The Palestinian Mass Uprising

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The Intifada: The Palestinian Mass Uprising

----The rise of the PLO to the world stage really

began with the well-known intifada, or mass

uprising, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was

at the end of 1987 where resistance to Israel's

occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip began

to sharply escalate in the form of demonstrations,

strikes, boycotts, and violence. It came to

involve virtually the whole Palestinian population

in those areas, and continued even two years later

in spite of the hundreds of Palestinian deaths and

thousands of detentions that came at the hands of

Israeli police forces.

----The uprising was the product of a generation

that had been brought up under Israeli control.

By the late 1980's two out of every three

Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip had

either been born or were less than five years old

when the Israeli occupation began.

For two decades

the people had no control over their own lives

and their future was becoming increasingly unsure.

This was primarily due to the creeping annexation

of land by the Israeli occupation authorities and

the establishment of Israeli settlements on the

confiscated lands. By 1993, more than 60 percent

of the West Bank land and about 50 the land of the

overcrowded Gaza Strip had been appropriated by

Israel (Peretz, 1990). Some of it was destined

for Jewish settlements, inhabited in many cases by

militant right-wing settlers seeking Israeli

annexation of these areas. The settlements were

meant to "establish facts," and hence make

Israeli control irrevocable. The presence of these

settlers seriously worsened the tensions between

Palestinian and Jewish settlers.

----For two decades Israel had done much to

prevent independent economic or social development

and to subject the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the

needs of the Israeli economy: these areas became

the second largest market for Israeli exports,

provided a pool of cheap labor for Israel, and

offered a field for lucrative Israeli investment.

West Bank and Gaza Strip workers had to pay part

of their low salaries into the Israeli social

security fund, but could not receive benefits. All

residents were heavily taxed, but the Palestinian

workers received much less benefits than the

Israelis enjoyed. It came to the point that the

occupation not only paid for itself but became

profitable to the Israeli state.

----Over the years the Israeli occupation

authorities expelled more than 1,700 Palestinians

for political offenses. They punished the

families of many suspects (often later found

innocent) by demolishing their homes. They

arrested and detained many thousands of

Palestinians, often by means of administrative

detentions without trial that bypassed even the

military justice system. Eventually so many people

had been harmed by the occupation in one way or

another that a large proportion of Palestinians

apparently felt that they had nothing left to


----What resulted starting on Dec. 9, 1987, was

clearly a popular uprising. It included children,

teenagers, adults, and elderly people, men and

women, every class of the population from laborers

to wealthy merchants, and every region from the

cities and towns to the refugee camps to isolated

villages. Medical relief committees, food

distribution cooperatives, local agricultural

production initiatives, educational committees,

and other ad hoc local groups sprang up to sustain

the uprising. The uprising was led in each

locality by a committee representing all the

area's political forces--generally the three or

four main groups composing the PLO (Nasser and

Heacock, 1990). A similar leadership formed at

higher regional levels, and it was topped by an

underground coordinating group that signed its

periodic communiques "PLO--Unified National

Leadership of the Uprising in the Occupied

Territories" (Peretz, 1990). As members of the

leadership were detained by the Israelis--who

after 18 months had detained more than 20,000

people--their places were taken by others.

----The uprising shattered the barrier of fear of

the occupier, strengthened the sense of

self-reliance, and in general empowered a

population that had been systematically deprived

of control over its destiny during two decades of

Israeli occupation, and before that for 19 years

under Jordanian and Egyptian rule. The resiliency

of the uprising in spite of varied forms of

Israeli repression over many months showed that

the Palestinians had learned well how to rely on

themselves and on institutions that they created.

And while many demonstrators often threw rocks

and gasoline bombs, they generally avoided more

lethal weapons and tactics. The uprising helped

crystallize a new and much younger leadership,

and marked the beginning of a new phase of the

Palestinian national movement (Nasser and

Heacock, 1990).

====The uprising provoked intense sympathy in the

Arab world and galvanized Palestinians

everywhere, bringing their cause to the attention

of the world (Gerner, 1992). Palestinians inside

Israel carried out sympathy demonstrations and

strikes. A growing number of Jews voiced doubts

about Israeli policy. As a direct result of

domestic and other pressures sparked by the

uprising, Jordan's King Hussein, on July 31, 1988,

severed his country's links with the West Bank and

renounced Jordan's sovereignty over it, thereby

reversing nearly 40 years of Jordanian


----PLO leader Arafat rode a strong wave of

international support during and after the

intifada (Peretz, 1990). He was able to speak

before the United Nations General Assembly. During

that U.N. meeting, and afterwards, Arafat sought

to satisfy the United States' two long-standing

conditions for negotiation: a recognition for the

rights of Israel to exist and a renouncement of

terrorism. The critical sentence at that speech

that many thought should satisfy the U.S.

recognition requirements was the following

(Gerner, 1992):

"The PLO will seek a comprehensive settlement among the parties concerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, within the framework of the international conference for peace in the Middle East on the basis of Resolutions 242 and 338 and so as to guarantee equality and the balance of interests, especially our people's rights, in freedom, national independence, and respect the right to exist in peace and security for all."

----Yet, the United States and Secretary of State

George Shulz were not completely satisfied. Thus,

Arafat gave it one more try at a news conference

the following day, in which he said:

"In my speech also yesterday, it was clear that we mean our people's rights to freedom and national independence, according to Resolution 181, and the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to exist in peace and security, and, as I have mentioned, including the State of Palestine, Israel, and other neighbors, according to the Resolutions 242 and 338. As for terrorism, I renounced it yesterday in no uncertain terms, and yet, I repeat for the record. I repeat for the record that we totally and absolutely renounce all forms of terrorism, including individual, group, and state terrorism."

----Afterwards, the United States announced that

the PLO had met the conditions for negotiation,

and low-level talks between the PLO and the United

States ensued. But it was in 1993 when the most

significant talks took place, unbeknownst to most

of the world. Secret, direct negotiations between

Israel and the PLO took place in Norway. They

culminated in a draft peace agreement, and were

followed by formal mutual recognition between

Israel and the PLO on September 10. Three days

later the agreement was signed on the White House

lawn and sealed by a handshake between Arafat and

Israeli premier Yitzhak Rabin.


----The PLO, which grew to prominence under the

organization of Yassir Arafat and which became an

international player thanks to the intifada,

found its ultimate goal of a Palestinian homeland

closer than ever with the signing of the peace

agreement with Israel. It marked a great

accomplishment for an organization that was begun

by four Arab countries in 1964. But even today it

is not clear that the PLO's mission has been fully

realized; the election of the conservative

Netanhayu government in Israel has hampered some

of the steps outlined in the peace agreement.

Thus, once again, Arafat is trying to rally the

world to the side of the PLO in its ongoing



Gerner, Deborah. "The Arab-Israeli Conflict." Intervention into the 1990's. ed. Peter J. Shraeder. Boulder: Rienner Publishers, 1992. pp. 361 - 382.

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

Peretz, Don. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising. Boulder: Westview Press, 1990.

Biographical information taken from: Koury, Philip S. "Arafat, Yasir." Colliers Encyclopedia CD_ROM. Vol.2 1996.