What is an “intifada?”

October 22, 2005 IMEU

Intifada is an Arabic word derived from a verb meaning "to shake off," and is the term used to describe the two major uprisings against Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

The first Intifada erupted in late 1987, after an Israeli truck rammed into a line of Palestinian workers waiting to return to the Gaza Strip, killing four. Spontaneous demonstrations and rock-throwing against Israeli troops broke out, and soon spread to the West Bank. Palestinians also engaged in civil disobedience (commercial strikes, tax revolts, etc.). 

Israel responded with a policy described by then-Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin as one of "force, might, and beatings." Many Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops using live ammunition, limbs of demonstrators were deliberately broken after capture, thousands were detained without charges, many suffering torture, and suspected Intifada leaders were deported or assassinated. The first Intifada gradually tapered off in the face of this repression, ending by 1993. 

The second Intifada, or al-Aqsa Intifada, began in September 2000 and was triggered by Ariel Sharon's visit - accompanied by a thousand armed personnel - to Jerusalem's Old City, including the al-Aqsa Mosque, which most Palestinians saw as an attempt to take control of the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam.