The Al-Aqsa Intifada

The consequence of Israel's 34-year military occupation

by Rania Masra

International Socialist Review, November-December 2001


Many of us have seen pictures of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, the second popular uprising in the occupied Palestinian lands. We've seen the pictures of children throwing stones at armed Israeli military occupiers and of Israeli occupying soldiers armed with U.S.-supplied weaponry. We may still remember the pictures of Rami Mohammad al Durra, the child who was killed in his father's arms by Israeli soldiers on September 30, 2000. As of June 23, 2001, 528 Palestinians had been killed, more than half of whom were not engaged in any act of resistance.

The mainstream media and political viewpoint is that this intifada resulted from the breakdown of the "peace process." This conclusion is false and not based on the reality of the situation. The Al-Aqsa Intifada is a direct and natural consequence of the military occupation, an occupation that remains eight years into the "peace process." To seek an end to the current violence, we must seek an end to the cause of the violence-the 34-year military occupation of Palestinian land.

The Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, were thought to construct a framework of negotiations and a gradual schedule that would effectively end the human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories and build a just path for peace. Quite the contrary. The Oslo Accords did not end the 34-year illegal Israeli military occupation, but rather, as noted by freelance writer Laurie King-Irani on the Electronic Intifada, "enabled it to continue by other means." Oslo effectively undercut the significance and applicability of international legal principles and key United Nations resolutions (such as UN Security Resolution 242, passed in 1967, demanding that Israel end the military occupation by withdrawing to within its 1967 borders) related to the situation on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Stop.


Effects of the Oslo Accords on the ground

From its inception, the Oslo Accords have exacerbated and enabled Israeli abuses of Palestinians' legal, social, political, and economic rights in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. These accords have, as planned, clearly created an apartheid situation in the Occupied Territories (similar to the apartheid situation already present within Israel). Yes, apartheid. Israeli human rights activist Jeff Halper notes that there are several essential elements of apartheid: exclusivity, inequality, separation, control, dependency, violation of human rights, and suffering. All of these characteristics have been strengthened since the inception of the Oslo Accords.

During the eight years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Israel has exploited Oslo's legal and political ambiguity to limit Palestinians' freedom of movement, to increase illegal Jewish-only settlement building, to construct an elaborate network of Jewish-only access roads linking Jewish-only settlements, to intensify the bureaucratic and "legal" limitations placed upon Palestinian life, and to intensify the suffering of life under military occupation. Contrary to popular perception-influenced directly by the misleading reports from the mainstream media-Israel remains clearly in control of the Occupied Territories and of the lives of the Palestinians living in those lands.

1. Israel's closure policy

For the past eight years, Israel has been imposing a policy of closure on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This constraint on movement severely affects Palestinians' economic well-being, as well as their access to proper health care, educational and professional opportunities. In addition, this draconian policy forbids Palestinians the freedom to travel easily, if at all, between various occupied areas of the West Bank, between the West Bank and Gaza, and between the West Bank and Gaza into Jerusalem and Israel to pursue work, education, and medical care, and to meet with family members.

Consequently, the Palestinian economy and Palestinian life in general have been further crippled. Palestinian families are undergoing significant economic hardships, living in much worse straits than they did during the days before the Oslo Accords. In Gaza, for example, 40 percent of all households are living below the poverty line. According to the World Bank, the direct cost of Israel's closure to the Palestinian economy is more than $5 million dollars per day.

As noted by B'tselem, a leading Israeli human rights monitoring organization, this closure constitutes a destructive form of collective punishment, bringing Palestinian economic, medical, and educational life to a virtual halt. Collective punishment, in and of itself, is a violation of international law and of the Geneva convention.

2. Increase of Jewish-only illegal settlements

Settlements, as with borders, refugee rights, and Jerusalem, were to be discussed in the "final status negotiations." Consequently, with the aim of creating "facts on the ground" and thus building a stronger "negotiating" position with the Palestinians (i.e., "We're already here, so how can you expect us to leave, even though our building of settlements was-and remains-an illegal venture?"), Israel, since the start of Oslo, has significantly expanded its settlement building.

At least 30 new settlement compounds have been established since the signing of the accords. The Jewish-only occupying settler population in the West Bank and Gaza Strip has doubled from 109,000 in 1993, to 200,000 in 1999. Another 200,000 settlers now occupy portions of East Jerusalem.

It is important to recognize that these settlements are made up of houses constructed only for Jews. Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories cannot reside in these houses, and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship within Israel (i.e., non-Jewish Palestinian residents of Israel) cannot live there either. In addition, the Israeli Jews who choose to live in these settlements are illegally occupying Palestinian land.

Furthermore, the construction of these settlements is in violation of international law. Rene Kosirnik, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross delegation to Israel and the Occupied Territories, stated at a press conference on May 17, 2001 that, "the transfer, the installation of population of the occupying power into the occupied territories is considered as an illegal move and qualified as a 'grave breach.' It's a grave breach, formally speaking, but grave breaches are equal in principle to war crimes."

These settlements fragment and diminish the living space of the Palestinians, increase the confiscation-the theft-of Palestinian land, and interfere with the ultimate possible definition of borders. In addition, significant portions of the Jewish settlers are armed, and all of the settlements are "protected" by scores of Israeli military occupying soldiers. Thus, by resulting in an increase of Israeli occupying forces, these settlements, in addition to stealing the land of the Palestinians, directly increase the tension in the region and pose a direct risk to the lives of the Palestinians.

The violence committed by the armed Jewish settlers typically goes unreported. As Nigel Parry of the Electronic Intifada reports in "Coverage trends: Widespread settler violence unreported":

For two-and-a-half days, since it began on the night of Saturday 7 October 2000, large groups of settlers were rampaging through Palestinian villages and towns in the West Bank and 1948 areas inside the Green Line, attacking Palestinians and their property. In many cases they were protected and even aided by the Israeli military.

Tanks, heavy artillery, and helicopters were deployed around all Palestinian cities in Gaza, and tanks were deployed around Gilo settlement near Bethlehem, and the Pisgot settlement on Jebal Al-Tawwl in Ramallah. During the night, literally thousands of Israeli settlers (in many cases together with lsraeli soldiers) attacked Palestinian villages and towns in the West Bank and 1948 areas (Nazereth, Bidya, Sourif, Salfit area) and East Jerusalem neighborhoods (Shufat, Al Azeriyeh, Anata, and Sheik Jarrah). Attacks included the use of live ammunition and beatings, and acts of serious vandalism included the burning of shops, cars, and olive groves.

On December 9, 2000, the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron reported:

All day the settlers moved about the Baqa'a [Valley, east of Hebron/AI-Khalil] with impunity, attacking homes and terrorizing Palestinians. One Palestinian boy was shot by a settler through the abdomen, IDF soldiers have transferred him to a hospital. Settlers are still occupying the home of Atta and Rodeina Jabber, they have been damaging the home, and the settlers have now brought a bulldozer to the site.

The Israeli military and police have allowed all this to happen as they watched. The military on the site told witnesses that they were ordered to allow the settlers to take over Arta's house; at first the police said they intended to remove the settlers after Shabbar-now past-but now they say they intend to remove the setters tomorrow.

The settlers behave as a free arm of the Israeli military occupying forces: violently acting, with impunity, to seize further Palestinian land and to terrorize Palestinian communities.

The newly released Mitchell Commission has called for a complete freeze in settlement expansion and suggested that Israel consider the evacuation of some settlements for security reasons (the "security" of the well-protected Jewish setters and not the security of the Palestinians). The report states that "the GOI [Government of Israel] should freeze all settlement activity, including the 'natural growth' of existing settlements. The kind of security cooperation desired by the GOI cannot for long co-exist with settlement activity." The Sharon government (akin to the Barak government) insists that Israeli policy will continue to be in support of further settlements. Since his election in February 2001, Sharon's government has established 15 new settlement sites in the West Bank. At the present time, there are 9,500 empty houses in the settlements, and Israeli housing minister Natan Sharansky proposes to add some 7,000 more.

Today, 195 exclusively Jewish settlements housing some 400,000 Jewish Israelis are sprinkled across the Occupied Territories: about 200,000 settlers in the West Bank, 200,000 in East Jerusalem, and 6,000 in Gaza Strip (the latter occupying a fourth of the land, including most of the coastline). In addition, in recent years, smaller settlements have been consolidated into settlement blocs of 50,000 setters or more. These settlement blocs divide Palestinian communities and control strategic corridors. The West Bank is divided into four areas (Areas A, B, C, and D), Al-Khalil/Hebron is divided into two areas (H-1 and H-2), and the Gaza Strip is divided into four areas (Yellow, Green, Blue, and White areas). So-called open green spaces-i.e., confiscated Palestinian land in which the Palestinians are not permitted to build homes-now cover more than half of occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem. There is no freedom of movement between these disconnected Bantustans. Palestinians cannot freely travel, if they are permitted to travel at all, to and from the areas in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Al-Khalil/Hebron, and Jerusalem. Thus, since the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians' living space has drastically decreased, and their state of siege has increased.

3. Jewish-only road systems

These illegally constructed settlements on confiscated Palestinian land are linked together by an intricate system of highways and bypass roads, creating additional barriers and limitations between Palestinian areas and further incorporating the occupied West Bank into Israel.

Currently, there are two major Israeli road construction projects: the Trans-Israeli highway and the massive system of bypass and "security" roads being built throughout the West Bank. The emerging grid of bypass roads is closely integrated with the Trans-Israeli highway plan, and fully incorporates the West Bank into Israel. Already, there are approximately 29 bypass roads-i.e., roads that "bypass" Palestinian communities-linking settlements to each other and to Israel, and further dividing the Palestinian communities. The Jerusalem Ring Road also intensifies Israel's control of municipal Jerusalem (including occupied Jerusalem).

These roads are not simple two-lane roads, but actually quite massive in scale. The "security" highways are approximately 50 meters wide with 100-150 meters of fenced-in "sanitary" margins on each side, for a total width of three to four football fields. As Jeff Halper explains, "Placed over the West Bank, an area the size of Delaware but with triple the population, these highways have a major impact on Palestinian freedom of movement, the fragile and historic environment, and Palestinian agriculture."

As with the settlements, these roads serve only Jews. Palestinians in the Occupied Territories have different license plates on their vehicles and cannot utilize these roads. And, as with the settlements, the construction of these roads divides the Palestinian communities, further isolating them from each other-an isolation that intensifies the harsh economic situation in which they are living. And, as with the settlements, these roads are constructed on stolen Palestinian land. And, as with the settlements, the construction of these roads is a violation of international law and of UN Security Resolution 242.

4. Bureaucratic limitations

The fourth set of control mechanisms imposed upon the Palestinians may, at first, sound rather benign, since it is of a legal nature. However, these laws are deliberately designed to be destructive. A system of permits intensifies the state of siege in which the Palestinians are living. Palestinians are not allowed to build on their own land without a permit, and permits to build homes are generally rejected. The building permits are enforced by daily harassment, fines, arrests, and home demolitions. Palestinians also cannot plant crops on their own lands without permission; the planting of crops is restricted. Israel further controls the licensing and inspection of Palestinian businesses.

5. Daily suffering

On top of all of the "administrative" forms of besiegement imposed on them, Palestinians also endure the daily trauma of life under military occupation: anger and frustration, humiliation, beatings, torture, detentions and imprisonments, harassment, loss of home, and loss of life.

Sara Abu Khreik, a 43-year-old mother in Gaza, describes how she awoke to the destruction of her own house two months ago:

We were sleeping in our houses. At around 11:30, the Israelis started shooting at us with the tanks and machine guns and their big shells. At around 12, we found the tanks and bulldozers coming at us and they started to demolish the home on top of us. At that moment, we grabbed the children. We had about 30 seconds. The planes were flying overhead and from every direction the guns were working on us. We left without our scarves, without any covering. It came as a surprise, just like that.

In the night, the kids have nightmares of shooting. In the day, they have nightmares of shooting. When you sit and listen to what the children are talking about, they are saying to each other, "today they shelled; today they shot guns; today they demolished; today they bulldozed." How much are our people supposed to endure?

All of these controls-the closure, the settlements, the roads, the suffocating permits, and the emotional trauma-result in, what Jeff Halper describes, "a matrix of control." Through this strategic system of economic and geographic and administrative choke points, Israel controls nearly every aspect of life in the Occupied Territories. This control has only been strengthened by the Oslo Accords and the so-called peace process.

As Jeff Halper explains, "A Palestinian state carved into small, disconnected enclaves, surrounded and indeed truncated by massive Israeli settlement blocs, subject to Israeli military and economic closures, unable to offer justice to its dispersed people and without its most sacred symbols of religion and identity, can hardly by called a viable state."

Yet this is the most that Oslo grants the Palestinians.


Effects of the Oslo Accords on the U.S. media

On June 6, an editorial in a major national newspaper commented about the uprising in this fashion:

After some 35 years of occupation, exploitation, uprooting and degradation, the Palestinian people have the right to use force to oppose the Israeli occupation, which, in itself, is the brutal exercise of force. Millions of people cannot be forced today to remain under the subjugation of a foreign occupier. Anyone who thinks otherwise is merely indulging in pipe-dreams.

This editorial was not published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, or any other U.S. paper. Rather, this editorial was published in Haaretz, the mainstream Israeli daily newspaper. It would have been extremely rare to see such an editorial in the U.S. press.

Since the 1993 signing of the Oslo Accords, the mainstream U.S. media has generally replaced references to Israel's military occupation of the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem with references to the "dying peace process." Concurrently, the media has removed images of Palestinian civilian life from the overwhelming majority of reports. Instead, the media has been presenting images of stone-throwing Palestinians, without presenting any context to the anger-no discussion of the historical, political, legal, or moral roots of the intifada, and no discussion of the clashes in their present context-that of a resistance against 34 years of Israeli military occupation.

Amid the flow of erratic media footage showing confrontations between Palestinian civilians and Israeli occupying soldiers, almost all network TV coverage has failed to present the central fact of the conflict: The West Bank and Gaza Strip are occupied territories - illegally occupied for 34 years.

As Laurie King-Irani explains, "This is tantamount to reporting on Black South African protest in the 1980s without mentioning the context of Apartheid."

It is tantamount to reporting on the civil rights protests in the U.S. in the 1960s without mentioning segregation. It is tantamount to reporting on the antiwar protests in the U.S. in the 1960s without mentioning the Vietnam War.

Does the mainstream media typically fail to present context when it reports on news, or this is a solitary case? How did the media report on another occupation-the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990?

As documented by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, during Iraq's seven-month occupation of Kuwait in 1990-91, TV journalists had little difficulty understanding the principle of occupation and resistance. On ABC, Peter Jennings directly referred to the country as "Iraqi-occupied Kuwait." In an interview with a Kuwaiti living under Iraqi rule, Jennings asked him to "tell us about the resistance to the Iraqi occupation." On CBS, Dan Rather reported that those have left Kuwait "are bringing back stories of an occupied but still unconquered nation," and his correspondent in the Arabian Gulf reported on Kuwaitis who "have vowed to return to resist the Iraqi occupation" and reports of "attacks and ambushes on Iraqi soldiers by a fledging Kuwaiti resistance."

However, in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian lands, correspondents seem to forget about placing events in context. CBS correspondents today talk of "Israeli soldiers under daily attack"; "Israel ... again feeling isolated and under siege"; and, in one case where Israeli occupation troops abandoned a fortified position in the occupied West Bank, "lsraelis have surrendered territory to Palestinian violence."

Some outlets have even referred to occupied Palestinian land as part of Israel. NBC's Tom Brokaw reported about "the ever-widening eruptions of violence in Israel." He then introduced NBC correspondent Martin Fletcher, who explained that Palestinians were "storming an Israeli army outpost in Gaza" and "setting siege to another army post in the West Bank."

The fact that Israel is conducting a military occupation- an illegal military occupation funded by the United States-is entirely missing. Without this context, without the discussion of the very heart of the problem, how can this second popular uprising, the Al-Aqsa Intifada, be understood?


And now? "What of the "cease-fire"?

Since September 2000, the Palestinians have been retaliating against the Israeli military occupation of their lands. The right to resist foreign occupation is universally recognized and enshrined in international law. In contrast, Israel's actions have been in violation of international law. Norwegian expert on international law Terje Lund accuses Israel of practicing state-sponsored terrorism. "I regard much of Israel's aggression against Palestinians to be pure terrorism," Lund told Norway's NTB wire service.

In the first few days of the Israeli-declared "cease-fire," Israel raided Rafah, near Gaza, with army tanks and bulldozers; destroyed 12 acres of vegetable patches and olive trees; stole more Palestinian land; injured two Palestinians with live ammunition; destroyed the main water source of another Palestinian village; and released plans to build more than 300 illegal Jewish-only settlements on confiscated Palestinian land in the coming weeks. And they dare call this a cease fire?

Under this misleading cloak of a "cease-fire," Israel has tightened the siege on Palestinian towns and cities, dosed the international borders with Egypt and Jordan, and closed the airport in occupied Gaza. Israel has also cut off fuel supplies, international mail, and, more seriously, money transfers to the Occupied Territories. Because of the devastating economic impact and the mass unemployment caused by the illegal Israeli military occupation, thousands of Palestinian families fend off complete destitution and even starvation only with financial support from relatives outside the country. The decision to cut off money transfers, therefore, is a deliberate, targeted act of vengeance against Palestinian civilians and can have no other purpose than to cause misery. On June 8, 2001, Arjan el Fassed, a political scientist currently working with the Palestinian human rights organization LAW and contributing to "Ground Zero: The Electronic Intifada reports from Occupied Palestine," commented about the closure:

Walking to the office this morning I could feel the intensity of the closure. It's not only a feeling of being locked up, caged, or under siege. You can actually hear the closure-the engines of cars and trucks waiting in long lines at checkpoints.... The basic fact is that three million Palestinians have been put under house arrest. Every single Palestinian is being punished for his or her existence.... Reading the word "cease-fire" makes it all even more absurd. How does the death of 42-year-old Bajis Salimiyi fit into that? Salimiyi suffered a heart attack and was being taken by ambulance for urgent medical attention. Israeli troops at a military checkpoint denied passage to the ambulance and Bajis Salimiyi passed away before reaching the hospital. This is not a cease-fire."

Four days later, on June 12, he wrote to tell us more about this cease fire:

[T]he current "cease-fire" does not include the cessation of devastating violations of human rights in all aspects of daily life, including deaths resulting from denial of access to humanitarian aid and services.

The "cease-fire" does not affect the assistance of the Israeli occupation forces to settlers randomly attacking Palestinian civilians.

The "cease-fire" did not prevent the killing of 65-year-old Nasra Malalha, her 17-year-old daughter Hikmat and 37-year-old Salima al Malalha. On Saturday night, an Israeli tank fired four shells that exploded near their tent.

Since Israel "unilaterally imposed a cease-fire" thirteen Palestinians have been killed.

Talking to my neighbors it becomes clear that eight months after the eruption of the Intifada support for its continuation remains high. The average Palestinian has already paid a price much too high. A settlement freeze for them is not enough. The Intifada for them is about ending the occupation.


Israel's reaction to the uprising

The occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem are not under a state of occupation as much as an institutionalized colonization, an institutionalized state of apartheid. This is not a policy of occupying a people, but more akin to a policy of removing and sequestering the native people of the land and replacing them with another group of people.

As King-Irani explains,

Israeli occupation is a strange survival of colonialism in the 21st century. Where else in the world do we hear of "settlements" and "setters"? Where else in the world do soldiers and armed civilian groups take over hilltops, uproot trees and crops, steal water reserves, and block access to an indigenous population's freedom of movement and right to earn a living, go to school, get to the doctor, or visit family and friends? The last place we witnessed human rights violations on this scale was in South Africa before the end of Apartheid. If it wasn't right there, it isn't right here.

And why should we expect that Palestinian land stolen from 1967 be regarded differently by Israeli leaders than Palestinian land stolen from 1948... if there is no uproar from the international community, from the U.S.?

In 1940, Joseph Weitz, head of the Jewish Agency's Colonization Department, said:

Between ourselves it must be clear that there is no room for both peoples together in this country. We shall not achieve our goal if the Arabs are in this small country. There is no other way than to transfer the Arabs from here to neighboring countries-all of them. Not one village, not one tribe should be left.

More than 40 years later, in 1983, the same statements were echoed by Rafael Eitan, chief of staff of the Israeli Defense Forces: "We declare openly that the Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimeter of Eretz Israel.... Force is all they do or ever will understand. We shall use the ultimate force until the Palestinians come crawling to us on all fours."

And, in early 1997, four years after the start of the so-called peace process, this position was further formalized by an agreement entitled the "National [Labour-Likud] Agreement Regarding the Negotiations on Permanent Settlement with the Palestinians," signed between former (Labor) minister Yossi Beilin and Likud's parliamentary faction head Michael Eitan. This agreement revealed the Israeli consensus in the so-called final status negotiations with the Palestinian Authority:

* no to withdrawal to the borders of June 1967;

* no to division of Jerusalem or sharing sovereignty over the city;

* no to dismantling the settlements; and

* no to the return of the refugees.

Nothing, then, remains open for negotiation in the so called final status talks except for minor, superficial changes.


Like Democrat, Like Republican...

The Bush administration has continued its Clinton's policy of unconditionally supplying arms and funds to Israel, thus directly fueling the conflict and supporting the occupation. Also like Clinton, the Bush administration vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have put observers on the ground in the Occupied Territories because Israel doesn't like the idea.

Long-standing U.S. policy has been to oppose the building of settlements, and various administrations have referred to them as "illegal," as "provocations," and as "obstacles to peace." Yet U.S. policy effectively funds and protects these settlements, since U.S. economic aid helps to build them, and U.S. military aid pays for the Israeli occupation forces that protect them and crush any Palestinian resistance to the further seizure of their land.

To understand the Al-Aqsa Intifada, we must understand the context-a people fighting for liberty from military occupation. To seek an end to the violence-the vast majority of which is perpetrated against Palestinians-we must first seek an end to the occupation.


Rania Masri, Ph.D., is a member of Al-Awda, The Palestine Right to Return Coalition ( org), and a national board member of Peace Action and the Education for Peace in Iraq Center. She can be reached via e-mail at rania@nc. rr. com. This article was originally presented at the Socialist Summer School, held in Chicago in June, 2001. For more information on Palestine, please refer to www.electronicintifada. net.

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