HISTORY, Part 4: 1968 - 1993 PLO and 1st Intifada

Attempts To Change the Status Quo – the PLO and the First Intifada

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The regional map changed dramatically in 1967 with the occupation of every remaining inch of Palestinian land and the annexation of East Jerusalem. It was time for Israel to, in Noel’s words, “take all necessary steps to restrict the now subordinated [group], thereby hampering their effectiveness as competitors” (Noel 163).

Once again, Land Laws enabled Israel to appropriate Palestinian property, only this time, in addition to taking land inside of the State, land was also taken from residents of the newly occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Confiscated land turned into Jewish settlements; Palestinians were (and still are) governed by crushing Israeli military law (Settlements); and tragically, these same Palestinians were (and remain) in limbo—they are not citizens of any country (Palestine). It is no wonder then that the Palestinians felt the need to take matters into their own hands.

In 1964, after enduring Israel’s attempts to “restrict” and “hamper” the Palestinian people for 16 years, the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, was founded. Its express purpose was to “liberate Palestine” through armed struggle (Khalidi 11). Indeed, the PLO conducted terrorist activities in its early years to get the world’s attention regarding the plight of the Palestinian people living under brutal occupation. Its stated goal at that time was to bring an end to Israel so that Palestine could reemerge within the boundaries it had enjoyed before 1948. Because Zionism had effectively delegitimized the Palestinians, the PLO delegitimized Israel (11)—in an attempt to regain lost land, dignity, and hope, all of which had been taken from them in 1948. The PLO’s actions were not noble, but the organization was defending an oppressed people against a government that was also not noble, and against an ethnic stratification system that strangled them. Palestinians today equate the early PLO with the African National Congress (ANC): fifty years of nonviolence in South Africa had proven ineffective against white-dominant apartheid, and more aggressive approaches were deemed necessary in order to bring about equality (cfr). The PLO and ANC both had legitimate grievances that were being ignored when expressed through peaceful means (Israel’s Apartheid).

Over time, the position of the Palestine Liberation Organization began to mellow: in 1974 it recognized Israel’s right to exist (or to be precise, recognized the fact that Israel exists) (Session 1,10). In exchange, Israel officially recognized the PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. The PLO’s unwillingness to recognize Israel as a Jewish state is not a matter of stubbornness, but the acknowledgement of a fact which Israel itself seems to ignore: 20% of its citizens are not Jewish (CIA). Although Israel accepts the PLO, its interaction with the Palestinian Authority—the governing body of the PLO—is antagonistic at best. Remarkably, even though conditions in the Palestinian Territories have not improved, the PLO is no longer seeking “total liberation” or “the end of Israel,” but has the more modest goal of achieving the pre-1967 borders (in other words, the end of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the return of East Jerusalem) (Session 2, 4).

The Palestinian people recognize this organization as their sole legitimate representative, as do over one hundred countries with which the PLO enjoys diplomatic relations. The organization has been off of the US terrorist list for over ten years. It also has observer status at the United Nations, has been recognized by the UN since 1974, and has been a nonvoting member since its overwhelming acceptance in 2012 (Status). Over 135 countries recognize the State of Palestine (Diplomatic). Interestingly, in spite of this global recognition, the PLO is still considered by Israel to be “one of the most infamous terrorist organizations around the world.” (PLO)

By 1987, tensions between Israel and Palestine were high. After 20 years of occupation, the Palestinian people were demoralized and angry. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians had been detained without trial; thousands of homes had been demolished. Israel effectively controlled almost every square mile of historic Palestine. The PLO had played its last card by recognizing the existence of the State of Israel, and had gotten nothing in return for this good faith concession. In short, Israel had failed to provide the Palestinians any acceptable framework of coexistence. As Noel’s model predicts, “overt conflict” emerged once again.

Exactly what event started the First Intifada (“uprising”) is unclear, but the outcome was not unlike Ferguson, Missouri in the summer of 2014: decades of discrimination exploded, the “have-nots” rose up against the system that kept the “haves” in power. Perhaps no one carried a “Palestinian Lives Matter” sign, but the sentiment was the same. To view the violence without understanding the Palestinian biography and history of oppression will result in blaming the victim.

In fact, many parallels have been drawn between the Ferguson and Palestine biographies and the rhetoric that swirls around them. For example, there is the argument—put forth by the dominant groups in both cases—that the people who are dying (Palestinians or black Americans) deserve to die: they are deserving of state violence because they are bad people (terrorists or lazy, drug-using criminals). Or they are bringing it on themselves (hiding weapons in civilian areas or perpetuating a culture of poverty and crime). In the words of University of Massachusetts professor, Heike Schotten, “the only thing that matters is…that the victim gets portrayed as the aggressor and the aggressor, the victim” (Schotten).

The rhetoric used by Israel about the Intifada is right out of a Jewish privilege textbook (and with a few word changes, could be a 2014 mainstream news report from Ferguson):

The First Intifada – from The Jewish Virtual Library

False charges of Israeli atrocities and instigation from the mosques played an important role in starting the intifada…Mass rioting broke out…This soon sparked a wave of unrest…Over the next week, rock-throwing, blocked roads and tire burnings were reported throughout the territories. [Within a week] six Palestinians had died and 30 had been injured in the violence. 

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. Approximately 1,100 Palestinians were killed in clashes with Israeli troops…Jews were not the only victims of the violence (emphasis mine - note that there is no explanation of how 1,100 Palestinians died.) (Israel’s Wars).

It is important to recognize that, with all the talk of guns and explosives, only 13% of deaths in the First Intifada were Israeli (Israel’s Wars).

In response to the Palestinians’ mostly nonviolent uprising (primarily taking the form of strikes, refusal to pay taxes, and demonstrations—although some more aggressive means were used at times) (Peled), Israel deployed around 80,000 soldiers who fired live rounds (Tedla). This would account for the grim statistics: the final death toll of the First Intifada was about 1,200 Palestinians and 179 Israelis. At least 23,000 Palestinian children required medical treatment because of beatings by the Israeli Defense Force in the first two years alone (Fatalities). Several resolutions were drafted by the UN Security Council, condemning Israel for its violence and human rights abuses, but were vetoed by the US (UNSC US Vetoes).

Since the 1967 war and Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and the annexation of East Jerusalem, attempts have been made at reconciliation between the two sides. The Oslo Accords are perhaps the best known.