The “Intifada” (literally “throwing off”) was an uprising by the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, taking the form of widespread rioting. It was spontaneous in the sense that the riots did not follow the direction of any organized leadership.

The uprising began in October 1987, when the driver of a Israeli civilian truck passing through a Gaza refugee camp lost control of his vehicle and smashed into an oncoming car, killing four people. Riots broke out throughout the camp and the local Israeli army detachment was attacked by a large crowd throwing rocks and armed with axes and knives. The soldiers responded with teargas and live ammunition, killing one person and wounding thirty, before the rioters were dispersed.

The next day riots erupted on the West Bank, and within a week the violence reached Jerusalem, with youths hurling stones at Jewish houses. Israeli troops poured into the Territories to confront the crowds with teargas.

In addition there were demonstrations, frequently led by women, and with banners in English, and there was also a general strike throughout the Territories, and by workers commuting to Israel, with serious damage to both economies.

A pattern of activity was established, in which streets were blockaded with burning tyres, and young boys and older youths bombarded the Israeli troops with stones, and rocks were dropped from adjacent houses. Occasionally “Molotov cocktail” petrol bombs were thrown at cars and buses.

The Intifada became a spectacular media event, with television crews and press photographers alerted before each violent episode, and massive international coverage.

The Israeli Response

As the rioting grew in intensity, Yitzhak Rabin, as Defence Minister in Shamir’s National Unity Government, attempted to neutralize it quickly. Much publicity was given to his supposed threat to “break the bones” of the rioters. In fact those words, reported throughout the world, were never actually used.

Rabin’s instruction was that the military response was to be moderated and that “striking with a club” was preferable to shooting. However within a few days, after army objections, that order was also withdrawn, and teargas and non-lethal rubber bullets were deployed.

In response to the perceived indoctrination of children and students – the so-called “children of the stones” – schools and universities were closed. However this did not have the result of encouraging parents or teachers to take the children out of the fighting in the streets.

The Israeli soldiers were mainly 18-20 year old conscripts and older reservists, and many were reluctant to engage in police-type action against civilians. The problem for the government was to find a means of disengaging. Although the PLO attempted to claim credit for the uprising, it seemed unable to influence events on the ground. At the same time the PLO refused to negotiate directly with Israel and Israel refused to speak to the PLO.

The diplomatic effort therefore concentrated on seeking a formula for finding a representative Palestinian leadership to negotiate a cessation of violence and a phased Israeli withdrawal. One such proposal was made by US Under-secretary of State Richard Murphy, who called for municipal elections in the Territories, and the negotiation of interim self government. Significantly the date of Murphy’s departure in February 1988 saw the publication of the Covenant of Hamas, the new Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which also called for the destruction of Israel, and rejected negotiation or compromise. (See The Hamas Covenant)

A later effort was the Shamir-Rabin Peace Plan, which also proposed elections in the Territories of representatives to negotiate a peaceful settlement . The response was a widely distributed leaflet expressing “absolute rejection of Shamir’s conspiracy, and holding political elections in the occupied areas, under occupation.”

In 1991 it was reported that 1225 Palestinians had been killed in the course of the Intifada, and that of these 697 had been killed in conflict with Israeli troops, and 528 by other Palestinians, as “collaborators”.