The Al-Aqsa Intifada
The consequence of Israel's 34-year military
by Rania Masra
International Socialist Review, November-December
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
* 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 (www.al-awda. 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.