False charges of Israeli atrocities and instigation
from the mosques played an important role in starting the intifada.
On December 6, 1987, an Israeli was stabbed to death while shopping
in Gaza. One day later, four
residents of the Jabalya refugee camp in Gaza were killed in a traffic
accident. Rumors that the four had been killed by Israelis as a deliberate
act of revenge began to spread among the Palestinians. Mass rioting
broke out in Jabalya on the morning of December 9, in which a 17-year-old
youth was killed by an Israeli soldier after throwing a Molotov cocktail
at an army patrol. This soon sparked a wave of unrest that engulfed
the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem.
Over the next week, rock-throwing, blocked roads and
tire burnings were reported throughout the territories. By December
12, six Palestinians had died and 30 had been injured in the violence.
The following day, rioters threw a gasoline bomb at the U.S. consulate
in East Jerusalem. No one was hurt in the bombing.
In Gaza, rumors circulated that Palestinian youths
wounded by Israeli soldiers were being taken to an army hospital near
Tel Aviv and "finished off." Another rumor, claimed Israeli
troops poisoned a water reservoir in Khan Yunis. A UN official said these stories were untrue. Only the most seriously injured
Palestinians were taken out of the Gaza Strip for treatment, and, in
some cases, this probably saved their lives. The water was also tested
and found to be uncontaminated.
The intifada was violent from the start. During the
first four years of the uprising, more than 3,600 Molotov cocktail attacks,
100 hand grenade attacks and 600 assaults with guns or explosives were
reported by the Israel
Defense Forces. The violence was directed at soldiers and civilians
alike. During this period, 16 Israeli civilians and 11 soldiers were
killed by Palestinians in the territories; more than 1,400 Israeli civilians
and 1,700 Israeli soldiers were injured. Approximately 1,100 Palestinians
were killed in clashes with Israeli troops.
Throughout the intifada, the PLO played a lead role in orchestrating the insurrection. The PLO-dominated
Unified Leadership of the Intifada (UNLI), for example, frequently issued
leaflets dictating which days violence was to be escalated, and who
was to be its target. The PLO's leadership of the uprising was challenged
by the fundamentalist Islamic organization Hamas, a violently anti-Semitic
group that rejects any peace negotiations with Israel.
Jews were not the only victims of the violence. In
fact, as the intifada waned around the time of the Gulf
War in 1991, the number of Arabs killed for political and other
reasons by Palestinian death squads exceeded the number killed in clashes
with Israeli troops.
PLO Chairman Yasir
Arafat defended the killing of Arabs deemed to be “collaborating
with Israel.” He delegated the authority to carry out executions
to the intifada leadership. After the murders, the local PLO death squad
sent the file on the case to the PLO. “We have studied the files
of those who were executed, and found that only two of the 118 who were
executed were innocent,” Arafat said. The innocent victims were
declared "martyrs of the Palestinian revolution" by the PLO
(AlMussawar, January 19, 1990).
Palestinians were stabbed, hacked with axes, shot,
clubbed and burned with acid. The justifications offered for the killings
varied. In some instances, being employed by Israel's Civil Administration
in the West Bank and Gaza was reason enough; in others, contact with
Jews warranted a death sentence. Accusations of "collaboration"
with Israel were sometimes used as a pretext for acts of personal vengeance.
Women deemed to have behaved "immorally" were also among the
Eventually, the reign of terror became so serious that
some Palestinians expressed public concern about the disorder. The PLO
began to call for an end to the violence, but murders by its members
and rivals continued. From 1989-1992, this intrafada claimed
the lives of nearly 1,000 Palestinians.