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The First Palestinian Intifada

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PressTV discusses the root causes, the nature and the outcome of the 1987 Palestinian uprising

Twenty years ago this month a popular uprising began in the occupied Palestinian territories. Images of stone-throwing Palestinian youths confronting heavily armed Israeli soldiers are burned into the collective memory of Western television audiences.

It became known as the Intifada – an Arabic word meaning “uprising.” It was also known as the “war of stones” – rock throwing youngsters pitched against a professional army of occupation.

Beginning in the Jabalya refugee camp in December 1987, the intifada spread quickly and soon affected all the occupied territories from Gaza to East Jerusalem.

Arguments persist as to the actual cause or trigger for the uprising that lasted for five years, and claimed the lives of 1,100 Palestinians and 160 Israelis. What began with rocks against guns escalated as the intifada progressed, but it was never an even contest.

It was a one sided battle says Palestinian-American author Ramzy Baroud, one born out of deep frustration.

“It was very much a spontaneous grass roots uprising,” he told PressTV’s Middle East Today. “I was born and raised in a refugee camp near Jabalya. In fact in my refugee camp we claim that the intifada started in our refugee camp. My headmaster of the school was the founder of Hamas. So very much I sensed and lived that experience day in and day out throughout the entire first intifada.”

Baroud, author of ‘The Second Palestinian Intifada – A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle’ said it was the spontaneous action of ordinary people. “For the first time in many years Palestinian residents basically took the lead on how to handle their affairs and how to deal with the situation. This as opposed to having the PLO taking charge of Palestinian affairs, running it from Beirut, Amman or Tunisia or elsewhere. It was a reclaiming of Palestinian rights over their own national struggle, taking the struggle back to the refugee camp as opposed to fighting the good fight from five star hotels.”

There have been persistent attempts to deprive the ordinary people of that achievement and turn the intifada into a political tool in the hands of the leadership outside, he said, and unfortunately they eventually succeeded in doing so.

According to Rev. Stephen Sizer, author of the groundbreaking ‘Christian Zionism – Roadmap to Armageddon?’ the ferocity and spread of the rebellion took the Israeli security forces by surprise.

They didn’t know how to handle the resistance from children throwing stones. "It was a really a public relations disaster,” said Sizer, “especially when Western television audiences saw the brutality with which Israeli troops put down many of the disturbances. It forced the Israelis to revise their strategy for continuing the occupation."

Sizer said following the first intifada the Israelis began to radically expand the settlements, and build roads for the exclusive use of Israeli settlers so they would not have to go through Palestinian villages. Ultimately, he said, this policy led to the construction of the controversial protection barriers, often dubbed “apartheid walls.”

But syndicated columnist and contributing editor to National Review Online, Deroy Murdock, dismissed the suggestion that the intifada was simply a spontaneous uprising, saying it formed part of a long standing pattern of violent Palestinian resistance.

“ I look at this uprising not as an isolated incident, just a spontaneous group of people rising up in 1987,” Murdock said, “It was part of a pattern of a much longer period of violence related to the cause of the Palestinians, going back if you will to the attack on the 1972 Olympics.”

Murdock said, “You had somebody like Abu Nidal claiming to speak out for the Palestinian people by blowing up a TWA jet killing everyone on board; the PLO group that hijacked the cruise liner the Achille Lauro leading to the death of one passenger – so as an American I look back on that as part of a long pattern of decades of violence related to the Palestinian cause.”

Murdock argued that the Palestinian cause would have been better served through civil disobedience or passive resistance, rather than violence.

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British journalist currently based in Tehran, Iran.
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