Like all transformational events, the
Under defense minister Yitzhak Rabin
, the Israeli military adopted the so-called “iron fist” policy of violent repression: it used live ammunition against unarmed protestors, jailed demonstrators, and imposed punitive curfews and closures. These measures simply drove the Palestinians into ever more massive demonstrations against occupation: the barrier of fear had fallen away. Within days, local leadership cadres had emerged, and within two weeks the first of hundreds of communiqués were distributed at night throughout the territories. They bore the signature of the newly formed, clandestine Unified National Leadership of the Uprising
(UNLU), made up of representatives of the four principal PLO-affiliated groups:
During at least the first six months, Palestinians of all generations, both male and female, not only peopled but also controlled the Intifada, acting in lockstep with the local and national leadership. Massive outpourings of the usually well-disciplined crowd foiled all of the repressive strategies devised by the occupation: long-term school and university closures in early 1988, arrests (18,000 the first year alone), ongoing deportations of alleged leaders (and, later, of Hamas members), administrative detentions (nearly 3,000 in 1988). In the first year, at least 300 Palestinians had been shot dead and tens of thousands injured. Under instruction from Rabin, the military adopted a policy of bone-breaking. Despite Israel’s violent repression, the Palestinian consensus against the use of firearms remained in place for the duration of the uprising—over five years.
All Gaza and West Bank Palestinian members of the Israeli police resigned; many collaborators publicly confessed and were socially and religiously rehabilitated (although some of those under deep cover continued their activities). The population had, since June 1967, learned how to deal, cat-and-mouse-like, with an occupation whose only concerns were suppressing resistance, maximizing settlement expansion, and collecting taxes and fines. People now proved eager to act with discipline and commitment in response to military and settler assaults and in line with the continuous flow of leadership communiqués, viewed as an alternative and legitimate combined legislative and executive branch, the first effective indigenous Palestinian government.
In the spring of 1988, popular committees were established in villages, camps, and urban neighborhoods. These committees were in many cases a simple expansion of voluntary work committees that had for years organized to assert Palestinian agency and remedy the occupation’s administrative neglect. Coordinated at the grassroots level by a follow-up committee (lejnat al-mutab‘a), they included units devoted to health, education, security, vital supplies (tamwin), and agriculture. Together, they embodied the will to restructure society from the bottom up. They had varying levels of success: the committee to re-supply refugee camps placed under permanent siege and curfew, sometimes for weeks on end, provided a lifeline to camp residents; committees responsible for alternative education and self-sufficiency in food production had limited effectiveness. But their symbolic importance as indices of self-determination was so great that Israel declared them to be illegal and threatened anyone found to be a member of a popular committee with a ten-year prison sentence.
Palestinian schools and universities were key elements in enhancing the fortitude and vigor of popular participation. Taking advantage of enforced closures, students returned to their towns, camps, and villages to organize and invigorate the insurrectionary energies of the local population; they communicated orientations and decisions that political parties (often represented by these returning students themselves) had of late determined. Academic and other staff participated actively in decision-making at the local, and, crucially, national levels; some of them were at various periods members of the UNLU, and many participated in formulating and drafting the key documents of the Intifada, those mixed legislative/executive communiqués (bayanat) which for months served to direct, modify, often escalate (and more rarely, de-escalate) the pace of events. Although these directives usually corresponded to the self-perceived interests and ambitions of the people—the resignation of policemen and recantation of collaborators were insistently demanded by means of the bayanat—they appeared vital to the intensification of resistance and the strengthening of popular unity. And in this respect, staff, faculty, and administration of the various universities, most notably
The Inside and the Outside
Within a few weeks, the PLO leadership had asserted its authority over local cadres, a process in which the fax machine played a significant role. (The PCP, Hamas, and
By the end of the first year, the uprising had created many facts on the ground, and in the process had exacted a hefty price from the population: through deprivation of schooling for children and young people (for which this generation would pay dearly later on), lives lost and freedom denied for the victims of repression, and a terrible economic price paid for months of daily strikes. Stores opened, and demonstrations took place, in the mornings until 12 noon. Then commercial centers throughout the territories would close down, cars would disappear from the streets, as would, usually, the immediate military presence. Normal working hours had been, for several years, reduced to half a day.
The process continued unabated over the following years: the issuance of communiqués, strikes, Israeli violent repression, demonstrations, the formulation of demands: the very regularity of events made them the rule, no longer the exception. Shop closures became less spontaneous, and their enforcers ever younger, sometimes in their early teens. A type of revolutionary routine set in, coupled with a type of fatigue. But never was there any inclination to end the movement until the goal of self-determination had been achieved. People demanded results, and some of the decisions taken by the leadership in
These events coincided with
The Outcome of the Intifada
Thus began the negotiating process, first in Madrid
(30 October 1991), then in
And so, when the agreements between Arafat and (by then prime minister) Rabin were revealed, people were at first shocked. But when Arafat signed the agreement on the White House lawn on 13 September 1993, formally putting an end to the Intifada, most people, again including diasporic Palestinians, came around to supporting it, confident that it entailed the rapid realization of their dream of freedom and national self-determination. The September 1993 ceremony marked the formal end of the Intifada ; in no way did it end the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination, which resumed immediately and marked the period which followed, from 1993 to 2000, and known as the “Oslo” years.
Farraj, Khaled. “The First Intifada: Hope and the Loss of Hope.” Journal of Palestine Studies, 47, no. 1 (Autumn 2017): 86-97.
Farraj, Khaled. “The First Intifada (Part 2): The Road to Oslo,” Journal of Palestine Studies, 49, no. 1 (Autumn 2019): 93-100.
Hilterman, Joost. Behind the Intifada: Labor and Women's Movements in the Occupied Territories. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Legrain, Jean-François, ed. Les voix du soulèvement palestinien, 1987-1988 : Edition critique des communiqués du Commandement National Unifié du Soulèvement et du Mouvement de la Résistance Islamique. Cairo : CEDEJ, 1991.
Lockman, Zachary and Joel Beinin, ed. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising Against Israeli Occupation. Boston: South End Press, 1989.
Nassar, Jamal and Roger Heacock, eds. Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads. New York: Praeger, 1990.
Schiff, Zeev and Ehud Yaari. Intifada: The Palestinian Uprising--Israel's Third Front. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1990.
هيكوك روجر وعلاء جرادات (تحرير): "انتفاضة 1987: تحوّل شعب". بيروت: مؤسسة الدراسات الفلسطينية، 2020.