War and Conflict
The Middle East
What is the intifada?
Intifada means “uprising” in Arabic and refers specifically to two recent periods of intense and regular violence between Palestinians and Israelis in the disputed territories of the Middle East. The First Intifada began in 1987 and did not subside until a peace settlement was brokered between the two sides in Oslo, Norway, in 1993. The Second Intifada began in September 2000; the violence of that uprising continued into 2005 despite cease-fire vows from Arab-Palestinian and Israeli leaders. The second wave of violence was marked by almost daily suicide bombings of Israeli targets, including markets, restaurants, buses, and other public places.
Israelis view the intifadas as acts of terrorism, claiming the lives of thousands of Israeli citizens. Palestinians in general and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the militant Islamic group Hamas in particular consider the tactics part of their war of national liberation—a decades-long struggle to establish an autonomous Palestinian homeland in Israel. In the waves of violence, casualties were high on both sides (more than 4,000 died in the Second Intifada alone). The cycle of conflict appeared endless: Palestinian acts of violence were met with retaliation from the Israelis, which incited further violence from the Palestinians.
Hopes for a lasting peace were raised again in February 2005 when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (1935-) and Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon (1928-) held a summit meeting in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. They declared a cease-fire agreement and their intentions to resume negotiations, as outlined in the Roadmap for Peace. But the militant Palestinian group Hamas immediately claimed the verbal agreement was non-binding. Indeed, Hamas, which was largely responsible for the intifada, posed major roadblocks to an end of violence in the region. Before they would put down arms, the group demanded total Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, as well as the right of return of Palestinian refugees; Hamas was also dissatisfied with Israel’s agreement to release only 900 of the 8,000 Palestinians held prisoner by Israel.