Intifadeh: The Palestinian Uprising

When demonstrations against the Israeli occupation erupted in Gaza last December 8-9, few Israeli politicians or military commanders expected them to last very long. They were perceived as merely another in the sporadic series of "riots" that had periodically—and only briefly each time—annoyed Israeli authorities since 1967 in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank ("Judea and Samaria") and the Golan Heights.

Soon it became clear that these disturbances were quite unlike those of the previous twenty years. Within days the Gaza unrest spilled over into the West Bank, and the authorities lengthened their estimate of the time required to suppress it: a few weeks, perhaps even a month or two. By late February, as the rioting continued, Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his army commanders grew more impressed with the fundamental grievances behind the uprising, which in their judgment could be addressed only through a political solution, not by military force. Some field officers and members of the General Staff even adopted an Arabic term, intifadeh (uprising), used by the Palestinians themselves, to describe what was happening.

By chance in late March two dozen international political scientists converged in Jerusalem for a meeting sponsored by Bir Zeit University on the West Bank, for a long-planned conference on the deeper impact of the occupation. What we had foreseen as an academic meeting took on a more immediate agenda. We met with numerous Palestinian professional organizations and traveled throughout the West Bank and Gaza, visiting towns and villages, refugee camps, and hospitals crowded with hundreds of patients injured in the uprising.

Clearly, we observed, the intifadeh was having an enduring political, social and economic impact, not only on Arab-Jewish relations within the territories, but throughout Israeli society. Beyond the Middle East, it was obvious there would be ramifications for Israeli and Palestinian relations with the United States, the Soviet Union and Western Europe.

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