Background & Overview
(September 2000 - September 2005)
Incident Sparks Violence
On September 28, 2000, Likud leader Ariel Sharon went
to visit the Temple
Mount – Judaisms holiest
place, which Muslims have renamed Haram al-Sharif and regard
as Islams third holiest
place. Since that time, Palestinians have engaged in a violent insurrection
that has been dubbed the "al-Aksa intifada."
Palestinian spokesmen maintained the violence was caused
by the desecration of a Muslim holy place – Haram
al-Sharif – by Sharon and the thousands of Israeli soldiers who accompanied him.
The violence, they said, was carried out through unprovoked attacks
by Israeli forces, which invaded Palestinian-controlled territories
and massacred defenseless Palestinian civilians, who merely
threw stones in self-defense.
In fact, Israel's Internal Security Minister Shlomo
Ben-Ami permitted Sharon to visit the Temple Mount only after calling
Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub and receiving his assurance
that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. The
need to protect Sharon arose when Rajoub later said that the Palestinian
police would do nothing to prevent violence during the visit.
Sharon did not attempt to enter any mosques and his
34 minute visit was conducted during normal hours when the area is open
to tourists. Palestinian youths eventually numbering around 1,500
shouted slogans in an attempt to inflame the situation. Some
1,500 Israeli police were present at the scene to forestall violence.
There were limited disturbances during Sharon's visit,
mostly involving stone throwing. During the remainder of the day, outbreaks
of stone throwing continued on the Temple Mount and in the vicinity,
leaving 28 Israeli policemen injured, three of whom were hospitalized.
There are no accounts of Palestinian injuries on that day. Significant
and orchestrated violence was initiated by Palestinians the following
day following Friday prayers.
As violence escalated over the following days and weeks,
the Palestinians and the media blamed Sharon for the violence. The truth was that the violence started before September
28. The day before, for example, an Israeli soldier was killed at the
Netzarim Junction. The soldier was killed after the explosion of a roadside
bomb. The next day in the West Bank city of Kalkilya, a Palestinian police officer working with Israeli
police on a joint patrol opened fire and killed his Israeli counterpart.
In addition, official Palestinian
Authority media exhorted the Palestinians to violence. On September
29, the Voice of Palestine, the PA's official radio station sent out
calls "to all Palestinians to come and defend the al-Aksa
mosque." The PA closed its schools and bused Palestinian students
to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots.
Just prior to Rosh
Hashanah (September 30), the Jewish New Year, when hundreds of Israelis
were worshipping at the Western
Wall, thousands of Arabs began throwing bricks and rocks at Israeli
police and Jewish worshippers. Rioting then spread to towns and villages
throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
While the Palestinians accused Israel of desecrating
their holy places, it was the Palestinian rioters who were actually
attacking shrines. In October 2000, Palestinian mobs destroyed Josephs
Tomb in Nablus, tearing up and
burning Jewish prayer books. They stoned worshipers at the Western
Wall and attacked Rachels Tomb in Bethlehem with firebombs and automatic weapons.
None of the violent attacks were initiated by Israeli
security forces, which, in all cases, responded to Palestinian violence
that went well beyond stone throwing. It included massive attacks with
automatic weapons and the lynching of Israeli soldiers. Most armed attackers
were members of the Tanzim – Arafats own militia.
Imad Faluji, the Palestinian
Authority Communications Minister, admitted months after Sharon's
visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of
Sharon's "provocation." "It [the uprising] had
been planned since Chairman Arafat's return from Camp David, when he turned the tables on the former U.S.
president and rejected the American conditions."1
On November 7, 2000, an investigatory committee led
by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell was established to determine
the causes of the violence and to make recommendations for calming the
situation. The Mitchell Report issued in April 30, 2001, concluded "the Sharon visit did not cuase
the "Al-Aksa intifada."
Palestinians, young and old, attack Israeli civilians
and soldiers with a variety of weapons. When they throw stones, they
are not pebbles, but large rocks that can and do cause serious injuries.
Imagine yourself being hit in the head with a rock.
Typically, Israeli troops under attack have numbered
fewer than 20, while their assailants, armed with Molotov cocktails,
pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades and explosives,
have numbered in the hundreds. Moreover, mixed among rock throwers have
been Palestinians, often policemen, armed with guns. Faced with an angry,
violent mob, Israeli police and soldiers often have no choice but to
defend themselves by firing rubber bullets and, in life-threatening
situations, live ammunition.
The use of live-fire by the Palestinians has effectively
meant that Israeli forces have had to remain at some distance from those
initiating the violence. In addition, the threat of force against Israelis
has been a threat of lethal force. Both factors have inhibited the use
of traditional methods of riot control.
According to the rules of engagement for Israeli troops
in the territories, the use of weapons is authorized solely in life-threatening
situations or, subject to significant limitations, in the exercise of
the arrest of an individual suspected of having committed a grave security
offense. In all cases, IDF activities have been governed by an overriding policy of restraint,
the requirement of proportionality and the necessity to take all possible
measures to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians escalated their violent
attacks against Israelis by using mortars and anti-tank missiles illegally
smuggled into the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians have fired mortar shells into Jewish communities in Gaza
and Israel proper and IDF reports indicate that anti-tank missiles have
been fired at Israeli forces in Gaza.
IDF Chief of Staff Shaul Mofaz told visiting American
Jewish leaders on Feb. 28, 2001, that the Palestinian
Authority (PA) has been stockpiling weapons smuggled into Gaza by
sea and underground tunnels linked to Egypt. The possession and use
of these weapons and other arms by the Palestinians violates commitments
they made in various agreements
with Israel. Under the Oslo accords, the only weapons allowed in
the Palestinian-controlled areas are handguns, rifles and machine guns,
and these are to be held only by PA security officers. The recent violence
makes clear that in addition to the police, Palestinian civilians and
members of militias, such as the Tanzim,
also are in possession of such weapons.2
The PA has failed to take adequate measures to prevent
attacks against Israelis. While many terrorists have been apprehended,
they are usually released shortly afterward and, at least some of them
have subsequently been involved in assaults against Jews. In May 2001,
for example, Arafat freed more than a dozen Islamic radicals who had
been in jail since a wave of suicide bombings that killed 60 Israelis
in eight bloody days in 1996.3
Over the course of the uprising, more than 100 Israelis
have been murdered in suicide bombings, sniper attacks, ambushes and
other attacks. Press reports, nevertheless, usually focus on the far
higher number of Palestinian deaths (more than 500), especially children.
The disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties is the inevitable
result, however, of an irregular, ill-trained militia attacking a well-trained
regular army, and the Tanzims frequent use of Palestinian civilians
as shields for its attacks. Furthermore, if children were in school
or at home with their families, rather than throwing rocks in the streets,
they would be in no danger.
of the Violence
Palestinian violence in the West
Bank and Gaza Strip has
taken the lives of numerous civilians and soldiers. In addition, terrorists acting in the name of the uprising have carried out heinous attacks
inside Israel. The violence also has collateral impact on the Israeli
psyche, military and economy.
Israelis must now be careful traveling through many
parts of Israel and the territories that should be safe. Palestinians
have also sniped at Jews in cities such as Gilo that are outside the
territories. The violence has severely undermined the faith Israelis
had that if they made territorial concessions, peace with the Palestinians
The uprising also affects military readiness because
troops must be diverted from training and preparing against threats
from hostile nations and instead must focus on quelling riots and fighting terrorism.
The violence has also caused a sharp reduction in tourism
and damaged related industries. And it is not only the Israelis who
suffer. The loss of tourism also hurts Palestinians. The number of visitors,
for example, who normally visit Bethlehem for Christmas was significantly lower in 2000. The same is true in other
pilgrimage sites in the Palestinian
Authority. Palestinian shopkeepers in places like the Old
City are also affected by the drop in tourism. Terrorist attacks
also force Israel to periodically prohibit Palestinian workers from
entering Israel, hurting individuals trying to make a living and provide
for their families.
On May 22, 2001, Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon declared a unilateral cease-fire in an effort to calm the
situation, and in the hope the Palestinians would reciprocate by ending
their violent attacks against Israelis. Instead the Palestinians intensified
the level of violence directed particularly at Israeli civilians. Yasser
Arafat did nothing to stop or discourage the attacks. More than
70 attacks were recorded in the next 10 days, during which Israel held
its fire and eschewed any retaliation. The campaign of Palestinian terror
during the Israeli cease-fire culminated with the suicide bombing at
a Tel Aviv disco June
1 that killed 20 people and injured more than 90, mostly teenagers.
In the face of overwhelming international pressure generated by the
horrific attack, and the fear of an Israeli counterattack, Arafat finally
declared a cease-fire.
The violence continued, however, and CIA Director George
Tenet traveled to the Middle East in June in an effort to solidify a
cease-fire and lay the groundwork for a resumption of peace talks. The Tenet Plan called for an end
to all violent activities. In the six weeks following Tenet's visit,
however, Palestinians carried out 850 terrorist attacks resulting in
94 Israeli casualties, 17 of them fatalities.4
Throughout the remainder of the summer, U.S.-led efforts
were made to end the violence without success. It was not until after
the September 11, 2001, bombing of the World Trade Center in New York
and the Pentagon in Washington that Arafat began to take serious measures to stop the violence by arresting terrorists
and using his police force to prevent attacks. Though his actions were
largely seen as an attempt to curry favor with the Bush Administration
in its war against terror, and not repeat the mistake he made of supporting Iraq in the Gulf
War, the effect in the short-run at least has been to reduce the
level of violence against Israelis. It remains to be seen if this will
now mark the end of the "al-Aksa intifada."
Post, (March 4, 2001)
East Report, (March 5, 2001).
Report, (May 21, 2001).
Post, (August 15, 2001).