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Intifada   (Arabic انتفاضة intifadat) (variant spellings: Intifadeh, Intifadah)  means "shaking off" or "shaking up." It is generally applied to uprisings in modern times including:

* March Intifada -  uprising against the British colonial presence in Bahrain in March 1965.

* Zemla Intifada against Spanish rule in Spanish Sahara from 1970.

* First Intifada, a Palestinian Arab uprising against Israel from 1987 to about 1991.

* 1990s Intifada, an uprising in Bahrain demanding  democratic rule.

* 1991 uprisings in Iraq against Saddam Hussein.

* Cedar Revolution or Intifada of Independence, the events in Lebanon after Rafiq Hariri's 2005 assassination.

* Independence Intifada, demonstrations and riots in Morocco and Western Sahara beginning in May 2005.

* French Intifada, sometimes used to denote the riots in France in the fall of 2005.

* Second Intifada  or al-Aqsa Intifada, the violent Palestinian-Israeli conflict that began in September 2000.

This article is about the First Intifada, which is the best known, and may have given its name to many of the others.

Since the Six day war Israel had occupied Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. After some initial violence in 1970, the occupied territories were relatively quiet. Borders were open. Israelis went shopping in the West Bank and Gaza.  Thousands of Palestinians went to work in Israel each day. From the Israeli point of view, it seemed as though this reality could endure forever. However, the Palestinians were unhappy with the occupation. They saw their land slowly disappearing, especially after the right-wing Likud party took power in 1977. Israel had not implemented any solution for the territories in the framework of the peace signed with Egypt - negotiations came to nothing. Jordan washed its hands of the Palestinian territories in 1987 and its moderating influence was lost there.   The PLO had failed to achieve anything for the Palestinians. A large body of Palestinians, especially in the West Bank, was in favor of compromise with Israel, rather than the sterile and grandiose dream of "liberating Palestine" (that is, liquidating Israel) offered by the PLO.

Palestinians claim that the Intifada was a protest againstIsrael's brutal repression which included extra-judicial killings, mass detentions, house demolitions, indiscriminate torture, deportations, land theft and other abuses. Egyptian withdrawal if their claims to the Gaza Strip as well as Jordanian abandonment of the West Bank may have influenced the events.

Palestinians, especially in Gaza, had very high birthrates - exceptional even for poor areas. Israeli occupation had brought a steady improvement in standard of living, but around 1987 there was a recession and some increase in unemployment.

Palestinians felt abandoned by their Arab allies, On the one hand, the PLO had failed to destroy Israel and establish a Palestinian state in its place as they promised. On the other hand, the PLO had managed to ruin Israeli efforts to resettle refugees and blocked Israeli attempts to call for an election inside the territories. When the Israelis did hold local elections and didn't like the results, they sacked some of the mayors. To many Palestinians it seemed  they were probably doomed to remain politically impotent forever unless they took their own fate in their hands.

Imams used the Friday sermons to incite against the Israeli government. It is probably that the founding the extremist Hamas movement in 1987 played a role in popularizing "resistance." Equally, there were a few incidents of Israeli civilian violence against Palestinians.  The first Intifada  began in December of 1987 according to the official histories, though there is no sharp peak in Israeli fatalities that followed this "official" date and might be related to it.  For some reason, the precise dates vary according to different accounts. On December 6, 1987ref ref, (or December 4 ref ref) ) an Israeli plastics salesman, Shlomo Sakal, was fatally stabbed while shopping in Gaza. On December 6, there were apparently riots in Gaza. Two to four days after the stabbing (December 6 or 8 according to the different  accounts), four residents of the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza were killed in a traffic accident. Rumors spread that the four had been killed by Israelis as a deliberate act of revenge. Mass rioting broke out in Jabalya on the morning of December 9.  A 17-year-old threw a Molotov cocktail at an army patrol and was killed by an IDF soldier. His death supposedly became the trigger for large-scale riots that engulfed the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. Unlike the Second Intifada, the first Intifada was evidently unplanned, and there was less violence. The PLO was relatively weak in the occupied territories. It was headquartered in Tunis and was concerned with survival for its organization after being expelled from Lebanon. 

The first Intifada was characterized largely by leafleting and rock throwing, primarily because Palestinians did not have a lot of weapons. It is doubtful that most of the Palestinians involved had a philosophy of non-violence, and they generally supported terror attacks that were carried out by the militant organizations. The image below is probably fairly typical of the first Intifada.

First Intifada - Rock throwing

Palestinian organizations in the first Intifada

Palestinian organizations - militant groups initially played little or no role in the first Intifada, which had caught the PLO by surprise. Sari Nusseibeh of the Fatah (in Once Upon a Country) relates that he and other friends soon set up an underground printing press and distribution network, but there were no organized sources of arms. A group that may have been called "Unified National Leadership of the Uprising" put out "communiques" and calls for action that were followed by Palestinians.

 Demonstrations evidently evolved from random riots to more organized events. Hamas and Islamic Jihad initiated terror incidents and kidnapping of soldiers, and in fact, 1987 marked the coming out of Hamas as a terror group. 

Some events that may have accelerated the Intifada  include the April 19, 1988 killing of PLO leader Abu Jihad by Israeli agents, and the massacre, on May 20, 1990 of at least 7 Palestinians waiting for work at a bus stop in Israel by Ami Popper, an Israeli extremist who had been dishonorably discharged from the IDF. 

Fatalities in the first Intifada

Overall the Palestinians suffered about 2,000 deaths in this period, and the Israelis in the neighborhood of 160-300. About 886 Palestinians were killed according to Betselem figures in the period 1987-1991, which is often considered the "official" Intifada. Until the signing of the Oslo accords, about 1,100 were killed in all.   About 1,000 additional the Palestinian deaths were due to killing of ostensible collaborators by the Palestinians (Zachary Lockman, Joel Beinin (1989) Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation South End Press,  p 38) , though some claim that these killings were really revenge killing or clan warfare. The precise numbers depend on who is doing the reporting and counting and what years are counted. As can be seen in the table below, there appear to be dramatic and unexplained discrepancies between Btselem reports (Btselem is an Israel Human Rights group  accused of having a pro-Palestinian bias) and those reported by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). However the differences are not systematic, since Btselem over-reports fatalities following the First Intifada, while Israel under-reports them, and the opposite is true during the Intifada. Data for Palestinian fatalities before 1988 are not available.

First Intifada Fatalities


Israeli Deaths



Year MFA Btselem
1980 16    
1981 14    
1982 6    
1983 21    
1984 9    
1985 27    
1986 14    
1987 11   22
1988 16 12 310
1989 40 31 305
1990 33 22 145
1991 21 19 104
1992 34 34 138
1993 45 61 180
1994 65 74 152
1995 29 46 45
1996 56 75 74

It is striking that there was no dramatic increase in Israeli fatalities during the supposed first year of the Intifada, and both sources agree that there was no great decrease in Israeli fatalities in 1992, when there was supposedly no Intifada. Please note that Betselem gives only data from December 9, 1987 and on. We do not have figures for the entire year for either Palestinians or Israelis from Betselem.  During the "official" Intifada period, to the end of 1991,  a total of  84 Israelis were killed according to Betselem. In the 2 "quiet" years following, 95 Israelis were killed! In the two years after that, the first full years of the Oslo process, 120 Israelis were killed. In less than 3 months at the end of 1993, after the signing of the Oslo accords, 19 Israelis were killed. According the the Israeli figures it is less dramatic. 121 Israelis were killed from 1987 through 1991, but only 110 if we exclude deaths before the start of the Intifada - 110 deaths in 4 full years is an average of about 28 per year.  In the two following years, another 79 Israelis were killed - almost 40 per year.  In 1995-96, 85 Israelis were killed according to the   From the point of view of Israeli fatalities, there is no way to determine the end of the first Intifada and the beginning of the period of supposed calm, because there was no such period. 1991 was a relative low point, but the number of fatalities was not as low as it was in the quietest years of 1980.  For Palestinian fatalities, 1990 and 1991 were relative low points, but the years following produced more fatalities. Again, looking only at fatalities, the numbers do not support the idea that the First Intifada really began or ended at a specific point, though 1991 was the quietest year in the Intifada.   

The Intifada process, whatever it was, was unrelated to the terror process. The Palestinians. who were demonstrating were not particularly the ones who were killing Israelis and evidently were not coordinated with the terror groups.  1988, the first full year of the Intifada, did not have an exceptional number of Israeli fatalities. 1985 saw 27 Israeli deaths as reported by the Israel Ministry of Foriegn Affairs. 1983, 21. In 1980, 16 Israelis died, the same number as in 1988. 1994, the first full year of the Oslo peace process, was worse than any that preceded it in terms of Israeli fatalities. We do not have corresponding figures for Arab fatalities from before the start of the First Intifada.

Terror Incidents in the period of the first Intifada

This is a record of major terror incidents in this period and prior to it. The first major attack in 1987 occurred before the supposed start of the Intifada, though it may have inspired it. The frequency and impact of these incidents does not seem to be that much worse than those which occurred in previous years. There was a period of relative quiet inside Israel however, after the Misgav Am attack, until 1987. This perhaps reflected the neutralization of militant organizations by the peace process with Egypt. During the period of the "official" Intifada, there were 2 major terror incidents within Israel. This was exception relative to the 1980s, but hardly as bad as the unending stream of attacks before the 1980s. 

Jul 22, 1968 - Rome, Italy
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) carries out first hijacking, diverting an El Al flight to Algiers. 32 Jewish passengers were held hostage for 5 weeks.
Sep 4, 1968 - Tel Aviv, Israel
1 killed and 71 wounded by 3 bombs that exploded in city center.
Oct 1968 - Hijacking of El Al aircraft en route to Algeria.
Nov 22, 1968 - Jerusalem, Israel
12 killed and 52 injured by a car bomb in the Mahaneh Yehuda market.
Dec 26, 1968 - Athens, Greece
1 killed and 1 wounded in a shooting attack on an El Al aircraft at the airport, carried out by the PFLP.
Feb 18, 1969 - Zurich, Switzerland
A pilot and 3 passengers killed by terrorists that attacked an El Al Boeing 707 on the airport runway.
Feb 21, 1969 - Jerusalem, Israel
2 killed and 20 injured by a bomb detonated in a crowded supermarket.
Oct 22, 1969 - Haifa, Israel
4 killed and 20 wounded by terrorist bombs in 5 apartments.
Feb 10, 1970 - Zurich, Switzerland
1 killed and 11 wounded by 3 Arab terrorists who unsuccessfully attempted to hijack an El Al flight at Zurich airport.
May 22, 1970 - Avivim, Israel
Terrorists attack schoolbus, killing 12 (9 of whom were children), and wounding 24.
Sep 6, 1970 - Dawson Field, Jordan
3 airliners holding over 400 passengers were hijacked, and taken to the Jordanian airport by the PFLP. The hostages were released in exchange for terrorists held in Germany, Switzerland, and England.
May 8, 1972 - Lod airport, Israel
1 passenger and 5 Israeli soldiers killed during a rescue operation by Israeli commandos on a hijacked Belgian airliner; the 4 Palestinian Black September terrorists were killed. The hostages were freed.
May 30, 1972 - Lod airport
26 killed and 78 wounded after PFLP and Japanese Red Army terrorists open fire in the passenger terminal.
Sep 5, 1972 - Munich, Germany
11 members of the Israeli Olympic wrestling team and 1 German policeman were massacred by Fatah terrorists after an unsuccessful rescue attempt by West German authorities.
Apr 11, 1974 - Kiryat Shemona, Israel | 18 killed, 8 of whom were children, by PFLP terrorists who detonated their explosives during a failed rescue attempt by Israeli authorities.
May 15, 1974 - Maalot, Israel
27 killed, 21 of whom were children, and 78 wounded by PFLP terrorists in a school, after an unsuccessful rescue attempt.
Mar 5, 1975 - Tel Aviv, Israel
Terrorists take over the Savoy hotel; 4 people are killed.
Jul 4, 1975 - Jerusalem, Israel
14 killed and 80 injured in Zion Square bombing attack, in which the bomb was hidden in a refrigerator.
Jun 27, 1976 - Entebbe, Uganda
An Air France airliner was hijacked by a joint German/PFLP terrorist group, which diverted the flight to Entebbe airport. About 258 passengers and crew were held hostage until all non-Israeli passengers were released. All terrorists were killed, as well as 3 passengers and operation leader Lieutenant-Colonel Yonatan Netanyahu.
Aug 11, 1976 - Istanbul, Turkey
4 killed and 20 wounded by PFLP and Japanese Red Army terrorists in an attack at Istanbul airport.
Mar 11, 1978 - Glilot junction
36 killed, and over 100 injured, in a bus hijacking by a female-led Palestinian terrorist gang.
Apr 7, 1980 - Kibbutz Misgav-Am, Israel | Terrorists attack children's house on the kibbutz, leaving 3 dead, one of whom was a child.
Jun 3, 1982 - London, England
Abu Nidal organization attempts to kill the Israeli ambassador to London, Shlomo Argov, severely wounding him.
Oct 7, 1985 - PLFP attacks the Achille Lauro ship en route to Israel, murdering one of the passengers (an American national).
Sep 6, 1986 - Istanbul, Turkey
Abu Nidal organization attacks the Neveh Shalom synagogue, killing 22 people.

Nov 25, 1987 - Northern Border, Israel
(near Kiryat Shemona)
2 Palestinian terrorists cross into Israel from Lebanon on hang gliders, killing 6 Israeli soldiers and wounding 8.
Aug 21, 1988 - Haifa
25 wounded in a grenade attack at the Haifa mall.
Jul 6, 1989 - Tel Aviv
14 killed when an Islamic Jihad militant steered a bus (Bus 405) into a ravine off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
March 17, 1992 Buenos Aires
Israeli Embassy bombing by "Islamic Jihad" in Buenos Aires, Argentina; 29 killed, 242 injured.

Source: MFA 

Israeli Reaction to the First Intifada

Given the undramatic nature of Palestinian challenge, the Israeli reaction is totally inexplicable. Israel killed a large number of Palestinians in the initial part of the Intifada, and most of them were apparently killed in demonstrations and riots.  It is easy to claim it was due to brutality or insensitivity, but most aspects of the policy were actually counter-productive. Brutalization of the Palestinians and mass arrests could only sow the seeds of the next Intifada.

The continuous official Israeli pronouncements and rhetoric about "terror" were also strange. There were many demonstrations, but no more fatalities than there had been in most previous years. There may have been many more non-fatal violent attacks. However, it was in the interests of Israel to downplay the Intifada, since the more publicity it

got, the more it seemed that the Palestinian "David" was successfully challenging the Israelis "Goliath." The large number of Palestinian fatalities brought UN condemnation (Security Council Resolution 605) very early in the Intifada. It helped to draw world attention to the Palestinian plight and created a growing anti-Israel and anti-occupation lobby around the world.

Massive arrests and administrative detentions in the first Intifada were a breeding ground for terrorism. Israel arrested an estimated 120,000 Palestinians in this period and held them for varying periods. A few had committed serious offenses. It is not possible that 120,000 Palestinians were responsible for less than 200 Israeli deaths. A 15 year old goes to a "demonstration." He has no particular ideology. Everyone is throwing rocks, so he throws rocks. He is arrested and jailed for a few months. He "graduates" as a member of a terrorist group with a violent ideology and a grudge.

Ami Isseroff

November 11, 2008

Synonyms and alternate spellings: ;  Intifadah, Intifadeh. 

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Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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