian refugee camps with protests spreading into the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Young Palestinians took to the streets, sealing off access to the refugee camps with burning tyres while throwing stones.

Tens of thousands of Palestinian Civilians took part in the First Intifada, including women and children. 

Although initially taken by surprise, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) quickly co-opted the First Intifada movement and began to co-ordinate the First Intifada resistance using Guns, grenades and explosives.

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and its leader, Yasser Arafat, played crucial roles in the Palestinian national struggle. This article explores the history, origins, and the involvement of the PLO and Arafat during the First Intifada, which aimed to maintain support for the PLO and advance the Palestinian cause.

I. The Origins of the PLO:

The PLO emerged in 1964 as an umbrella organization representing various Palestinian factions. It sought to address the aspirations of the Palestinian people for self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. The PLO’s founding charter called for armed struggle as a means to liberate Palestine from Israeli occupation.

II. Yasser Arafat’s Leadership:

Yasser Arafat, born in 1929 in Cairo, Egypt, became a prominent leader within the PLO. Arafat founded Fatah, one of the major Palestinian factions within the PLO, in the late 1950s. He rose to prominence as a charismatic and influential figure, known for his resilience and unwavering commitment to the Palestinian cause.

III. The First Intifada:

The First Intifada, which erupted in December 1987, was a popular uprising by Palestinians against Israeli occupation. It was characterized by widespread civil disobedience, mass protests, and acts of resistance. The Intifada aimed to challenge Israeli policies and maintain support for the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

IV. PLO’s Involvement in the First Intifada:

The PLO played a significant role in supporting and mobilizing the First Intifada. The organization, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, provided ideological, financial, and logistical assistance to Palestinian activists and grassroots movements involved in the uprising.

The PLO’s involvement included the dissemination of political literature, funding for community projects, and coordination of international support. Arafat used his diplomatic skills to garner international recognition and condemn Israeli actions during the Intifada.

V. Objectives of the PLO and Arafat during the First Intifada:

  1. Mobilizing International Support: The PLO aimed to rally international sympathy and support for the Palestinian cause by highlighting the oppressive nature of Israeli occupation during the Intifada.

  2. Solidifying Palestinian Identity: The PLO sought to reinforce a collective Palestinian identity and national consciousness among the population by emphasizing shared goals and aspirations.

  3. Challenging Israeli Occupation: The Intifada served as a means to put pressure on Israel and expose its policies, with the aim of advancing negotiations for a political solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

In total about 700 attacks were launched against Israeli targets during the four years of the First Intifada.

Israel responded to the First Intifada by deploying Armed soldiers who fired tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, and sometimes live ammunition in order to quell the resistance.

There were also beatings, mass arrests, and curfews imposed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Eventually the personal cost of the First Intifada proved too high for the Palestinians to maintain the resistance, and by the end of the First Intifada in 1991 more than 1 000 Palestinians had been killed in clashes with Israeli forces.

Legacy Of The First Intifada

Before the First Intifada, the PLO was losing credibility and the PLO was viewed as a terrorist organisation without a legitimate Political cause.

Media coverage of the First Intifada changed all this as Palestinians were portrayed as victims of an Israeli Occupation.

This garnered international sympathy for the Palestinian cause and bolstered the credibility of the PLO and the PLO was legitimised in the eyes of the international community.

The PLO, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat thus played a crucial role in supporting the First Intifada and maintaining support for the Palestinian cause. The organization’s involvement aimed to raise international awareness, solidify Palestinian identity, and challenge Israeli occupation.

The Intifada marked a significant chapter in the Palestinian struggle, with the PLO and Arafat at the forefront of the movement for self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.

After the First Intifada the unsuccessful 1993 Oslo Peace Accords based on a two-State solution rather than the complete annihilation of Israel were signed between the PLO and Israel. 

In some way, the current stalemate in the resolution to the Palestinian problem lies in the difficulty of finding and implementing an alternative to the two-state solution concept that emerged out of the First Intifada and the failed Oslo Peace Accords.