RAMALLAH (MIFTAH) – September 29 marks seven years since the outbreak of the Aqsa Intifada. The second major Palestinian uprising erupted in the Palestinian territories following then Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Asqa Mosque compound one day earlier. Sharon, already known for his hawkish policies towards the Palestinians and his role in the Sabra and Shatilla massacres among others in which thousands of Palestinians were killed, entered the holy Muslim site flanked by 1,000 armed Israeli security personnel.
The visit sparked wide condemnation among Palestinians everywhere, Muslims and Christians alike, who understood Sharon’s visit as a clear provocation to Muslim sensitivities and as a show of Israeli force in Jerusalem.
Clashes inside the compound in protest of Sharon’s visit broke out on September 29. Israeli military troops responded to the protesters – unarmed save for rocks and shoes, which they pelted at the troops – by opening fire on demonstrators, killing seven people on the compound grounds and injuring over 160 others.
The next day, nine other Palestinians were killed including 12-year-old Mohammed Al Durra who was to become the symbol of the Intifada. Al Durra, caught on camera by a French television station, was huddled and terrified under his father’s arm as gunshots rang out around him. While Al Durra, who was shot several times, was killed in the cross fires in Gaza City, his father survived with serious injuries.
Over the next few weeks, the protests spread throughout the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip. At the time, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to incorporate severe military punishment as a means to curb the Palestinian uprising, introducing Apache helicopter missiles, F-16s and tank shells almost immediately after the Intifada began.
The result was the death of hundreds of Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military. By October, 2001, the protests had spread to Palestinians living inside Israel. On October 2, Israeli security forces cracked down on Palestinian-Israeli demonstrators inside the Green Line, killing 13 Israeli citizens.
While Sharon’s visit is considered to be the spark that ignited the eruption of the Intifada, the uprising cannot be disassociated with the failure of peace talks and the failed promises of the Oslo Accords. As a last pitch attempt to save the peace process, the Camp David II summit was held in July of that year in which the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat supposedly rejected “Israel’s most generous offer.” The media propaganda that ensued put the Palestinians in a negative light as ungrateful and vindictive, thus damaging their image further in the international arena.
The truth is, Palestinians could not have accepted the Camp David proposal given that it was a severely truncated peace deal that did not grant Palestinians any real sovereignty, particularly in Jerusalem. Nor did it offer any serious right of return for Palestinian refugees. Even a complete Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders was disputed, with a reported “land swap” proposed in exchange for the annexation of major West Bank settlement blocs to Israel.
Since the start of the Intifada seven years ago, over 4,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli occupation troops and settlers throughout the Palestinian territories and several thousand injured. Over 1,000 Israelis have also been killed by Palestinians in the same period. There are over 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons. Furthermore, on the ground, Israel has continued to build and expand illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank even though it dismantled its settlements in the Gaza Strip in 2004.
There are now over 500 Israeli military checkpoints throughout the West Bank, isolating each district and city from the other. Most visible and damaging, however, is the West Bank separation wall, which Israel claims was primarily built to bar potential Palestinian suicide bombers entering Israel. Israel’s true intentions, however, are to create de facto borders between it and any future Palestinian entity that guarantees as much land on the Israeli side of the barrier as possible.
The Israeli government began construction of the wall in June 2002 and, upon completion it will run over 650 kilometers. On its path, the wall effectively annexes approximately 50 percent of the West Bank, severing people from their land, homes, jobs and relatives.
Today, peace prospects for a final solution to the conflict seem extremely slim. Hamas has been in control of the Gaza Strip since June 2007, ostracized economically and politically by Israel, the international community and the Fateh-run West Bank government. Given the increasingly oppressive Israeli measures of closure, the wall, the checkpoint system and economic deprivation, the Palestinians have reached all time poverty and unemployment levels.
Since the Aqsa Intifada erupted, Israel has taken several steps to ensure that certain facts on the ground are put in place that will effectively prohibit the establishment of any viable, sovereign and geographically contiguous Palestinian state in the near future.
(MIFTAH – www.miftah.org – Sep 29, 2007)