Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa and Gershon Baskin

What Triggered the Al-Aqsa Intifada?

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Gershon Baskin believe’s that the launching of the intifada was neither planned or strategically thought of by the Palestinian leadership – be it the PA or the Tanzim.  It was a series of events that developed rapidly, escalated and got out of control.  Decisions regarding its continuation and its course were made mostly following the events themselves. This paper is how Gershon thinks it unfolded.

The Sharon visit with hundreds of security personnel on Thursday September 28th ended almost without incident on the Temple Mount, however in riots in the West Bank five Palestinians were killed and more than 300 wounded. There were only about 2,000 Muslim worshipers  on the Mount at the time of the visit. There was some stone throwing after Sharon has already left. On Friday September 29th the Palestinian leadership called for demonstrations all over the territories and in particular on the Haram al Sharif. At the end of Friday prayers some 50,000 worshippers faced battalions of the Israeli police and Border Guards who came to maintain public order. Riots broke out immediately. One of the first stones thrown hit Jerusalem police commander Yair Yitzhaki directly on the head.  He was removed from the Mount on a stretcher having suffered a bloody concussion.

I spoke to one of the officers who was there, several days later, he told me that when the police saw their commander removed from the Mount with what looked to be a serious head wound, they lost control. No one was in charge and live ammunition was used to disperse the rioters. Four Palestinians were immediately killed on the Mount and another two in the Old City and four more in Gaza with a total of more than 700 wounded.

On Saturday October 1, Israel was celebrating Rosh Hashana – the Jewish New Year, another 10 Palestinians were killed and more than five hundred wounded. Also on Saturday, Palestinian citizens of Israel joined in the rioting and main thoroughfares throughout the country were cut off including most of the roads in the West Bank, in Wadi Ara and in the Galilee. The country was under siege and people on both sides were very angry. By Sunday October 2, Palestinians were burying 33 dead compatriots.   The situation was completely out of control. Well into the first day of riots the Fatah Tanzim pulled out their arms and opened fire on Israeli targets in the West Bank and Gaza.

Arafat’s regular police were not directly participating in the fire, but they were also not stopping it. The Tanzim managed to pull masses out on to the streets particularly as they came out to participate in the funerals all over the territories.

Inside of Israel what started as demonstrations against what people perceived to be Israeli plans on the Haram al Sharif swiftly turned into complete civil unrest in response to the brutal force used by the Israeli police against Palestinian citizens of the State.

On Sunday night IPCRI organized a meeting in Ramallah with West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jabril Rajoub and two MK’s from Meretz – Avshalom (Abu) Vilan and Mosy Raz.

Abu Vilan had served as an officer under Barak in the elite unit and despite his membership in Meretz maintained a very close relationship and friendship with Barak.
In preparation for the meeting Vilan spoke with Barak who conveyed a message for Arafat.  Until that point there had been no direct contact between Barak and Arafat from the beginning of the intifada.

Rajoub called Arafat and delivered Barak’s message: Netzarim and Joseph’s Tomb are yours in negotiations, but if we are shot at we will defend those places and all others.
In Barak’s name, Vilan asked Rajoub to ask Arafat what were his terms for a complete cessation of all the violence.  Arafat responded with six conditions, I wrote them down on a napkin that was on Rajoub’s desk. They were:

An end to the closures

A return of all forces to their positions of September 27, 2000

A removal of all the extra Israeli police forces from Jerusalem, the Old City and around the Haram al Sharif

A reopening of all of the crossing points – Allenby Bridge, Rafah crossing, and the Gaza airport

An end to the siege of the Palestinian cities

An international investigation of the events of the past four days

Vilan called Barak who was at his home in Cochav Yair.  Barak responded that he was having the information cross-checked from another source. Fifteen minutes later Barak’s military attaché confirmed that they had received the same information from another source.

Arafat, through Rajoub suggested that he and Barak meet that evening to work out the details.  Barak requested some more time. Jabril Rajoub instructed his people to prepare for a meeting in his office between Barak and Arafat.  Arafat was in Ramallah.

After half an hour, Barak’s military attaché informed Vilan that another channel of communication had opened and that Barak preferred that channel. The other channel was Yossi Ginosar, former deputy director of the GSS, emissary of Rabin and Barak to Arafat and business partner to Arafat’s chief businessman, Mohammad Rachid.
About fifteen minutes later Barak’s military attaché informed Vilan that Barak would agree to conditions 1-5 and that 6 was out of the question.

He further informed Vilan that he would not agree to see Arafat that evening.

We were escorted out of Ramallah by Rajoub himself and his troops. Later that evening a meeting took place between Ginosar and Arafat that was a catastrophe and ended up as a screaming match between the two. By the end of October there were already 134 Palestinians killed and over 7000 wounded.  The Israeli casualties also began to build up.

The Losses
Today (May 14, 2001) the Palestinian figures are as follows (provided by the Palestinian Council for Justice and Peace):

Israeli troops and settlers killed 492 Palestinians including 172 children under the age of eighteen and 77 students.

The total number of those injured by Israeli fire was 23147, 40% of them were children and 2077 were students.

Three Palestinian doctors and one German doctor were killed.

Ninety-one paramedics and 71 journalists were also injured.

The number of disabled, as a result of Israeli attacks, reached 2200 Palestinians compared to 2525 Palestinians during the first Intifada in 1987-1992.

Israeli attacks totally damaged 9 ambulances while 82 others were riddled by bullets.

Unemployment rose to 56% with 297,000 able Palestinians were left without work. The Palestinian economy suffered losses estimated at $4.4 billion US dollars. The GNP plummeted 50.7% during the last seven months. The Palestinian agricultural sector lost $217,905,509 US dollars by 31 March 2001. About 30,000 Palestinian farmers suffered huge losses.

Israeli troops destroyed 108 artesian wells (used for drinking water); 392 ponds; 3802 meters of municipal water network pipes; 41015 meters of fences and support walls and 804 heads of cattle.

Israeli bulldozers and tanks uprooted 280,000 mature olive and fruit trees and dredged 42,000 dunums (10 dunams = 1 acre) of land mostly in the Gaza Strip. The dredged sites represent 11% of the total area of the Strip of 367 square kilometers. Israeli authorities confiscated 2617 dunums of land for expanding Israeli colonies or to pave by-pass roads for use by Israeli settlers.

Israeli authorities arrested 1850 Palestinians, 0% of them were children under the age of 18.

Forty-one schools were ordered closed, 65 students and 15 teachers were arrested. Since 28 September 2000, Israeli army totally destroyed 4000 homes and other structures including 328 farmhouses and sheds; 29 poultry farms; 30 mosques and 12 churches.

Israeli military operations displaced 4000 Palestinian families. The average Palestinian family consists of 10 members in Gaza Strip compared to 6 in the West Bank. Israeli occupation authorities dismembered the Palestinian Territories into small sections dividing the West Bank into 64 sectors and the Gaza Strip into three. These divisions separated Palestinian cities, towns and villages into isolated easy to control cantons totally restraining the movement of Palestinian civilians. Israeli forces setup 145 new roadblocks with 103 in the West Bank and 42 checkpoints in the Gaza Strip. These measures were used to inflict further humiliation on the Palestinian people. Israeli forces closed off all highways, main and secondary roads including farm and dirt roads. Palestinians had to use dangerous mountainous trails to by-pass Israeli blockades. Today, it would take a Palestinian triple the time to travel between two points than what it took in normal circumstances.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry adds its own figures:

Seventy-seven dead soldiers and civilians and hundreds of wounded since September 28, 2000. Israelis are subjected to living in fear of random terror. The Israeli economy has suffered great losses in investments, tourism losses, and very high additional military expenses that had been planned for peaceful investments The full details, lists of names and attacks are listed on the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s web page:

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin

Gershon Baskin is one of the most recognizable names in the Middle East Peace process. His dedication to creating a culture of peace and environmental awareness, coupled with his impeccable integrity, has earned him the trust of the leaders of all sides of the century old conflict. Few people have such far-reaching and positive impacts on promoting peace, security, prosperity and bi-national relationships.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
Gershon Baskin