GAZA, PALESTINOW.COM — The second Intifada – commonly referred to by Palestinians as al-Aqsa Intifada – began after then-Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon sparked the uprising when he stormed al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem with more than 1,000 heavily armed police and soldiers on September 28, 2000.
The move sparked widespread outrage among Palestinians who had just marked the anniversary of the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacre, for which Sharon was found responsible for failing to stop the bloodshed, following Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.
But prior to Sharon’s controversial move, frustration and anger had risen year after year among Palestinians on the backdrop of the refusal of successive Israeli governments to abide by the Oslo Accords and end the occupation.
Under the Oslo agreement by May 4, 1999, there was supposed to be an independent Palestine, Buttu noted, adding from the start of negotiations in 1993 until the start of the Intifada “what we saw was a fast expansion of Israel’s settlements”.
The first days of the uprising were characterised by large non-violent demonstrations that included civil disobedience and some stone-throwing. It started in Jerusalem and quickly spread to the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The demonstrations were met with excessive force from the Israeli authorities that included rubber-coated bullets and live ammunition. Soon thereafter followed military incursions involving helicopters and tanks into heavily populated Palestinian areas.
During the first few days of the second Intifada, it is estimated Israeli soldiers fired about 1.3 million rounds of ammunition, as revealed by Amos Malka, then-director of Israeli military intelligence. This occurred despite the fact that violence by Palestinians in the early weeks was minimal.
“The Israeli violence showed that the Israelis were not interested in a quick end to the conflict,” Abu Yusuf said. “The fact that Israel shot over a million bullets, caused great losses to Palestinian lives, and stepped over the Muslim holy places all shows that Israel wanted to militarise the Intifada. The excessive use of force that the Israeli army exercised was intended to drag the Palestinians into a military confrontation.”
In the first five days of the Intifada, 47 Palestinians were killed and another 1,885 were wounded. Amnesty International found the majority of Palestinian casualties were civilian bystanders, and 80 percent of those killed in the first month posed no life-threatening danger to Israeli forces. Five Israelis were killed by Palestinians during the same period.
Analysts have long argued excessive use of force was the reason why the phase of Palestinian popular resistance in the Second Intifada ended quickly and was replaced by armed rebellion.
“The level of Israeli aggression and losses on the Palestinian side didn’t allow the non-violent nature of the Palestinian Intifada to be maintained,” al-Masri said.