Oslo Dead? Violence and Palestinian Uprising in 2000

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  • by Anup Shah
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The end of September and October, 2000, saw a series of violent events unfold that probably unofficially marked the end of the Oslo accords. The 1993 Oslo Accord, whereby Israel recognized the PLO and gave them limited autonomy in return for peace and an end to Palestinian claims on Israeli territory, has been largely criticized as a one-sided accord, that benefits only Israel, not the Palestinian people.

Underlying the current conflict is the issue of occupation and the frustration of the last few years of the "peace process". The following summarizes well the failing of the Palestinian leadership to help clearly articulate their issues so that others will listen and understand their perspective:

"Thus far, this intifada has been a total failure. It hasn't succeeded in realizing three of its clear political aims: to explain to the Israeli public in particular and to the world in general that the Israeli presence in the territories is nothing other than occupation; to explain that the occupation-control of another nation on its own land, by means of military force, when that nation does not have the the right to make decisions about its life, is both morally wrong and bad from a pragmatic political point of view; to explain that the Palestinians are sick of this occupation."

Amira Hass, They don't see the occupation, Ha'aretz (English Edition), August 22, 2001

Foreign Policy In Focus also adds some economic and other context:

"The current violence grows out of Palestinian frustrations with the peace process. During years of waiting for promised benefits, Palestinians have seen their standard of living steadily decline. In the seven years between the signing of the Oslo Accords and the start of the uprising in September 2000, Israeli policies -- including border controls, retention of Palestinian funds, and restrictions on trade, investment, and access to water resources -- resulted in growing trade and budget deficits for the Palestinians. Unemployment was hovering at 50%, poverty rates increased, health standards deteriorated, and any sense of opportunity among Palestinian youth began to fade. The anger and despair that ignited the 2000 uprising and the current wave of suicide bombings stems from these policies and their effect on daily Palestinian life. The Spring 2002 re-occupation of Palestinian cities and widespread killings by Israeli forces using American armaments, detention and maltreatment of unarmed civilians, and the wanton destruction of economic and social infrastructure have only increased the Palestinian desire for revenge. This has also strengthened popular support for extremist groups like Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, resulting in less security for Israelis."

Joseph Yackley and Stephen Zunes, U.S. Security Assistance to Israel, Foreign Policy In Focus, Volume 7, Number 3, May 2002

Without clear articulation of these aspects, the fear of continued violence remains.

Towards the end of September, 2000, A former Israeli military general, and now Israel's Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon (accompanied by 1000 soldiers) visited a holy Muslim site, called the Temple Mount by the Israelis, and Haram al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) by the Muslims and proclaimed it as eternal Israeli territory. Sharon had been accused of massacres in his military days and is well known to all. He is very right wing and against the peace process. This infuriated Palestinians, and led to a series of protests and violence and another major "uprising" or intifada.

On this page:

  1. Violence and Protests
  2. Any chance for peace is gradually diminishing

Violence and Protests

As protests ensued, the killing of a 12 year old Palestinian boy by Israeli soldiers was captured on film and broadcast around the world. Images of the boy and his father attempting to hide behind a concrete water barrel while under a barrage of bullets from Israeli soldiers that ultimately killed the boy and wounded the father, infuriated millions. Nearby, a number of Palestinian youths had been hurling stones at Israeli forces, who returned with live fire. The boy and his father were not part of this group and were still targeted. (See this analysis for more details of this incident.)

By August 2002, the death toll has reached "1,539 Palestinians killed along with 441 Israelis." according to an Inter Press Service news report.

On both sides, since these incident, there has been much violence. Israeli forces have increased their attacks, using fighter bomberes, helicopter gun ships, tanks, missiles and so forth, targeting villages, civilians, medical workers and even the Palestinian Authority's headquarters. The ensuing Palestinian violence has been largely at the enormous killings and crackdown by the Israeli military. Israeli citizens too have been angered by Palestinian violence and anti-Arab riots have been violent as well. Bombings and conflict has also spread to South Lebanon.

Leading human rights watch dog groups such as Human Rights Watch have research from as early as the middle of October 2000, that "Shows [an] Israeli pattern of excessive force" and that the "Palestinian Authority also fails in duty to protect civilians." A similar report from Amnesty International has also been released. They even warn that Israel's actions could amount to war crimes. Physicians for Human Rights also report similar findings from their investigations, as early as November 2000. They also mention that their "analysis of fatal gun shot wounds in Gaza reveals that approximately 50% were to the head. This high proportion of fatal head wounds suggests that given broad rules of engagement, soldiers are specifically aiming at peoples' heads."

Extremist factions on both sides are now stirring up animosities. Islamic militants are recalling holy wars and duties to destroy Israel, while extremist Jews are claiming similar types of rhetoric against conceding any land whatsoever, and decrying Palestinians and Islam as not capable of compromise, only knowing violence and so on. Ordinary citizens, both Jewish and Palestinian (note that there are many Christian Palestinian refugees, for example), are either then swept up in these emotions, or, while still publicly protesting at the social injustices, and failure of the "peace" processes, are not distinguished from the agenda of extremists.

There have been a number of attempts to have an impartial international investigation, under the United Nations, to look into the serious human rights violations, but they have been resisted mainly by the United States and Israel, preferring a more US-monitored investigation. However, as Amnesty International point out, the continued U.S. military support to Israel would not help convince anyone that a US-led investigation would be impartial. Many US politicians, including the new President, George Bush have openly claimed support for Israel, which further negates any impartiality, or "even-handed" peace-broking.

An Arab summit failed to get a very united response, although there was a general resolve to reduce ties to Israel, while Ehud Barak moved to a "time out" of the peace process. This hinted towards a more militaristic posture than what it had already been.

A ceasefire agreement for November 2, 2000 was met with a bomb explosion in a Jewish market by the Islamic Jihad killing two Israelis. Retaliation and anger has seen Palestinians attacked and killed as well. Throughout 2001 violence has continued. Israeli force has been strong, while Palestinian suicide attacks especially have been brutal. Reuters reported (as mentioned in the Israeli paper Ha'aretz, July 15 2001) that the Israeli army would seek to destroy the Palestinian Authority's fighting forces. This has led to escalation in violence and killings. While numerous reports since this have been about Palestinian citizens or members of the P.A being killed or assasinated by the Israeli military, Palestinian suicide bombers have taken many Israeli lives as well in retaliation.

The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States has also seen its effects in Israel and Palestine. For a while it looked like U.S. was willing to try another round of peace talks. However, with the above-mentioned the tit-for-tat killings (which included an assassination of an ultra-extreme Israeli minister by an ultra-extreme Palestinian group), and the current military maneuvers by Israeli forces deeper into Palestinian territory, any chances of peace in the near future are quickly vanishing.

Furthermore, with that assasination of the Israeli minister, the political leaders have accused Yasser Arafat of "harboring" terrorists, so as to be able to blame him directly, in the same way Bush has pointed to the Taliban for harboring Al Queda and Osama Bin Laden. This allows Israel an argument to increase their military options on the Palestinians. Already Palestinians will point out that those assassinations from the Israeli side could equally amount to acts of terror supported directly by the State (whereas the political faction/party that assassinated the Israeli tourism minister was not affiliated to Arafat's group, in much the same way one could say the IRA/Sinn Fein is not affiliated to Ireland's main political party; it is a separate political party with militant aspects).

This does set a dangerous precedent the world over. Following such logic then, various countries would also be said to be harboring terrorists, whether they are able to do anything about them or not; whether they support them or not. The blame games and tit-for-tat violence is hard to break out of, especially when both sides are becoming more extreme due to this very violence and frustrations.

In deed, just a few weeks after writing the above couple of paragraphs, further terrible events have led to even more violence. The beginning of December 2001 saw ghastly suicide attacks in Israel, by Hamas members, killing 25 people. This, they said, was in retaliation for the assassination of a Hamas member by Israeli forces, as part of the on-going "targetted killings" mentioned above. As reported by The Independent newspaper (December 6, 2001), Ariel Sharon had "personally ordered the assassination of Hamas's West Bank military leader." To which "Hamas replied with a weekend of carnage." As the French paper, Le Monde diplomatique describes (December 2001) , "On 23 November he [Sharon] had Abul Hanoud, a top Hamas leader, killed: he knew the Islamists would seek revenge and break the ceasefire that Arafat had persuaded them to observe."

As a result, Israel responded with military retaliation and bombing which continued for a number of days. They also increased enormous political pressure on Arafat's Palestinian Authority to arrest and crackdown on those Hamas members who organized this, saying that he is harboring, even supporting, terrorists etc. As the above-mentioned Le Monde diplomatique article also suggests, Sharon is playing a dangerous game by "demanding that Arafat punishes those responsible for the December attacks without delay, while simultaneously making this practically and politically impossible."

The Israeli cabinet declared the Palestinian Authority "an entity that supports terror." As the BBC reports (December 4, 2001), this declaration risked causing a rift in the unity cabinet, "with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres accusing elements within the government of attempting to bring about the downfall of the Palestinian Authority." As the same report also noted, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon mentioned Israel would launch its own "war on terror". Furthermore, what was also noted, the U.S. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer had made clear that the U.S. would not stop Israel because, Fleischer said, "Israel has a right to defend itself [as a sovereign power]". This has been seen as a "green light" by the U.S. to Israel on waging this war.

As also mentioned by The Independent report above, the European Union as well as others have been less supportive of Israel's actions and claims of the Palestinian Authority being a terror-supporting entity. As also mentioned, while there is a lot of public support in Israel for this strong actions, there is also some concern within Israel itself, on the direction this will lead to.

Subsequently, as reported by the Guardian, 8 December 2001, Arafat had arrested some 200 members of Hamas. However, this has also highlighted another issue -- that of the growing rift between various factions and groups amongst the Palestinian people. There is increasing extremism, frustration and the drowning out of more moderate voices and approaches. For example, many in Israel accuse Arafat of not doing enough, while many in Palestine criticize him of acting almost like a puppet of Israel, helping doing their "dirty work". Hamas, for example, is also gaining more popular support as the conflict goes on, while the popularity of the Palestinian Authority is all the while reducing, as the BBC, for example, reports (December 4, 2001).

The on-going tit-for-tat violence, including more suicide attacks (including failed attempts), as well as heavy military retaliation with Appache helicopters, F16s firing missiles, using tanks etc, and so on, has led to more anger on all sides, Israeli and Palestinian. As the Daily Telegraph notes, (December 5, 2001), F16 missile attacks injured at least 150.

Furthermore, as Israeli attacks intensify, while pointing out that Arafat is not doing enough, it makes it harder for Arafat to do "enough", as the end of this BBC news report (13 December 2001) suggests.

The British paper, The Independent, described (13 December, 2001), how a series of attacks by Israeli forces had since those suicide attacks killed some 10 people, injuring 34 more, which then led to Palestinian gunmen ambushing a municipal bus, shooting and killing 10, injuring a further 20. They were said to have used grenades as well. This was what the paper described (see previous link) as being "by far the most bloody attack by Palestinian gunmen inside the Israeli-occupied territories since the start of the intifada more than a year ago". The news report also noted that this was just after a US peace envoy and former Marines General, Anthony Zinni had negotiated a 48-hour truce which "was barely in the public domain before Israel had made a mockery of it [sic] by launching another pre-dawn helicopter missile strike yesterday, this time on a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, killing four Palestinians and, said Palestinian doctors, wounding 20 bystanders." The Palestinian shooting therefore, meant that this ceasefire "was in ruins".

The result of this shooting in the occupied territories has been Israel cutting links with Arafat and widening even more the use of military. But there have been non-military targets as well as military. For example, as the various links here report, there have been numerous civilian killings or injuries, and even an attack on Palestinian radio facility, to the condemnation of the Committee to Project Journalists, an international organization on protecting press freedom. While there may be legitimate concerns about some Palestinian propaganda inciting hatred and violence similar things can also be said of some Israeli propaganda (as mentioned in above links and in other sections on this site). But, as CPJ reminds us, being civilian infrastructure, such targeting of non-military facilities is against international humanitarian law. (But, as one person cynically emailed me, "international law can go to hell when it comes to war"!)

Military targets have included what the BBC described in a TV report (14th December) as targeting Arafat's closest guards and hence targeting some attacks therefore, at Arafat. Further, on their web site, the BBC reports (14 December, 2001) that Hamas indicated at retaliation for the deaths of six policemen in pre-dawn raids in the West Bank by Israeli forces on 14th December, quoting Hamas political leader, Khaled Meshaal's scary warning that, "Each time Sharon commits a massacre, the response will come in Jerusalem, in Haifa". The same BBC report also noted EU's "disapproval of Israeli strategy on Friday, condemning the country's attempts to marginalise Mr Arafat."

Rifts amongst various Palestinian groups and political parties are also showing as Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have even had gun battles and killings in Arafat's attempt to hunt down militants and terrorists. Hamas, for example have ordered a halt to suicide bomb attacks, "until further notice", to which the Israelis are understandably skeptical. There are of course other militant groups, such as Islamic Jihad etc, to which this doesn't apply. The above-mentioned Le Monde Diplomatique article also implies that Sharon is intentionally trying to create a rift between the Palestinians so they can't present an international unity in future peace talks: "He [Sharon] believes that the main thing is to get rid of any nationally or internationally recognised partner, and therefore all possibility of negotiation about the creation of a Palestinian state." This, the Le Monde article suggests, is a risky policy. As the Israeli Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres has said some of his government's military strikes against the Palestinians make him "shudder" (As reported in the The Independent, 15 December 2001).

The end of 2001 was described on the U.S.'s National Public Radio (NPR) as "relative calm" because only one Israeli had been killed. Yet, as criticized by Ali Abunimah, during this period 31 Palestinians were killed for example.

That "relative calm" was horribly short lived, as into March 2002, there have been even more violence, more terrorist/suicide attacks from Palestinians upon innocent Israeli civilians, and with massive Israeli bombings and missile attacks in Palestinian refugee camps and other areas, using fighter jets, tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters, etc. As the Associated Press reported (included in the New York Times), March 8, 2002 "saw the highest one-day death toll to date -- and it capped the bloodiest week since September 2000, with 111 Palestinians and 36 Israelis killed in the past seven days."

Into April 2002, military activities and suicide bombings have increased. Israeli military cordoned off places like Ramallah, calling them closed military zones. Warplanes, armour and infantry have been used on large scales by the Israeli army in places like Bethlehem. Journalists have been prevented from reporting from various places as well as being attacked by soldiers. Ambulances have also been obstructed. In Jenin, for example, the Red Cross was not allowed in for almost a week, contrary to the Geneva Conventions as pointed out by The Independent (April 16, 2002), which also suggests that war crimes have been committed in Jenin. The BBC also reports of other aid agencies not being denied access (April 16, 2002). The fears of massacres committed by the Israeli army there has prompted human rights groups such as Amnesty International to demand an international inquiry.

As Reporters Without Borders comments, the Israeli military has the intention of wanting "to hide their military operations from the world". In addition, Yasser Arafat's own headquarters has been further isolated and bombed (which makes it even more difficult for him to stop suicide attacks, if he is trying). Members of his own guard have also been executed by the Israeli army, according to the Guardian (March 31, 2002).

An Arab League summit towards the end of March 2002, convened to put forth a Saudi plan of a promise of peace, security and normal relations with Israel in return for a full withdrawal for Arab lands occupied since 1976, the establishment of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital and a "fair solution" for the 3.8 million Palestinian refugees. The outcomes of that meeting is unknown (at time of writing) though Ariel Sharon has rejected one of they key aspects of the plan: the return of land. Yasser Arafat could not attend, himself, as Ariel Sharon said he would not be allowed back into the West Bank. Leaders of Jordan and Egypt also didn't show up. Mubarak of Egypt for example did not attend in protest of not allowing Arafat to attend. Hosts Lebanon didn't allow Arafat to talk via satellite link, while Syria supported the Palestinian suicide bombers, showing rifts in the Arab League. The U.S. was welcoming of the plan, although this summit did show increasing criticism of Israeli policies. A Hamas supporter committed a suicide attack almost to suggest opposition to the peace plans being proposed. At the time of the Jewish festival of Passover as well, this has been an extremely cruel atrocity.

Increasingly though, throughout Europe as well, there has been increasing criticism of Israeli violence as well as the suicide bombing. The BBC also reports that protests at Israeli policies have occurred around the world.

U.S. initiatives and actions lately have also been of interest. Many are urging the U.S. to address the heavy-handed Israeli tactics. President Bush at the beginning of April, 2002, when meeting with Tony Blair has publicly made a number of demands: including to Israel and Ariel Sharon to end the West Bank occupation; to Arafat to stop all terrorist activities, to some Arab nations to stop financing Palestinian terrorism and to support the Saudi peace plan, etc. He has used some forceful words as well, though Sharon appears to have resisted Bush's calls, and instead has said that the offensive would be speeded up, as reported by the BBC (April 7, 2002). The same report also points out that in the previous 10 days, some 200 Palestinians have been killed and more than 1500 injured.

At the same time, U.S. envoy, General Anthony Zinni, has been in the region to try and broker some sort of peace plan. However, "Israel would be allowed to continue attacks on Palestinian presidential buildings, security headquarters and prisons as part of a Middle East 'ceasefire' plan proposed by US envoy General Anthony Zinni, it emerged yesterday" as the Guardian revealed, April 4, 2002.

Ariel Sharon has also called for a process to be spear-headed by the U.S, while U.S. Secratary of State Colin Powell has been visiting the area. At the time of writing, it remains to be seen what will come of this, as the outcome from the Saudi initiative, which also had U.S. support seems to have been ignored for now.

The horrors of the aftermath of Jenin made international mainstream headlines. Reports of possible war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Israeli army abound. For many days, rescue and humanitarian organizations were not allowed into the area (contrary to Geneva Conventions). Research by the British paper, The Independent has found that, "while the Israeli operation clearly dealt a devastating blow to the militant organisations - in the short term, at least - nearly half of the Palestinian dead who have been identified so far were civilians, including women, children and the elderly. They died amid a ruthless and brutal Israeli operation, in which many individual atrocities occurred, and which Israel is seeking to hide by launching a massive propaganda drive." (25 April 2002).

International Human Rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch had often called upon Israel to allow U.N. monitors in Jenin, which Israel at first delayed on, but eventually and controversially rejected, (as the previous links by the two Rights organizations describe). The Guardian also suggests (May 8, 2002) that the U.S. were partly involved in blocking the U.N. mission, given the way Sharon thanked the U.S. in a visit to Washington.

Violence has continued with Israeli forces bombing and killing 15 Palestinian people (10 of which were children), as well as the main target, an extremist Hamas leader. In retaliation for the killing of their movement's military chief, Hamas extremists have killed seven Israeli civilians by a bomb attack at Hebrew University. In addition, they have followed up with a killing spree of bomb attacks, suicide bombings, gunning down civilians, etc. By August 5, 2002, some 13 Israelis had been killed, with over 80 injured, according to Ha'aretz (August 5, 2002).

George Bush's speech (June 24, 2002) in which he announced that the U.S. will support a Palestinian state if the Palestinian people are prepared to reject Arafat and choose a different leader, has been met with much cynicism, anger and criticism. This has especially been the case in the Middle East, where people have suggested that Bush is saying he will support a Palestine state if the leader fits the U.S.'s definition of acceptable. It is hard to see how any side, in that context, has done anything that sounds like a real (not rhetorical) move towards effective peace. Instead, each side angers the extremists of the other.

Since August, occupation, destruction of Palestinian homes, counter-violence, suicide bombing and all the other horrors have continued.

United Press International (UPI) reports, (January 15, 2003) that according to former Israeli intelligence officials, "Israel is embarking upon a more aggressive approach to the war on terror that will include staging targeted killings in the United States and other friendly countries."

Both sides seemed to have missed opportunities towards peace. While the "tit-for-tat" violence looks as though it will not end, the horrors and suffering are borne mostly by innocent civilians on both sides. Israeli military occupation (one of the main fundamental issues) and state "terror", being resisted by a counter and extremist terror has led to anger, suffering and hatred on all sides. But, as Ali Abunimah suggests, while the Palestinians may be fighting for a cause, the means may not necessarily be justified, as it can itself be hypocritical and destructive, if justice is the aim. The extremist Palestinian groups such as Hamas perhaps seem to forget in their anger, what they are fighting for. As Ali Abunimah puts it:

"None of this ought to be construed as implying that there is any moral equivalence between the Palestinian struggle for liberation and the Israeli effort to impose a foreign military dictatorship on millions of people outside of Israel's borders. The inherent justice of the Palestinian cause is obvious, as is the deep immorality of the occupation. Palestinians have a right, recognized by the entire world community, to resist this occupation. But resistance cannot and should not involve the deliberate murder of innocent civilians. The ends, simply put, do not justify the means."

Ali Abunimah, A Missed Opportunity, Electronic Intifada, July 31, 2002

Loss of life on both sides is a tragedy. Violence seems to only result in more violence. Terrorism of both types, State and individual/organized non-State, results in more terrorism and most of the factions involved seem to be locked in this downward spiral. As a result, any chances of peace in the near future are almost gone.

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Any chance for peace is gradually diminishing

In the recent years, many Jewish people were opening up more to the prospect of peaceful coexistence. However, recent events have shattered that, including the desecration of the Tomb of Joseph, media hype and distortion in the US and Israel, increased violence such as the lynching of two soldiers and so forth.

On the Palestinian side, the continual enclosures, denial of even small portions of land, continued second class nature of their identity, the violent and brutal Israeli army crackdown on civilians and so on has likewise diminished hopes of a meaningful peace in the short term (possibly long term). The World Food Programme in August 2001 also launched an emergency operation to feed a quarter of a million Palestinians and said that the continuing Israeli blockade of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has led to a collapse of the local economy.

Over 90 percent of Palestinians had actually voted for Ehud Barak for his stance towards improving peace. Barak had entertained the idea of forming a coalition with the right wing Likud Party, led by Sharon. To most Palestinians, this indicated that peace was dead. Since that, the popularity of Barak suffered and resulted in Ariel Sharon coming into power with Baruk at one point contemplating accepting the position of defence minister, which he has now turned down.

Since Sharon came into power, there has been increased violence on both sides, and now, with increasing terrorist attacks at the end of 2001, Israel has cut links with Arafat and widens even more the use of the military.

"If Israel gives up the land it occupied in 1967 - all of the land, not bits of it - and if all the nations of the area are secure, then there is, perhaps, a chance of a real settlement in the Middle East. The Arabs - all of the Arabs, not just our friendly dictators - must accept Israel's existence within its international borders and the Arabs must get back the land that they lost in 1967. Yes, it's a boring old formula. We've almost grown tired of it. Oslo sounded so romantic at the time. But [UN Resolution] 242, in the end, is probably the only show in town."

Robert Fisk, The Oslo Agreement is dead. That is what this latest Middle East crisis is, The Independent (a UK newspaper), 10 October, 2000

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