The Second Intifada Begins

In September 2000, a new wave of violence erupted.

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There is no doubt that opinion polls among the Palestinian population registered over a long period of time growing dismay at the dissonance between the perceptions of where the Oslo process was supposed to lead to and the harsher realities of life in the Palestinian Authority. By the summer of 2000, even Israeli intelligence reports were warning of the possibility of broad and violent Palestinian riots if the Camp David summit failed to live up to expectations.

At the time, not a few media commentators noted with some surprise the relative calm that prevailed for a full two months between the failure of the Camp David summit and Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount. The high number of casualties that marked the initial days of the second Intifada--much higher than the comparable numbers in the first Intifada--was shocking to the Palestinian public. Palestinians then suffered tremendously as the second Intifada progressed, paying a high price in lives. Their freedom of movement in the West Bank and Gaza was extremely curtailed by Israeli troops, and a severe economic crisis and widespread unemployment made the Palestinian economic situation on the eve of the Intifada appear rosy in comparison. However, every indicator showed continued Palestinian support for continuing the armed conflict with Israel.

The Israeli View

The Israeli perspective is more skeptical of the claim that Sharon's visit sparked a spontaneous reaction that got out of hand. Starting at least three years prior to the eruption of the second Intifada, Israeli military intelligence followed with growing concern certain indicators of trouble to come: increasingly militant Palestinian broadcasts, the establishment of military training camps, excessive growth in the number of Palestinian armed forces beyond that permitted by the Oslo agreements, a lack of attempts by Palestinian authorities to confiscate illegal weapons, and frequent releases of terrorist detainees from Palestinian prisons.

Based on these facts, the Israel Defense Forces prepared comprehensive contingency plans for the possibility of an armed confrontation with Palestinians, including heavily fortifying its positions. In the first days of October 2000 these plans proved their worth in reducing Israeli casualties to a minimum. This contrasted sharply with large numbers of Palestinian casualties--many of them sadly civilian and caused by the fact that the Palestinian population initially understood the renewed call for an Intifada as a summoning to the stone-throwing mass demonstrations of the first Intifada.

What Went Wrong?

But the second Intifada rapidly took on the characteristics of armed combat between Israeli and Palestinian forces--with the Palestinian civilian demonstrators caught in the middle of the deadly cross-fire. The discrepancies between Israeli and Palestinian casualties, however, only served to fuel further Palestinian anger and desire to continue the fight.

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Ziv Hellman is a Jerusalem-based writer and mathematician. A former editor at the Jerusalem Post, Ziv was a founding member of Peace Watch--the watchdog group reporting on the implementation of the Oslo Agreements. He also led the Israeli elections observer team evaluating the Palestinian Authority elections.