Palestinians Talk of a New Intifadah
But Israeli pullout, prosperity could change conflict
HEBRON, WEST BANK — Said Khattib, a young teen, has little to do this hot summer but wait for a new uprising. Like many Palestinians in Hebron, the last Israeli-controlled West Bank town, he's sure it's coming. "The situation has made us lose patience," says Khattib, who insists he's ready to fight. This time, he says, "it will be improved, because there will be more violence."
Many here think Israel's new government will renege on promises of Palestinian autonomy and squelch plans for an independent state. The buzz is that the intifadah - the 1987-93 uprising against Israeli occupation - may reignite.
But much has changed since 1993. Some things - like an influx of guns into Arab hands - herald bitter violence. But others - like some Palestinians being pacified by prosperity - foretell more peaceful protest.
Still, the voices of the disenchanted are getting louder.
The most prominent voice to hint at intifadah is that of Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat. On Aug. 6, he said Israel's plans to allow Jews to expand settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are a "flagrant violation" of the Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. And, he said, Palestinians must resist expansion "on the ground" with "all means" necessary.
If Mr. Arafat, a Nobel Peace prize winner, is making such soundings, the more extreme Palestinians are ready to riot.
Jaber Badran, an activist with the Syrian-based Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was just released from a six-month stint in an Israeli jail. He also sees a renewed uprising on the horizon. Though Mr. Badran has spent 12 years in Israeli prisons, he would not keep his son from joining in the fighting.
"I don't want to see him go to jail," he says, "but how can I tell him not to resist when I went to throw stones and burn tires?"
Yasser, a teenager, sits beside his father. "We will continue struggling against them," he says, "the way it was before."
The way it was before was a dismal period of terrorism in the minds of Israelis, of heroism in the minds of Palestinians. Clashes were characterized by Palestinian youths throwing stones or Molotov cocktails at soldiers, who responded with tear gas, rubber or live bullets, and mass arrests. At least 1,170 Palestinians and 160 Israelis were killed, according to B'Tselem, a Jerusalem-based human rights group.
When the intifadah broke out, then-defense minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly ordered troops to "break bones," judging Palestinians could be suppressed. Human rights groups condemned the brutality and Israel's image was tarnished abroad.
Frequent strikes strangled Palestinian business, and infrastructure deteriorated. Education fell off as Israel closed many university campuses, calling them hotbeds. And Palestinians turned on each other, killing hundreds accused of "collaborating" with Israel.
With a peace agreement in place, why would anyone want to return to this?
One reason: Israel has pulled its troops out of all the major Palestinian towns it promised to leave, except Hebron. And the continued delay on Hebron, as well as Netanyahu's green-light for Jewish settlers to increase building in the West Bank anger Palestinians. Netanyahu has also refused to hold talks with the Palestinian Authority on territorial issues until it closes all its offices in Jerusalem.
More arms, less unity
The intifadah broke out spontaneously and violently: In a December 1987 accident, four Palestinians died in Gaza when they were hit by an Israeli Army vehicle. This set off riots and marches. Though PLO leaders, then living abroad, would like to take credit, they never gave the orders for the intifadah and were surprised by its force.
If the intifadah returns, it would be impulsive, says Hebron Mayor Mustafa Nache. "The intifadah was started by the people themselves," he says. "If the Israelis don't redeploy [out of Hebron], it means they don't want to go ahead with the peace process, and the situation will deteriorate."
But Hebron may be unique. Israel has been slow to withdraw because of the town's complexity: It is the only place Israeli Jews settled inside the city, and the only predominantly Arab city to which Orthodox Jews claim a religious and emotional attachment.
For Palestinians, however, a watered-down version of redeployment may exacerbate the peace deal's shortcomings. Fatah, Arafat's political party, won't likely call for a new intifadah. But Hebron Fatah leader Baraka Takrouri says it can't prevent the decision from being made on the streets. Nor will it try to, he says.
"It is especially problematic in Hebron, but it shows the problems of all Palestinians," he says. "People in other cities will not just sit by and watch."
But this time the uprising could differ: Since Israeli troops aren't patrolling Arab cities, the intifadah-to-be could target Israeli travelers, settlers, and soldiers in the West Bank and Gaza.
"I don't see how Palestinians can sit back and wait if the Israelis are making new 'facts on the ground,' " Mr. Takrouri says, referring to expanding settlements.
One of the most ominous parts of the threat of a new intifadah is the proliferation of guns in Palestinian areas. Guns are regularly smuggled in, netting hefty sums on the black market.
This could bring an increase in drive-by shootings of Israelis, like the handful that have occurred since Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's May 29 election win.
Others say the suicide bombs that hit Israel this spring, killing 59 people, would be the "preferred" model since they undermine Israelis' sense of security.
Despite the frustrations expressed by so many, there are pro-peace Palestinians who say they are faring better than three years ago. Amid increasing personal freedoms and a rising standard of living for a small segment, some may not be interested in taking up with stones or guns. So, if there is another intifadah, participation could be less than total.
In towns that are magnets for the affluent and educated, like Ramallah, protest seems to have been replaced by universal pursuits of the young, like going out to parties and clubs. "The Palestinian people have changed," says Nahida Odeh, a Ramallah teen. "They used to think about going to demonstrations. Now they just think about going out."
The fact that not all Palestinians are declaring the peace process a failure gives Israelis hope that the concessions they've made haven't been for naught. Still, few Israelis seem willing to address talk of intifadah. Neither the prime minister's office nor the ministry of defense respond to questions on the issue.
But Mr. Netanyahu sees Hebron's volatility: "We don't want to be wrong and have an outbreak of terrorism," he said of the town to Arab journalists this week.
Some Israeli security officials say the fact that Israel has completed all but one of its promised withdrawals makes the framework of the intifadah obsolete.
"Most of the Palestinians today are living under Palestinian control, and you can't make an intifadah if we're not there," says Shlomo Dror, an Israeli coordinator of activities in the territories.
"It's not 1987 anymore," says Barry Rubin, an intifadah expert at Ben-Gurion University. "You don't have a mass demonstration to throw stones at a checkpoint."
Intifadah, Rubin says, has become "slang for doing anything." But if this time intifadah means a more violent uprising, this could shift the tide of world opinion. From 1987 to 1993, news footage of teenagers pelting soldiers with rocks - and soldiers responding with bullets - made Palestinians the underdogs in the world's eyes.
But shootings and bombings are unlikely to elicit similar sympathy.
But some Palestinian parents say they can't prevent their children from starting another intifadah.
"When your kids feel they are in such an unfair situation, you can't control them," says Rwand Abed al-Samia, a mother of nine.
But she says, "Maybe it's enough, enough of seeing people get arrested and killed."