The 16th Anniversary of the First Intifada

By TONY SEED

Demonstration in front of the Dome of the Rock at the beginning of the first Intifada.

Sixteen years ago on December 9, 1987, what is referred to today as the first Intifada of the valiant Palestinian people against Zionist Israel and the Occupation erupted. An Intifada is a "Civil Uprising" in Arabic, literally, "shaking off" or "overturning." The movement initially began as a protest after four Palestinians in Gaza were killed when an Israeli truck collided with two vans carrying Palestinian workers.

The protests occurred in the context of increasing violence by heavily armed settlers in the Occupied Territories against the unarmed Palestinian people, growing unemployment and rising national consciousness, and the political mobilization which had taken place in the Diaspora since the 1960s and especially since Israel's invasion of Lebanon on June 6, 1982 with the "green light" from the United States, the massacres at the Sabra and Shatilah camps in Beirut, the attempts to assassinate the Palestinian leadership in Tunis (October 1985) and the unyielding resistance of the Lebanese people to occupation. Solemn U.S. security guarantees were proven untrustworthy by the blood of Palestinian women, children, and old men, all dead in the camps around Beirut. The spring 1987 PLO meeting in Algeria brought a notable unity to the ranks and orientation of the liberation movement, raising the spirit of all Palestinians inside and outside. The fall 1987 Arab Summit held in Amman, Jordan, within sight of the West Bank, virtually ignored the plight of the Palestinian people under occupation, thereby strengthening their determination that they must act on their own behalf and on the basis of their own forces.

On that first day, the Israeli authorities shot and killed a number of Palestinians, including an infant, Fatmeh Alqidri of Gaza City. The protests spread immediately to Nablus on the West Bank the next day, where the Israeli authorities shot and killed more unarmed Palestinians, including eighteen-year-old Ibrahim Ekeik. Protests broke out in East Jerusalem on December 13, and by the end of the first week, a general strike had paralyzed all of the Occupied Territories. Ensuing clashes spread throughout the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

The Intifada was a popular, national rebellion, carried by the youth (some 60 per cent of the society was under the age of 15) with the active participation of Palestinian workers and all sections of the society. Palestinians resigned from the local police forces and from the civil administration, and Palestinian shopkeepers attempted to set their own hours and prices. As their organized instrument, the Intifada gave rise to popular committees, many of them publishing their own information and news bulletins, exposing the day-to-day reality of life under occupation and carrying the communiqués of the Unified National Leadership of the Uprising -- a coalition of the main political parties -- with the goal to end the Israeli occupation and establish Palestinian independence.

The response of the state of Israel was characteristic of its entire policy from 1948 to date: terrorism, including closing the Palestinian universities and schools, deporting activists, scorching and destroying homes, and firing live ammunition and "rubber" bullets into crowds, especially of youth.

By July 1, 1988, the Israeli Central Command declared all the popular committees which had sprung up to be illegal. By 1989 the number of soldiers deployed by Israel to the West Bank was more than three times the number used to conquer it during the Six Day war, when vast numbers of Palestinians were driven from their homes; some four hundred thousand Palestinians were displaced, about half of them displaced for the second time. By the end of the first year of the Intifada the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces was 218. Twenty thousand were wounded, 15,000 arrested, 12,000 jailed and 34 deported under the pretext that they were "committee activists." Nevertheless by November, 1988 the Palestine National Council adopted its Declaration of Independence and announced the establishment of the state of Palestine in the West Bank and Gaza, something initially recognized by 55 countries.

As other revolutionary and national liberation struggles ebbed on the world scale with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of the unipolar world with the United States as the dominant superpower, the Intifada continued, a national rebellion posing the major obstacle to Washington's designs on the Middle Eastern region and the major factor in averting an imperialist peace in the Middle East and the so-called "New Arab Order" of President George Bush I inaugurated by the Gulf War. The Palestinians were inspired by the heroic resistance of the Lebanese people to the attack on and occupation of Lebanon with U.S. backing in 1982 and the Palestinian Intifada in turn inspired the resistance of the Lebanese people to Israel's illegal occupation of South Lebanon throughout the 1980s and 1990s. These movements frustrated attempts to redraw the geo-political map in the Arab region into an American oasis by toppling various so-called "failed" or "rogue states" which refused to acquiesce to U.S. policies or to keep silent about Israel's brutal atrocities. Over 1,500 Palestinians died and thousands more were maimed during the first Intifada, brought to an end by the Oslo process.

The deceptive Oslo Accords of September 1993 refused to recognize the right of the Palestinians to their own sovereign state and the right of return of five million people in the Diaspora, who had been deported since 1948. Summit after summit in an eternal "peace process" of Peres/Barak and Clinton came and went, a calculated process of "no war, no peace," aimed at intensifying the Zionist colonization program within the Occupied Territories went unopposed, taking the initiative out of the hands of the Palestinian people, liquidating this uprising and sidetracking the long-term struggle for guaranteeing the rights of the Palestinians. Israel implemented its greatest expansion of colonial settlements into Palestinian territory (doubling between 1983 and 1991) -- its policies of "Transfer" and dispersal of the Palestinians.

The persistent and steadfast resistance frustrated these strategems as well. This laid bare a crisis of historic proportions for the United States and Israel. Far from surrendering their fate to the hands of such monstrous powers, the Palestinians spontaneously unleashed their second popular Intifada (also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifada) in response to the calculated provocations of Ariel Sharon's "visit" to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on September 28, 2000, with thousands of security forces armed to the teeth deployed in and around the Old City in Jerusalem. Ensuing clashes with protestors armed only with stones left in the first two days alone five Palestinians dead and over 200 injured. Sharon's brave "visit" was the excuse to launch his terror and repressive policies on the most barbaric level ever seen. The incident sparked a widespread uprising in the Occupied Territories, inside Israel and the Arab World, anger throughout the world and brought the peace process to a halt.

From this historic date of the first Intifada on December 9, 1987, the Palestinian people gave political form and content to their more than 100-year-old struggle for self-determination and national independence for Historic Palestine, reflecting new levels of national unity not seen since the Great Revolt of the mid-1930s. The steadfastness and popularity of the resistance movements, especially in the Palestinian street which continues strongly to-date, does not conceal the truth that the second Palestinian Intifada in its fourth year is facing serious and difficult challenges. These lie from within and from without, not the least of which is to strip the initiative from its essential demand, namely full withdrawal from the Arab lands occupied in 1967, the return of Palestinian refugees and establishment of a new sovereign state in Historic Palestine.

The Palestinian Intifada and resistance is the one fortress defending the dignity, honour, culture and potential of the Palestinian and Arabic peoples. The Ottoman, the British and the American Empires and their tools all tried to subvert, humiliate and crush this fortress, be it with the olive branch of conciliation or the terror of force in the service of their inhuman interests. Thousands of men, women and children have been martyred. This fortress is part of, benefits and aids the struggle of entire humanity for their rights, their freedoms and their liberation, including the fundamental right to self-determination of the peoples and nations of the world.

Palestine,I salute you.