|Dome of the Rock, 692 C.E.||See al-Aqsa riots, October 8, 1990|
|al-Aqsa Mosque, 710 C.E.||See also "Footnote to the Crusades"|
|The Arab-Israeli Wars|
Palestinian Intifadas: 1987, 2000
|War: Summer, 2006|
September 28, 2000 Violent protests erupted on the Haram al-Sharif (the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) in Jerusalem during a visit by right wing Likud leader Ariel Sharon (born 1928). Up to this point, Ariel Sharon's career had spanned more than fifty years, most of them spent as an officer in the Israeli Defense Forces. In the 1948 war, Sharon served as a twenty year old platoon commander. Here is a list of other roles he filled in his long career: commander of Unit 101, commander in 1973 war, founding partner of the Likud Party in 1973, officer in charge of the forced evacuation and demolition of the Jewish settlement of Yamit in 1982, commander of the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and as a target of a subsequent investigation ( Kahan Commission). More recently, he was a politician: (Housing Minister, 1990, Infrastructure Minister, 1998, Foreign Minister, 1998, (see especially his speech of Nov. 15, 1998), Prime Minister, 2001, and founder of a yet another new political party, Kadima, in 2005.
By mid October, Arabs began referring to the spreading unrest as intifada al-Aqsa, the al-Aqsa Uprising. Palestinians, who recalled Sharon's uncompromising rhetoric toward Arabs as well as his alleged role in the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla camps in Beirut (1982), regarded the visit to al-Aqsa as a deliberate provocation and an attempt to assert Israeli sovereignty over the holy Muslim sites. Many critics viewed these events as the logical outcome of the deeply flawed Oslo Accords. More immediate factors were the failure of the Camp David talks the previous July and the way many Palestinians read the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon the preceding May: that violent resistance by Hizbullah and by Palestinians could succeed against Israel.
On October 2, 2000, an unarmed twelve year old Palestinian boy, Muhammad al-Durra, was killed by gunfire at the Netzarim Junction. Israeli soldiers were blamed for the killing, although there were many doubts. The incident was filmed and broadcast over Arabic satellite and cable news networks and the boy quickly became both a martyr for the Palestinian cause and a focal point for Arab and Muslim anger against Israel.
An October 9 editorial in al-Hayat, a leading pan-Arab newspaper, typified Arab reaction to the ongoing events.
By November 1, 170 people, almost all Palestinians, had died in the violence. Israeli leaders, who along with the Americans, had charged Arafat with fomenting the violence, now admitted publicly that he may not have been able to control or dictate events on the ground. Day to day direction of the intifada seemed to be coming not from Arafat but from Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti.
By mid November 2000, voices from the Israeli Left had begun to raise the question of whether Israel should be sacrificing lives and hopes for peace to defend the settler movement. Writer David Grossman (The Yellow Wind ) wrote, "The time has come when all Israelis must ask themselves honestly whether they are prepared to die for the sake of tens of thousands of settlers who live in isolated, armed enclaves in the heart of an Arab population." Yossi Sarid, leader of the Israeli Meretz Party said, "We think the settlement program is the most foolish thing ever carried out by the Zionist enterprise." (New York Times, November 15, 2000, A13). In an article written for the Israeli paper Yediot Aharanot (November 10, 2000), Sarid referred to the settlements as "our original sin." Sarid noted ruefully that the number of settlers in the occupied territories had grown from 20,000 in 1977 to 200,000 in the year 2000. The same year had seen a 96% rise in settler housing start-ups compared to the previous year 1999. In the first quarter of 2000, housing start-ups in Israeli settlements comprised more than 22% of all public building construction in Israel (Middle East International, November 24, 2000, 26).
On November 17, al-Jazeera, the Qatar based Arabic satellite news channel, hosted a debate between three prominent Palestinian leaders: Palestinian Authority Minister of Information Yasser Abd Rabbo, the deputy head of HAMAS' political bureau, Musa Abu Marzuq, and Bilal Al Hassan, an analyst with the London-based daily, al-Hayat. All three agreed on the concept of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. However, they then went on to say that the eventual goal was a unified state in all of geographical Palestinian. The debate host Sami Haddad and Abd Rabbo both characterized the existence of a Jewish state in the region as "racist." (Middle East Times, December 1, 2000)
In early December, the United Nations issued a report criticizing Israel for its blockade of the Palestinian territories which was precipitating a deep economic crisis there. Unemployment had risen from twelve to forty percent since the outbreak of the intifada. In a related development, the World Bank announced it had awarded the Palestinian National Authority a grant of twelve million dollars to help alleviate the suffering.
On December 18, the United Nations Security Council rejected a Palestinian request to set in place a team of international observers in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States, Russia, France, and the United Kingdom all abstained from the vote denying the measure any chance of passage. Palestinians accused the United States of biased behavior in favor of Israel by pressuring member nations into withholding their support.
2001 The waning weeks of President Clinton's final term saw vigorous efforts to broker a deal before Clinton left office, but all ended in failure (more). The death toll stood at 370, (mostly Palestinians) with more killings almost daily. On February 6, Sharon won a landslide victory over incumbent Prime Minister Ehud Barak in elections (25 point margin).
On February 22, the Bush administration demanded Israel release $54 million in tax revenues earmarked for the Palestinian authority. Israel had thus far linked the turnover of the money to pledges by Palestinians to reduce violence.
In early April, 2001, violence spiraled upward with Palestinians targeting settlers and with Israel responding with strikes from helicopter gunships. Islamic Jihad leader Iyad Hardan was killed when a telephone booth he was using blew up (the work, it was assumed, of Israeli agents). On April 5, 2001, Israel announced plans to construct 700 new homes for settlers in Palestinian territories expanding settlements near Jerusalem and Nablus. The United States, in an unusually sharp rebuke, denounced the initiatives as "provocative."
On April 16, 2001, for the first time since it handed control of Gaza over to the Palestinians under the Oslo Accords of 1994, Israel sent forces into sovereign Palestinian territory dividing the Gaza Strip into three parts. Arabs called the move "reoccupation." Israel announced that its new policy was to reoccupy portions of Palestinian land as it saw fit in order to defend itself.
On May 4, 2001, a report by the commission led by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell investigating the causes of the current Palestinian uprising was prematurely leaked. A key finding was that Israel's settlement activity in Palestinian territories was a root cause of the unrest. Israel flatly rejected the report.
On May 18, a HAMAS suicide bomber blew himself up at a shopping mall in Netanya, Israel killing at least five Israelis and wounding more than 100. Israel retaliated with F-16 fighter attacks against Palestinian targets in the West Bank and Gaza killing at least nine Palestinians. The use of jets was a first for Israel since the 1967 war and was interpreted as yet another dangerous escalation of the conflict. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remained defiant as criticism of his policies mounted, among them his decision to allow the building of fifteen new Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands since January.
One year after the Lebanese Shiite militia Hizbullah took credit for compelling Israel to withdraw from southern Lebanon, arguments raged in the Israeli press over the extent to which the Palestinians may have been inspired by Hizbullah's example to initiate their own intifada ("uprising") against Israel, this in light of the Mitchell Commission's finding that Ariel Sharon's visit to the al-Aqsa Mosque on September 28, 2000 did not in and of itself cause of the intifada. Many recalled Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah's statements encouraging Palestinians to press on. Columnist Bilal Hasan writing in al-Hayat (June 10, 2000) predicted that Palestinians would be inspired by Hizbullah's victory in Lebanon to once again rise up against Israeli occupation.
By late May, the conflict had claimed more than 500 lives to date in the worst fighting since the 1967 war.
On 19 July, all major industrialized countries (including the United States), the so-called "G8," went on record at their conference in Genoa in support of international observers to oversee the behavior of both sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel remained opposed to the idea claiming the United Nations had traditionally opposed Israeli interests (the U.N. General Assembly voted in 1975 to brand Zionism as a racist ideology, a resolution that was repealed at the insistence of the United States and Israel in 1991. Since 1994 when Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein gunned down 29 Palestinians at prayer in Abraham's tomb at Hebron, 150 European observers had been in place to monitor events but had been able to do little to stem the violence.) Writing in one of the Arab world's leading papers al-Hayat (July 25, 2001), Ranada Taqi al-Din credited pressure from the United States' European allies at the G8 conference for the American change of heart on the question of observers, and argued that active European involvement might help neutralize the impact of the ongoing American pro-Israeli bias in Middle Eastern affairs.
Also on July 19, in Hebron, three Palestinians (one a baby) were shot dead by members of an extremist Jewish settler group calling themselves "The Committee for Security on the Roads," believed to be an offshoot of the Kach movement founded by New York Rabbi Meir Kahane who was assassinated in 1990. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and leaders of the settler movement condemned the attack.
Also on July 19, 2001, the BBC reported that Robert Malley, adviser to former President Clinton, had claimed publicly that Yasir Arafat was being unfairly made to shoulder most of the blame for the failure of the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 which led to the outbreak of the current conflict. Malley argued that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was also to blame since beforehand he had committed to allowing no more settlements on Palestinian lands and had agreed to withdraw from Palestinian villages. Later, at the conference itself, Barak reneged on the deal angering Arafat and leaving him unwilling to compromise.
On July 29, violence erupted on the Haram al-Sharif ("the Noble Enclosure") in Jerusalem where it had all begun the previous September. An angry crowd of Palestinian Muslims began throwing stones down on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall which abuts the Muslim holy sites on what Jews called "the Temple Mount." The Palestinians were angry at an attempt by an extreme messianic Jewish group, "Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful," to lay a cornerstone for the third Jewish temple. The Muslim shrine, the Dome of the Rock, stood on the site of the two previous Jewish temples (the second of which had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 C.E.). Israeli authorities had denied the "Faithful" a permit to lay the cornerstone on the site itself, but had allowed them to perform the ceremony just outside the "Dung Gate" entrance to the Old City ignoring warnings from Arab leaders that the act would be a provocation no matter where it was performed. At least 35 people were injured when Israeli police moved in to break up the melee.
President Bush announced on October 2, 2001 that the United States favored the establishment of a Palestinian state. This provoked a heated exchange between President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after the latter hinted publicly that the U.S. may have been contemplating abandoning Israel to appease the Arabs just as Chamberlain had given up Czechoslovakia to appease Hitler. (see also)
On November 8, 2001, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher warned the United States that success in the American led war on terror depended on solving the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the United States must play a leading role. Editorial writers throughout the Arab world castigated the United States for not doing more to restrain Israel which six weeks earlier had reoccupied six cities in the West Bank and up to this point still occupied two of them. U.S. President George W. Bush had vowed not to meet Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat when both were scheduled to be at the United Nations charging that Arafat was dragging his heels in efforts to restrain extremists under his rule. A week earlier Arafat's government had released some of the members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who had been arrested following the assassination of Israeli tourism minister Rehavam Zeevi on October 17.
Over the weekend of November 24, 2001, violence on both sides continued unabated as an American delegation led by retired Marine General Anthony Zinni prepared to go to the region with a new American peace initiative (see also Zinni's mission in March, 2002). On November 29, as General Zinni was meeting with Arafat, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a bus in northern Israel killing four passengers. On December 1 and 2, in what Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres called "one of the worst attacks ever seen" on Israel, at least 26 Israelis were killed and more than 200 injured in a pair of suicide bomber attacks in the Ben Yehuda pedestrian shopping mall of West Jerusalem and, twelve hours later, a bus bombing in the northern Israeli city of Haifa. In addition, a Jewish settler in Gaza was killed by Palestinian gunmen there. Islamic Jihad and HAMAS took responsibility for the incidents. Senior HAMAS official Abdel Aziz Rantisi said the attacks on Israel would continue until Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory ended.
Many observers saw the past repeating itself: weak leaders on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides resorting to violence to shore up their fragmenting power bases. Arafat's regime, which was widely unpopular among Palestinians who viewed it as corrupt and ineffectual, lacked the will to eliminate HAMAS and other militant groups fearing an attempt to do so might backfire and result in the Palestinian Authority's own downfall. At the same time, Palestinian militants believed that suicide bombings in Israel served the purpose of inviting further retaliatory attacks against Arafat by Israel thereby increasing the chances of his downfall. Thus, the attacks on Israel were seen by some as a proxy war that HAMAS was fighting against Arafat.
For his part, Ariel Sharon was threatened by a Labor Party pullout from the fragile coalition that made up his government, an event that would probably lead to his fall from power. Sharon had to walk a fine line between further retaliation against the Palestinians (which the Right wing wanted) and the drive to make peace (which Labor wanted, as did 60% of all Israelis according to polls at that time).
On January 3, the Israeli Navy captured the freighter Karine in the Red Sea after discovering it was carrying munitions picked up off the coast of Iran and destined for Gaza. American intelligence confirmed the personal knowledge and involvement of Yasir Arafat in the shipment. Advisors close to President Bush said this was the point where he abandoned for good any thought of dealing with Arafat to bring about a peaceful settlement.
On January 14, Israeli troops demolished nine Palestinian homes in the Issawiyya neighborhood of East Jerusalem claiming they had been built without permits. Palestinian residents claimed they were being forced to violate Israeli imposed building codes because the Israelis had refused to issue them permits to build homes to accommodate their growing families. (Israeli zoning restrictions were designed to limit Palestinian growth and preserve the Jewish majority in Jerusalem.) The demolitions came just days after the Israeli army destroyed refugee homes in Gaza leaving homeless, according to the Red Cross, 600 people. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem claimed that 60 houses were bulldozed altogether. Israeli military analyst Zeev Schiff called the demolitions "an act of undisguised ruthlessness, a military act devoid of humanitarian and diplomatic logic." (New York Times, January 14 and 15, 2002). Israeli army officials countered that the homes were being used to launch attacks on Israeli outposts and therefore had to be destroyed.
On January 17, 2002, a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, a militant group associated with Arafat's own Fatah movement, entered a hall in the town of Hadera inside Israel and gunned down six Israelis attending a party celebrating a Bat Mitzvah. The attack was said to have been an act of revenge for the assassination by Israeli forces of Fatah's militia leader in the West Bank city of Tulkarm, Raed Karmi, earlier in the week. Israel responded with an air raid on Tulkarm destroying Palestinian government headquarters there, then surrounded Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah with tanks and destroyed the Palestinian national broadcasting facility. Arafat was now under de facto house arrest, unable to leave his own office building. A few days later, the Israel army occupied Tulkarm, the first time in the 16 month conflict that it had occupied an entire city.
On February 1, more than a hundred members of Israel's army reserves released a signed statement saying they would henceforth refuse to serve in the West Bank and Gaza. In their statement, the soldiers said, "'The price of occupation is the loss of the Israel Defense Forces' semblance of humanity and the corruption of all of Israeli society...We will no longer fight beyond the Green Line with the aim of dominating, expelling, starving, and humiliating an entire people.'" According to a war resisters' group Yesh Gvul ("There is a limit") approximately 400 Israelis had refused to serve in the occupied territories. Most had been quietly released from duty. Some forty had faced disciplinary hearings and detentions. The action unsettled Israelis: following the invasion by Israel of Lebanon in 1982, protests within the army were considered to have been a chief factor in Israel's decision in 1985 to pull back to the security zone along its border with Lebanon (from which it withdrew completely in the spring of 2000). (New York Times, Feb. 2, 2002).
In mid February, Israeli tanks were once again making incursions into Palestinian villages in Gaza and cities in the West Bank. Israel was especially concerned about the appearance of a new homemade weapon in the arsenal of HAMAS: the Qassam-2 rocket with a range of up to seven miles. Israel pledged to seek out rocket "factories" in Palestinian controlled areas and destroy them.
On Saturday night, February 16, 2002, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a pizzeria in the Jewish West Bank settlement of Karnei Shomron crowded with post-Sabbath revelers killing two others and wounding 20. Recent polls showed Israeli Prime Minister Sharon's popularity falling off sharply among Israelis who were upset at his failure to deliver on his election promise of the previous year to bring peace and security to Israel. On February 19, eight Palestinians and six Israelis died in attacks and counter attacks. By February 25, Israel had shifted its tactics away from keeping Arafat holed up in his office building in Ramallah and away from raids into Palestinian territory in response to Palestinian attacks and toward creating "buffer zones" between Israeli and Palestinian positions. (Some observed ominously that this was all too reminiscent of Israeli tactics in Lebanon during the 1980s).
On the evening of March 2, 2002, as the Sabbath was ending, an eighteen year old Palestinian suicide bomber, Muhammad Daraghmeh, blew himself up in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem killing nine Israelis. The next day, a Palestinian gunman shot dead ten Israelis at a West Bank check point and two more Israelis were killed in Gaza and the West Bank. These events led to one of the most violent periods in the uprising to date. Momentum built in support of a new peace initiative by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah with Arab countries (including Syria) climbing on board. On March 6, the United States (speaking through Secretary of State Colin Powell) openly broke with Israel's latest policy of escalating violent conflict with the Palestinians and predicted its ultimate failure.
On March 12, 2002, the United Nations Security Council passed a United States resolution (1397 -- Full text at UNISPAL) in which for the first time the U.S. called for a Palestinian state to exist side by side with Israel (see also). The vote was 14-0 with Syria abstaining. The U.S. won praise from Palestinian representatives, and Israel called the resolution "balanced." U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had blunt words for both Israelis and Palestinians: he urged Palestinians to halt "morally repugnant" acts of terror against Israelis, and he called upon Israel to end its "illegal occupation" of Palestinian land. (Associated Press, March 13, 2002). On March 14, the New York Times in its lead editorial used uncharacteristically blunt language to criticize current Israeli military operations in the West Bank and Gaza. The editorial came one day after President Bush issued some of his strongest criticism of Israel labeling the current incursions as "not helpful." Israel at the time had 20,000 troops in Palestinian territories in the biggest operations since the 1967 war.
On March 20, 2002, a suicide bomber blew himself up on a bus in northern Israel killing himself and seven Israelis. Islamic Jihad claimed responsibility.
On March 27, 2002, with Arafat still a virtual prisoner of Israel in the West Bank city of Ramallah (where his headquarters had been surrounded by Israeli tanks since January 17) and unable to either attend or even speak via TV hookup to the Arab Summit conference in Beirut, a suicide bomber from HAMAS blew himself up in a hotel in Netanya where Israeli Jews were gathering to celebrate a Passover seder. Twenty Israelis were killed and more than one hundred are injured. Despite the unanimous Arab call for peace issued on March 28 in Beirut (see Arab summit), Israel's Prime Minister Sharon called up 30,000 reservists and on March 29 began an assault on Palestinian leader Arafat's Ramallah headquarters ("Operation Protective Wall"). At the end of the day, Arafat and a few bodyguards were holed up in a single room without electricity or water. Also on the 29th (during Passover and on the eve of the Sabbath), a female Palestinian suicide bomber blew herself up killing two Israelis in a Jerusalem supermarket.
The same day (March 29, 2002), the U.N. Security Council passed Resolution 1402 (the vote was 14-0 -- Full text at MidEastWeb) calling upon Israel to withdraw its forces from all Palestinian cities, but also expressing "grave concern" over the practice of Palestinian suicide bombings against Israelis. This marked the second time in a month (see March 12 above) when the United States, which usually either voted in favor of Israeli government positions or abstained, voted against an Israeli position. (Associated Press, March 30, 2002) The resolution reaffirmed preceding resolutions 242 (1967), 338 (1973), 1397 of March 12, 2002, and the Madrid Principles (1991).
On March 30, 2002, the normally pro-Israel New York Times in its lead editorial called upon Israel to withdraw from occupied Palestinian lands and move toward implementing a Palestinian state. (see also)
On March 31, as Israeli soldiers continued to lay siege to Arafat's compound and initiated massive assaults on numerous other targets, two more suicide bombings occurred; the first in a restaurant in Haifa took 15 Israeli lives in addition to that of the bomber while the second in a Jewish settlement (Efrat) killed the bomber and injured several Israelis. Sharon told Israel in a televised address that he had declared war on Palestinian terror and would completely dismantle the terrorist network. Palestinians accused Sharon of dragging the entire Middle East into another war. Meanwhile, on March 31, 2002, al-Jazeera reported that in Egypt, prominent Muslim Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had called for a pan-Muslim jihad against Israel and furthermore had called for a boycott of American goods and products claiming that the United States was biased in favor of Israel and could not be trusted to play the role of honest broker in the peace process. Moderate Arab governments like Egypt and Jordan, who had peace treaties with Israel, stood to lose the most ground as moderate voices in both countries began to yield to calls in the street to break the treaties and send Arab armies into Palestine to fight alongside the Palestinians.
On April 3, 2002, Israeli Defense Forces staged a week-long assault on the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin in a campaign to root out sources of attacks on Israel. (more)
April 4, 2002 marked the second day that the fourth century Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, traditional site of Jesus' birth, had been under siege since it was taken over by more than 100 armed Palestinian policemen seeking asylum from Israeli troops. Meanwhile, after heavy fighting, Israeli troops took control of Nablus, the West Bank's largest city. In the midst of all this, Iraq announced it was upping the remuneration it paid families of Palestinian "martyrs" (suicide bombers) from $10,000 to $25,000. Late on April 4, President Bush committed his administration to work toward a resolution of the conflict announcing that Secretary of State Colin Powell would travel to the region the following week. This prompted Israel to step up its offensive. President Bush responded to the escalation by demanding Sharon pull his troops out of Palestinian areas "without delay." Scores of Palestinians were dead by April 6. The International Red Cross said it was suspending humanitarian efforts in the Palestinian territories because its vehicles were being fired on by Israel. Fighting was described as fierce.
On April 8 it became clear that Israel was defying U.S. President Bush's demand that it withdraw its army from Palestinian cities "without delay." Oil prices surged as Iraq announced it was suspending shipments of crude oil for 30 days or until Israel withdrew its army from Palestinian areas. By April 10, ten days into its invasion of Palestinian areas, Israel had failed in its goal to stop terrorism: another suicide bus bomber in Haifa claimed eight Israeli lives. The previous day, thirteen Israeli soldiers were killed in an ambush inside the Jenin refugee camp. On April 12, as Powell was winding up meetings with Sharon, a suicide bombing in Jerusalem (the fourth carried out by a female attacker) killed six Israelis.
On April 13, Arafat issued a statement condemning terrorism. The first line said, "President Yasir Arafat and the Palestinian leadership express their condemnation (idana) of terrorist acts aimed at civilians whether they be Israelis or Palestinians and whether this terror is state terror, terror committed by groups, or terror committed by individuals. This is based on the deep rooted principle of rejecting the use of violence and terror against civilians or as a means of realizing political goals." (translated from a statement in Arabic released by Wafa, the news agency of the Palestinian National Authority and published in al-Quds, April 14, 2002.) The statement went on to remind readers that the Palestinians had first announced this position in 1988 and had repeated it several times since, most recently on 16 December, 2001. Notwithstanding this, the same week, Arafat's wife in an interview in al-Majalla said if she had any sons of her own she would want them to become martyrs.
On April 15, the Israelis arrested Marwan Barghouti, a member of Arafat's Fatah organization and the man widely believed to be the principal field commander for the intifada.
On April 19, 2002, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously in favor of a United States resolution authorizing the sending of a United Nations investigation team into the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin to examine the behavior of the Israel Defense Forces in the recent assault on the camp. Palestinians claimed the Israelis massacred civilians there. (On April 30, the Israeli cabinet voted to defy the United Nations and refused admittance to the U.N. team commissioned to investigate the Israeli operation in the Palestinian refugee camp of Jenin.) Ultimately, the United Nations issued a report on August 1, 2002 which found that no massacre occurred at Jenin.
On May 3, as the United States committed itself to join Russia, Europe, and the United Nations in a peace conference on the Middle East to be held early in the summer, the U.S. Congress, voting on separate non-binding House and Senate resolutions, overwhelmingly expressed support for Israel (House: 352-21, and Senate: 94-2). Members of both houses branded Arafat a "terrorist" and a "despot." (New York Times, May 3, 2002, A10).
On May 10, agreement was reached between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators and the siege of the Church of the Nativity (which had begun on April 2) ended. The agreement called for the deportation of some militants to Europe.
On May 15, 2002, the Palestinians' annual commemoration of what they referred to as al-Nakba ("the catastrophe"), the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that sent hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into exile, Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat called for new elections and sweeping reforms in Palestinian governing institutions, this in response to charges of corruption from all sides, including his own people. Two days later as sporadic clashes continued, Arafat backtracked saying that elections would not be held until Israel withdrew from the occupied territories.
On June 24, 2002, U.S. President Bush delivered a speech calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state pending reforms in the Palestinian Authority (see also). At the same time, Bush announced that the United States would no longer deal with Yasir Arafat or recognize him as the Palestinians' leader. Also in late June, Israel announced that it was responding to a new wave of Palestinian suicide attacks by reoccupying sections of the West Bank. On July 2, Arafat sacked three security chiefs; but, two of them - Jibril Rajoub and Ghazi Jabali - defied him and refused to step down highlighting Arafat's weakened powers and setting the stage for a showdown.
Meanwhile, a debate over whether suicide bombings served the Palestinian interest sprang up, led by a group of 55 Palestinian intellectuals and political leaders including Hanan Ashrawi and Sari Nusseibeh who argued that they did not. This group published an ad in the daily newspaper al-Quds calling for a cessation of attacks on Israeli civilians inside Israel (but, pointedly, not in the Israeli occupied portions of the West Bank and Gaza). HAMAS leader Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi opposed the proposal. Israel on July 9 closed the Jerusalem offices of Nusseibeh claiming that as a representative of the Palestinian Authority he constituted a "Trojan horse" that threatened Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem.
On July 11, the London based Amnesty International group condemned Palestinian suicide bombings and other attacks targeting Israeli civilians as "crimes against humanity" that might also constitute war crimes. The Palestinian Authority dismissed the report as "biased and unbalanced," and HAMAS officials vowed that suicide attacks would go on.
On July 20, Israeli plans to blow up homes of suspected Palestinian militants and expel their relatives drew fire from the United States, the United Nations, and from human rights groups who contended that such measures violated the Geneva Conventions see Fourth Geneva Convention). UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said the plans amounted to "collective punishment" of the Palestinian people. (BBC, July 20, 2002)
On July 23, the Israeli military using a U.S. F-16 jet dropped a 2,000 pound bomb on a house in Gaza killing one of the founders of HAMAS' military wing Sheikh Salah Shehada but also fourteen others including nine children. Condemnation from around the world (including the United States) was swift. The bombing came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators were engaged in the most serious truce talks in months for the two sides and as Tanzim, the militia associated with Arafat's Fatah movement, was offering an unconditional end to attacks on Israeli noncombatants.
On August 30, Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razzak al-Yahya said publicly that Palestinian suicide bombings were contrary to Palestinian traditions and harmed the Palestinian cause. HAMAS leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin vowed they would continue.
On September 10, disputes between the Palestinian Legislative Council and Arafat's cabinet over how to conduct the intifada reflected growing dissatisfaction among Palestinians over Arafat's leadership. (New York Times, Sept. 11, 2002) The following day, the cabinet resigned in the most serious challenge to Arafat's rule since he returned to Palestine from exile in 1994.
On September 18 and 19, 2002, after a six week respite, two Palestinian suicide bombings occurred in Israel. In the first, one Israeli policeman was killed. In the second, five bus passengers in Tel Aviv were killed and fifty were wounded. Israeli tanks and troops surrounded Arafat's compound in Ramallah and began systematically destroying the buildings. Arafat found himself (once again) pinned down by Israeli troops who demanded the surrender of some fifty Palestinian militants who had taken refuge inside the compound. World reaction against Israel's action was strongly against it. The United States described it as "unhelpful." Israel was seen as attempting to force Arafat back into exile (he had returned to Palestine in 1994 as part of the Oslo Agreement. Bowing to U.S. pressure, the Israelis called off the siege of Arafat's compound on September 29.
On September 30, Amnesty International issued a report condemning both the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships of targeting children in the conflict and otherwise showing "utter disregard for the lives of children and other civilians." (BBC, Sept. 30, 2002) According to A.I. figures, more than 250 Palestinians under the age of 18 had died during the two year conflict, and more than 70 Israeli children.
Amidst ongoing violence in Gaza, the United States on October 18, 2002 floated a new peace plan. The terms called for reforms to Palestinian governance, an end to Palestinian violence, a freeze on Jewish settlement building, withdrawal of Israeli forces from Palestinian population centers by mid 2003 to be followed six months later by Palestinian elections and the declaration of a temporary Palestinian state, and final status arrangements to be completed by the end of 2005 (according to the BBC, October 19, 2002).
In late November, 2002, comments made at a private meeting by Arafat's deputy Mahmoud Abbas (known also as "Abu Abbas") were printed in the Arabic daily al-Hayat. In these remarks, Abbas bluntly characterized the uprising as a disastrous mistake on the part of the Palestinians and said that it must be brought to an end. He went on to say that the uprising had led to the "complete destruction of everything we built." There was no response from Arafat, isolated and holed up in the ruins of his Ramallah headquarters: a sign of his diminished influence.
2003 On January 28, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon posted a strong victory as his ruling Likud party increased its number of seats in the 120 member Knesset from 19 to 37, a sign that, while most Israelis said they wanted Israel to dismantle Jewish settlements in the Palestinian territories and establish a Palestinian state, at the same time they felt safer living under Sharon's hard-line policies and did not trust Yasir Arafat as a negotiating partner.
Also in late January, the charity organization Christian Aid published a report claiming that three quarters of the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza were living on less than $2 per day and that one quarter of all children living in those areas suffered from anemia. (BBC, Jan. 29, 2003)
In early February, the Arabic weekly news magazine al-Majalla reported that the official spokesman of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and the Palestinian Territories, Father Attallah Hana, had called on Palestinian Christians to join their Muslim brothers in suicide attacks ("martyrdom operations") against Israelis. Father Hana was quoted as saying, "Palestine as we understand it extends from the sea to the river: the Jordan River is the natural border of Palestine. We categorically refuse to give up even a speck of dust from our mighty homeland (min watanina al-'azizi)." He then gave a list of cities from both the territories and Israel and went on to say, "Zionist Jews are foreigners in these places and have no right to live in them or settle in them...Jerusalem is an Arab city in which Jews have no right to settle, own property, or carry out religious practices or rites of any kind." (al-Majalla, Feb. 2-8, 2003, 12, trans. by Ted Thornton). (see also interview with a Muslim suicide bomber) Father Hana's position was reminiscent of that taken by the rector of Egypt's al-Azhar university during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War.
On February 12, Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat agreed to international demands that he appoint a Prime Minister.
On March 16, Rachel Corrie, an American college student, was killed as she attempted to block an Israeli bulldozer from demolishing the home of suspected Palestinian militants in Gaza.
On April 23, 2003, Arafat and his new Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas ("Abu Mazen"), a long time deputy of Arafat in Fatah who had also been a severe critic of the intifada, ended their spat over Abbas' choice for a key cabinet post in the new Palestinian government. Arafat had been under intense pressure to allow Abbas free rein in forming the new government as part of key reforms in moving the peace process forward. The argument was over Abbas' choice of Mohammad Dahlan for the post of Interior Minister, with whom Arafat had quarreled. The solution was to have Abbas take the post himself in addition to that of Prime Minister with Dahlan in the post of Minister of State for Security reporting to Abbas. The quarrel over who controlled the security services (Arafat or Abbas) would prove Abbas' undoing (see Sept. 6). On the 29th, as the Palestinian legislature approved the new cabinet, a suicide bomber struck a beach side cafe in Tel Aviv killing three and hurting more than 30.
On May 12, Israel imposed a total shutdown on travel in or out of Gaza in the wake of warnings of new terror attacks. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell found Israel's P.M. Sharon unwilling to lend support to the Roadmap plan as written. In Egypt, Powell was rebuked at a joint press conference by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher for refusing to push Israel to use the word "accept" in connection with the plan.
By mid May, 2003, three out of four Palestinians were saying they wanted an end to violence on both sides, according to pollsters who said that this was the strongest support for the position since 1996 (NPR, May 16, 2003). And, on May 25, there was another hopeful turn.
On June 29, 2003, with the death toll since the intifada broke out in September, 2000 standing at more than 2,400 Palestinians dead and 800 Israelis, a fragile "truce" seemed to take hold as three Palestinian militant groups (Fatah, Islamic Jihad, and HAMAS) announced they were suspending attacks against Israel (Fatah for six months, the other two groups for three months) conditional upon Israel's cessation of attacks against Palestinians. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, one of the groups refusing to participate in the truce, continued operations. The Arabic word for "truce" used was hudna, a relatively weak word also meaning "intermission," and therefore not suggestive of permanent peace. Israel dismissed the truce as "worthless," just an excuse to allow Palestinian militants to regroup and rearm. However, Israel did begin withdrawing its tanks from northern Gaza in advance of handing over security there to the Palestinians, and a few days later (July 3) withdrew from Bethlehem. Israel continued to insist that the Palestinian government dismantle militant groups, as called for in the "Roadmap" peace plan. At the same time, a quarrel erupted between the U.S. and Israel over the security wall Israel was building in the West Bank (more), which, the U.S. insisted, was subject to negotiations as called for in the American "Roadmap" peace plan. (In spite of the controversy, a significant obstacle for opponents of the wall was that it did reduce attacks on Israelis in some areas by up to 90%.) On July 3, the United States announced a $30 million grant to the Palestinian Authority toward rebuilding infrastructure destroyed during the intifada.
On August 6, Israel released 300 Palestinian prisoners (many of whom were due to be released anyway and none of whom was suspected of having been involved in fatal attacks on Israelis) claiming it had fulfilled a key Palestinian demand in the Roadmap Peace process. Palestinians claimed that Israel hadn't even come close given the 6,000 prisoners Israel was holding at the time.
On August 12, the truce that went into effect on June 29 was jeopardized by two Palestinian suicide bombings, one in Israel itself and the other against an Israeli target in the West Bank. Then, a suicide bus bombing in Jerusalem on August 19 followed by Israeli assassinations of Palestinian militants (including senior HAMAS leader Ismail Abu Shanab) put an end to it altogether. On August 27, in a move seen as an attempt to convince the big powers that he could not be dealt out of the game, Arafat called upon militant groups to resume the ceasefire. The move was also seen as evidence that the power struggle between Arafat and Prime Minister Abbas was escalating.
On September 1, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz called for the expulsion of Arafat and declared "all-out war" on militant Palestinian groups. The same day an Israeli commission of inquiry (the "Or Commission") found that Israeli police had used excessive force against rioting Israeli Arabs in the early days of the intifada. More than a million of Israel's 6.6 million citizens were Arabs (New York Times, Sept. 2, 2003).
On September 6, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas resigned having lost a power struggle with Arafat that began with his appointment (also). Ahmed Quraya ("Abu Ala"), one of the chief negotiators in the Oslo Peace plan (1993), was nominated to take his place.
In mid September (2003), the Israeli government issued a statement saying that, given their conviction that Arafat was promoting terror, it had in principle made up its mind to expel him and also floated the idea that it might seek to liquidate him. The decision was greeted with severe criticism from all over the world including the U.S. However, on September 16, 2003, the U.S. issued the only veto on the Security Council of a Syrian and Sudanese sponsored resolution condemning Israel's threat to remove Arafat (Britain, Germany, and Bulgaria abstained). The U.S. delegate John Negroponte said that the resolution did not contain a "robust condemnation" of Palestinian terror in spite of the fact that the text mentioned "suicide bombings" along with "extrajudicial executions," and called for the "complete cessation of all acts of violence, including all acts of terrorism, provocation, incitement and destruction." The main reason behind the American veto was the resolution's failure to single out militant groups (like HAMAS and Islamic Jihad ) by name. (BBC, Sept. 16, 2003)
On September 25, twenty seven Israeli pilots announced they were refusing to carry out bombing raids against Palestinian targets. The same day HAMAS leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin announced his group would continue to launch attacks against Israel vowing not to bow to pressure from Palestinian authorities.
On October 2, 2003, Israel announced that 550 new homes were to be built in Jewish settlements in the West Bank one day after it announced an extension of a security wall (more) that Israel had been building (more than half of the planned 150 mile fence had been built to date). Many regarded Israel's settlement policy as a violation of international law (specifically, Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention). On October 4, the eve of Yom Kippur, a female suicide bomber (27 year old law student from Jenin belonging to Islamic Jihad) struck a restaurant in the Israeli city of Haifa killing 20 and injuring 60. The restaurant, Maxim's, was co-owned by a Jewish family and an Arab family. Israel retaliated the following day with an aerial attack on Ein Saheb near Damascus, which it claimed was a terrorist training base for HAMAS and Islamic Jihad but which the Syrians claimed was a Palestinian refugee camp. Syria, under pressure from the U.S., had closed offices of HAMAS and Islamic Jihad in Damascus the preceding spring. Later in the week, Israel conducted a raid in the Palestinian border town (with Egypt) of Rafah destroying tunnels used to smuggle arms to Palestinian militants.
On October 24, Israel announced plans to build 273 new apartments in West Bank settlements in spite of the freeze mandated on such activity by the U.S. sponsored Roadmap peace plan. More than 220,000 Israeli settlers were living in Gaza and the West Bank.
Also in October, 2003, two new unofficial peace plans put forth by prominent but at the time ex-governmental figures drew mixed reactions. Ami Ayalon, former head of Israel's Shin Bet security service, and Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian university president, unveiled a "statement of principles" underlying a two-state solution to the conflict. Israel would be recognized as "the state of the Jewish people," sovereignty over Jerusalem would be shared and divided, and "right of return" for Palestinian refugees would not include Israel.
In the second case, former Israeli justice minister Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abed Rabbo, a former Palestinian Interior minister announced they had formulated another unofficial peace plan known as the "Geneva Accord" (Text at MidEastWeb). This blueprint for peace, which sprang from a partnership forged by Beilin and Rabbo during talks at Taba in January 2001, called upon Israel to withdraw to its 1967 borders with some exceptions and mandated the division of Jerusalem. Palestinians would gain sovereignty over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, but there would be an international force posted there to assure freedom of access for people of all faiths. Jewish prayer and archaeological digs on the mount would not be permitted. The Western Wall would remain under Jewish control. About 30,000 Palestinian refugees would gain "right of return" to Israel proper and all refugees would be compensated. Israel would be allowed to hold on to settlements in the West Bank for the nearly 400,000 Jews who are already there (including new Jewish neighborhoods built in Arab East Jerusalem) in exchange for an equivalent amount of land that Israel would cede to the Palestinians. The Palestinians would pledge to prevent terror and disarm all militias. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and border crossings would be overseen by an international (not Israeli) force. The plan was intended to replace all previous UN resolutions and other agreements. (www.haaretzdaily.com, Oct. 15, 2003 and New York Times, Nov. 16, 2003) The proposal was formally announced on December 1, 2003 with both the Palestinian authority and the Israeli government refusing to endorse it publicly.
On November 12, 2003, President Arafat and his new Prime Minister Ahmed Quraya reached agreement on a new cabinet with Quraya giving in to Arafat's demand to retain control of Palestinian security forces (through his choice for Interior Minister Hakam Balawi). The new cabinet was sworn in with Arafat and Quraya calling for an end to the three years of violence. For the time being, Arafat appeared to have defeated U.S. and Israeli attempts to sideline him and seemed positioned to remain the dominant force in Palestinian politics.
2004 In February, more than 300 Palestinians in Arafat's Fatah movement resigned in protest over alleged corruption in the organization.
Also in early February 2004, Sharon announced that Israel would dismantle Jewish settlements in Gaza (this happened in the fall of 2005). A few weeks later, on February 17, Sharon's government approved a $22 million allocation most of which was earmarked to build new Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. On March 31, furious protests erupted in the Arab community of Silwan in East Jerusalem as fifteen Jewish settlers arrived to take up residence in a house there. In mid April, Sharon announced that Israelis would hold on to six settlements in the West Bank and continue building settler homes there "for all eternity." Palestinian leaders condemned Sharon's pledge saying it would destroy any chance for peace. (BBC, April 13, 2004) (see also) And, on May 3, Sharon lost a crucial vote in his own Likud Party which rejected his bid to withdraw from Gaza. In the fall of 2004, Sharon came under fire from one of his own advisers, Dov Weisglass, who regarded the plan to pull out of Gaza as a ploy to stop the peace process cold and delay indefinitely the establishment of a Palestinian state.
An Israeli raid against militant Palestinian targets in the Gaza camps of al-Bureij and Nusseirat on March 7 resulted in the deaths of 14 Palestinians. On March 21, 2004, Israeli forces assassinated HAMAS leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin in a missile attack launched by helicopter gunships in Gaza sparking angry demonstrations and calls for revenge throughout the Middle East. This was followed on April 17 by the Israeli assassination of Yassin's successor, Abdel Aziz Rantissi also in a missile attack. Arab anger was directed at the USA as well as Israel: America was charged once again with facilitating Israel violence against Palestinians (most concretely seen in the fact that American made weapons and aircraft were used in the attacks). Arab editorialists were furious over the assassinations, which occurred at the same time President Bush backed away from key conditions of his own Roadmap peace plan. And, they were terrified that Israel had been given the green light to do as they pleased in the region. Immediately following the Rantissi hit, Arafat expelled twenty militants belonging to the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade who had taken refuge in his headquarters in Ramallah for months.
On May 17, 2004, King Abdullah II of Jordan suggested Arafat "take a long look in the mirror" and consider resigning (BBC). This came in the midst of Israel's largest military incursion into Gaza in years as Israel sought to destroy an infrastructure of tunnels and other networks constructed for the purpose of transferring weapons from Egypt into Rafah for use against Israelis. The operation was in response to the killings of thirteen Israeli soldiers in Gaza the previous week (on May 11, members of HAMAS had paraded body parts of six of the soldiers through the streets of Gaza). Having recently staked out its position in line with that of Ariel Sharon and preoccupied with the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, the U.S. had little to say in response to the Israeli operation. By midweek, the Palestinian death toll from the operation had risen to at least forty including at least seven killed when an Israeli tank opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in Rafah protesting the Israeli demolition of houses there. The U.N. Security Council on Wednesday passed a resolution 14-0 (with the U.S. abstaining) "condemning the killing of Palestinian civilians that took place in the Rafah area," and expressing "grave concern" over the situation of those rendered homeless by the demolitions (about 1,600 Palestinians according to the U.N.).
On July 9, 2004, the UN International Court of Justice ruled that the security wall Israel had been building in the West Bank was illegal (text of ruling at ICJ web site).
On July 17, the PNA plunged into a political crisis (more).
September 28, 2004 was the fourth anniversary of the al-Aqsa Intifada. To date, an estimated 3,070 Palestinians and 940 Israelis had been killed.
On November 1, a Palestinian suicide bomber killed four residents of Tel Aviv. Arafat condemned the incident from his hospital bed in Paris where he had been taken for treatment amidst intense speculation about whether or not he would return to Ramallah (where he had been a virtual prisoner since 2002). (He died on Nov. 11).
On November 11, 2004, Yasser Arafat died. Political fortunes for some Palestinians began to change with HAMAS (and other militant groups) losing support. Allegiance to Fatah rose to 40% among Palestinians, while support for HAMAS dropped to 20%. A Jerusalem Media and Communications Center survey found that for the first time since the outbreak of the intifada a majority of Palestinians disapproved of violent operations against Israel and were expressing their optimism about the future. According to PNA (Palestine National Authority) figures, 63% of Palestinian households had seen their incomes slashed in half since the intifada started in 2000 and 58% were living in poverty. (see Scott Atran, "Hamas May Give Peace a Chance," New York Times, Dec. 18, 2004)
2005 On January 4, Israeli tanks killed seven Palestinian members of HAMAS in northern Gaza who had been shelling Israeli positions. Palestinian presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas, who was on record as being opposed to the intifada, said publicly, "We are praying for the souls of the our martyrs who fell today to the shells of the Zionist enemy." (BBC)
On January 13, newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was presented with what some called his "first test" when three Palestinian suicide bombers, dispatched by HAMAS in coordination with the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, allied with Abbas's own organization al-Fatah, attacked the Karni Crossing checkpoint between Israel and Gaza killing six Israelis. The following day, Israeli P.M. Sharon cut off all contacts with the Palestinian government saying channels would not be reopened until Abbas cracked down on the militants. Abbas began putting pressure on the militant groups, and a week later, Sharon lifted the ban. And on the 25th, it was announced that the Israelis and Palestinians would resume diplomatic contacts after a nearly two year freeze: Sharon and Abbas were to meet the following week.
On January 28, HAMAS won two thirds of the contested seats in local council elections in Gaza.
On February 8, 2005 at Sharm al-Sheikh, Israel and the Palestinians declared a ceasefire in the first high-level meeting since the outbreak of the intifada. Israeli leader Ariel Sharon shook hands with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas and invited Abbas to visit him at his farm in southern Israel. Abbas and Sharon declared the more than four year conflict over. Figures released by the human rights group B'Tselem put total Palestinian deaths at 3,261 and Israeli deaths at 875 since the intifada began in 2000 (BBC, May 19, 2005).
On October 27, 2005, the truce ended when Israel launched attacks in Gaza and the West Bank vowing to destroy Palestinian terror for good. The day before, a Palestinian suicide bomber belonging to Islamic Jihad killed five in the Israeli town of Hadera in retaliation, Jihad said, for the killing of one its leaders by Israelis two days earlier in Tulkarem.