Today, September 28, marks 20 years since the beginning of the Second Intifada in Palestine against Israeli occupation. The Second intifada, also known as the Al-Aqsa Intifida, began on September 28 in the year 2000 and waged on for almost five more years, ending in around February of 2005.
The people of Palestine had led two intifadas, meaning uprisings, against the military occupation of Palestine by Israeli troops and Israeli settlement in occupied lands, the first of which began in 1987.
Where Did It All Start?
Pushed by the writings and organization of Austrian-Jewish journalist, Theodor Herzl, Zionist ideology began to gain prominence as an international movement around 1896. Zionists, who saw Judaism as not just a religion, but also a nationality, saw the return to ‘Zion’ as the rightful claim of the international community of Jews, especially those in Europe.
As nationalism and anti-Semitism gained strength in Europe, Jews mass-migrated to the then British-controlled Palestine. Seen as European colonization, this mass migration led to violent conflicts between the Arabs in Palestine and the Jews. When the United Nations voted for Palestine to be divided into two countries, the Palestinians rejected it, leading to the first Arab-Israel war in 1948, which resulted in Israeli occupation of most of the erstwhile state of Palestine, more than 700,000 Palestinians being rendered refugees, and the creation of the state of Israel.
In a second war in 1967, Israel further occupied the remaining areas of the West Bank and the Gaza strip, both home to millions of Palestinians who have since then faced years of military occupation and violence, and economic disadvantage at the hands of Israeli troops and settlers.
Breaking Down of Negotiations and Israeli Aggression
After the first intifada, a new Israeli government was elected in 1992 and negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization began, leading to an agreement known as the Oslo Accords. PLO was recognized as the Palestinian people’s legitimate representative, and Israel agreed to withdraw in stages from West Bank and Gaza, allowing the creation of a Palestinian Authority to govern those areas. The aim was to eventually reach a two-state solution.
However, Israel had continued to build settlements in occupied territories, leading to an increasing Israeli population in colonized Palestinian areas. Another Palestinian organisation, Hamas, in opposition to PLO, refused to recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel at all, choosing complete resistance over negotiation. In 2000, at the Camp David II meeting where the Oslo Accords were supposed to reach its final stages, negotiations between Palestine, Israel, and the US broke down, and no agreement was reached.
A few months later, Ariel Sharon, an Israeli politician who was at the time the leader of the opposition, made a controversial visit to Temple Mount in Jerusalem. A former member of the Israeli army, held indirectly responsible for the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre of Palestinians by a Lebanese Christian Right-Wing party, and a staunch advocate of the settlement movement, Sharon himself was an icon of right-wing Israeli colonization.
The Immediate Trigger for the Second Intifada
In September, 2000, Ariel Sharon visited the ‘Temple Mount’, flanked by a cadre of over 1000 Isreali riot police, and declared that the complex would remain in Israeli hands. While the Temple Mount was known as the holiest site of Judaism, part of the same compound was the Al-Aqsa mosque, known to be the third holiest site in Islam, making this entire visit extremely communally charged.
His visit sparked large scale protests, which included demonstrations, stone-throwing and civil disobedience. The protests started in Jerusalem and soon spread to Gaza and the Western Bank. Although the Second Intifada is painted to be a violent movement characterized by Palestinian suicide bombings and acts of terrorism, it began with protests which were met by brutal repression from Israeli forces.
The Israeli troops shot at the protestors with rubber coated bullets and live ammunition, followed by attacks with helicopter guns and tanks, and even carrying out targeted assassinations and military incursions. Suicide bombings by Palestinians did not start for until one month after the Intifada began, by when the Israeli forces had been firing an average of 40,000 bullets a day. According to Amnesty International, 47 Palestinians were killed and 1,885 wounded in just the first five days of the Intifada, 80% of whom were posing no life-threatening danger to the Israeli forces.
The mainstream media, eager to characterise the Second Intifada as a violent Islamist movement, ignored a prominent part of the uprising which involved unarmed Palestinian communities organizing nonviolent actions to oppose Israeli settlements, acts in which Israeli and international civilians were also involved.
Brutal Repression and Attacks on Leaders
The Second Intifada was marked by aggressive acts of repression and colonisation by the Israeli State. According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, at least 4,973 Palestinian civilians were killed. More than 10,000 children were wounded, according to Children International. Most of the deaths were caused by air strikes in areas densely populated by Palestinians.
Meanwhile, the state unleashed an oppressive siege on the basic rights of the Palestinian people, imposing severe restrictions on their movement, blocking access to Palestinian cities, enforcing a curfew, and so on. Sharon, who became the Israeli PM in the midst of the Intifada, delivered on his promise and in 2002 led the biggest Israeli offensive in the West Bank since 1967, destroying the main section of the PLO’s headquarters and building the security wall, also known as the Apartheid wall, which allowed for further expansion of Israeli occupation. All while the State targeted, arrested, and killed Islamist leaders of Hamas.
There was no conclusive end to the Second Intifada, although the death of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, is considered to be one of the markers of the end of the movement.
20 Years from Then, Israel Remains In Power
As Palestinians live with the memory and the constant presence of genocide and military occupation, the state of Israel has not faced any consequences for the continual assault on human rights it has been responsible for. The Indian government, specifically the BJP, has consistently shown support for Israel, with the 2003 BJP government welcoming Sharon in the midst of the Second Intifada, and now, Modi and Benjamin Netanyahu building India-Israel relations and visiting each other back and forth.
Israel’s right-wing neoliberal Likud party which has been at the forefront of the colonization of Palestine, has been enjoying the support of the right-wing governments in India, US, and Brazil. Of course, it is not a surprise that the Indian government has found a companion in a violent and repressive state involved in a massive colonization project attempting to ethnically cleanse a group of Muslims from the very land they have historically resided in. At least while Jews have faced a history of religious persecution in other countries, the same can’t be said for Hindus, who are fighting tooth and nail to sell a similar story of victimhood to build a neoliberal Hindu state in India.