There are different opinions, among Palestinians as well as others, as to what has been the nature of the intifada–now just over five years old–and as to its duration and objectives.
This second intifada took its name from the famous non-violent popular Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation that started at the end of 1987. That uprising was characterized by civil disobedience and “disengagement” from the occupation by avoiding paying taxes, registering cars and applying for permits, as well as general strikes and the massive popular and peaceful demonstrations that attracted the attention and admiration of the outside world.
When the current intifada started, Palestinians had in mind a repetition of the first, i.e., a popular, non-violent means of protesting the occupation. Two factors contributed to changing it, in time, into an armed confrontation. The first and most important was the excessively violent Israeli response. The iconic incident was the killing of the boy Muhammad Al Dura as he was cowering behind his father, but notable examples include the killing of 13 Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the tens of Palestinian civilians killed in and around the Aqsa Mosque. In the first ten days of this intifada, an average of ten Palestinian civilians were killed daily, with no casualties on the other side.
Several theories have been expounded to explain this excessive reaction by Israel to what were, initially, unarmed Palestinian demonstrations. Some Israeli analysts have suggested that Barak did not want to allow a repeat of the first intifada, which cost Israel dearly, both politically and ethically. Others suggest that Barak was trying to avoid a repeat of the so-called tunnel confrontations of September 1996 when clashes between the two sides following the opening by Israel of a tunnel alongside the Aqsa Mosque ended up costing 20 Israeli and 80 Palestinian lives.
A third line of thought, current in the Israeli media and some official Israeli circles, holds that in some of the areas that witnessed the largest demonstrations, East Jerusalem and the Galilee, the Israeli police were simply not equipped with anti-riot equipment and ended up using live ammunition, thus causing the many fatalities.
The second reason why popular non-violent protests were abandoned was the existence of weapons on the Palestinian side as a result of the existence of the Palestinian Authority and its security forces. The combination of the continued and unforgiving Israeli killings of civilians and the existence of arms on the Palestinian side, led, roughly after the first half of the first year of the intifada, to it becoming a semi-militarized struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Added to the violent confrontations were a wide range of Israeli measures of collective punishment that included stopping Palestinian workers from reaching their work places in Israel and restricting movement inside the Palestinian territories. This led to a halving of the value of the Palestinian economy and national income, and an increase in unemployment by half of the labor force and in poverty by half of the population.
Thus were created the internal dynamics whereby the violent confrontations and collective punishments reinforced each other and the Palestinian side was caught in a vicious cycle of violence.
In addition, two later factors led to the deterioration of the image of the Palestinian struggle against occupation. The first was the tendency, within first Hamas and later other factions, to also target Israeli civilians inside Israel. The other was September 11, which Israel exploited successfully to frame the armed Palestinian uprising in the context of the international war on terror, thus impacting the Palestinian side in a negative way.
If we interpret the initifada as ongoing violent confrontations between Israelis and Palestinians, then it would seem to have gradually ground to a halt. But if we mean an insistence and willingness on behalf of Palestinians to reject the occupation, struggle against it and for their liberation and independence according to the borders of 1967, then the intifada is a way of life for the Palestinian people.
There are many lessons to be learned from this intifada. No matter who achieves what in which round of confrontations, the conflict and the struggle will continue for as long as the occupation exists. There is only one way to bring peace, security and economic prosperity. That is to allow Palestinians to live normal lives in an independent state in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank with its capital in East Jerusalem.