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Israel, with the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights highlighted in green. West Bank and Gaza are under the control of the Palestinian National Authority. Golan, annexed by Israel, is Syrian.

Intifada (also Intefadah or Intifadah; from Arabic for "shaking off") is an Arabic term for "uprising." The word was first widely used to describe the popular uprising of Palestinian refugees against their situation in 1987, when the political, diplomatic peace process had failed to improve their living conditions in what since the Six-Day War had been referred to as Israeli occupied territory, that is, the West Bank of the river Jordan and the Gaza Strip. Following the Declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, when the surrounding Arab countries, who did not recognize Israel, attacked, the West Bank and the Gaza strip has been occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Following the six-day war, the West bank and Gaza were occupied by Israel. Men, boys, women and girls took to the streets, throwing stones and petrol bombs as the occupying Israeli forces. Many refugees fled or were pushed out of what became Israel during the first Arab-Israeli war (1948-9), living under Egyptian and Jordanian rule until 1967, then under Israeli occupation. While the 1979 Agreement had normalized relations between Israel and Egypt and had placed the proposal for a sovereign Palestinian state on the table, in the years between 1980 and 1987, no progress was made. Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), which rejected negotiation and non-violence, was founded at the beginning of the Intifada.

The Oslo peace process began as the international community responded to the Intifada, made possible when Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization agreed to remove reference to the destruction of Israel from its charter and to renounce violence. However, following the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority in 1993 and the subsequent normalization of relations with Jordan (1994), the expected progress towards full sovereignty did not follow nor, according to many, did the living conditions of the Palestinians improve. Consequently, the second Intifada erupted in 2000 following the visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem of Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. Increasingly, suicide bombing of Israeli targets became a popular method of resistance. Hamas's election as the government of the PNA in January 2006 has resulted in another impasse in peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine and in the development of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state with guarantees for the security of the State of Israel. Hamas (at this point in 2007) does not recognize Israel and, unlike the PLO and other Palestinian factions, remains committed to the total destruction of Israel.[1]

History of the Term

The term Intifada came into common usage in English as the popularized name for two Palestinian campaigns directed at ending the Israeli military occupation. These two uprisings, the first starting in 1987 and the second in 2000 have been significant aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in recent years: The First Intifada began in 1987. Violence declined in 1991 and came to an end with the signing of the Oslo accords (August 1993) and the creation of the Palestinian National Authority. The second Intifada is also referred to as the al-Aqsa Intifada because it was sparked by the Israeli Prime Minister's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, or Temple Mount. The term has also been used to describe a wave of demonstrations and riots that broke out in May 2005 in the Moroccan occupied territory of Western Sahara that has been styled the "Independence Intifada" or the "El-Aaiun Intifada" by pro-independence Sahrawi demonstrators, a usage also applied by activists to earlier incidents in the territory in 1999 (the Smara Intifada), and 1970 (the Zemla Intifada, against Spanish occupation), although the usage was not widely adopted outside separatist activist circles. Since 1993, suicide missions have killed Israeli soldiers and civilians. Israel has consistently demanded an end to the violence. However, this pits ill equipped Palestinians with petrol bombs, stones and other simple weapons against some of the best equipped and trained soldiers in the world. The Intifada is the cry of an oppressed people, for whom justice appears to be a distant dream. It is the cry of ordinary women and men who are frustrated that the political process has not yet delivered them enough food to eat, decent homes to live in and jobs to earn a living.

Earlier Intifadas

In 1952, citizens of Baghdad had engaged in a series of large-scale protests against the Iraqi government, widely referred to as "the Intifada." Following the United States–led invasion of Iraq in 2003, Muqtada al-Sadr, a militant Shia cleric, launched an uprising which he also referred to as the "Iraqi Intifada"[2] aimed at ending the US-led foreign military presence in Iraq.

The 1990s Intifada was a popular uprising in Bahrain demanding a return to democratic rule.

"Intifada of Independence" is also the term used by the Lebanese media to refer to the events that occurred after Rafiq Hariri's assassination. It is also known as the "Cedar Revolution".

The Intifada in the Context of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict

Immediate Context

The immediate context of the Intifada was the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip following the Six-Day War, although many in the refugee camps had been living there since what many Palestinians refer to as the catastrophe of 1948-9, when, following Israel's Declaration of Independence on May 14, 1948, Arab countries invaded and during the subsequent war, thousands of Arabs were displaced. Some left their homes voluntarily to avoid getting in the way of the either army; others were forced to leave as part of an Israeli strategy of gaining territory in addition to that allocated under the UN Partition Plan (Resolution 181). However, Arab opposition to the creation within the area known as Palestine dates back to at least 1920, when anti-Jewish riots broke out. Palestine was then under British military occupation following capture during World War I and the terms of what became the British Mandate of Palestine from the League of Nations were being discussed.

Colonial Background

In 1917, Britain, in the Balfour Declaration supported the proposal to establish a Jewish homeland in Palestine and as the terms of the Mandate were discussed, this proposal was being incorporated within these terms, that is, that Britain would take steps to establish such a homeland while protecting the rights of other communities.[3] In 1917, following migration to Palestine from 1882 onwards (the beginning of the first Jewish aliyah, or return) the Jewish population of the area was 27 percent. Conferences and delegations of Arabs opposing the creation of a Jewish homeland, which included Christian as well as Muslim Arabs, demanded a Palestinian state in which Jews already present could remain. Further migration, however, would not be allowed. Initially, when Russian Jews started to migrate in 1881, few were contemplating an actual independent, sovereign state. The development, however, of the Zionist movement placed this on the table as the ideal solution to Europe's "Jewish problem," Europe did not want its Jews and the Jews wanted a land of their own. Palestine itself, which was part of the larger Ottoman province of Greater Syria, was relatively undeveloped and could be popularly represented as a land without a people for a people without a land. British politicians supported the idea of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, anticipating that this would be a client colony, rather than an independent state.

As Britain and France met during World War I to sub-divide the Ottoman Empire, based on where they already had commercial outposts (known as "capitulations," these were de facto colonies), Britain staked her claim to administer Palestine. France was mandated to govern Syria and Lebanon by the League of Nations until these territories were ready to govern themselves; Britain was mandated the remaining territory, which they sub-divided into three entities. These were Palestine, over which they retained direct control, Iraq and Jordan. During the war, they had promised the Sharif of Mecca an Arab state in the region in return for his collaboration against the Turks. While the Sharif and his British adviser, T. E Lawrence both thought that this Arab State included the area known as Palestine, Britain denied this.[4] However, they established monarchies in Iraq and Jordan with sons of the Sharif as King.

A series of anti-Jewish riots during the British Mandate, which lasted until 1948, made the creation of a separate Jewish entity politically impossible. Legal migration was also restricted, so that by the end of the Mandate period the Jewish population was 33 percent. Several commissions established to advise the British government on how to proceed suggested partition of Palestine into a Jewish state where Jews were already a majority, and a Palestinian State where Arabs were the majority.

United Nations Intervention

At the end of World War II, a Britain devastated by the war-effort decided to hand responsibility to the newly formed United Nations, setting a date for its own withdrawal from Palestine on May 15, 1948. The UN established its own commission, which recommended the creation of three entities, a Jewish state, an Arab state with Jerusalem under direct UN administration, in recognition that both states were likely, for historical and religious reasons, to claim jurisdiction.

This plan was placed before the UN as Resolution 181, which was passed on November 29, 1947, against the opposition of all Arab and Muslim members.[5] The Arab nations took the view that Palestine's future should be determined by its people. An international commission was proposed to oversee the process but Britain refused to cooperate with this. Having passed Resolution 181, no action was taken towards implementing partition. On May 14, the day before the British withdrawal, Jewish leaders proclaimed the existence of the State of Israel.[6]

Although this was a unilateral, diplomatic recognition followed. The Arab nations declared that this Declaration was illegal and that in the absence of any legal government in Palestine, they intended to intervene. This resulted in the Arab armies invading and in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-9. It was during this war that what many Arabs call the 'catastrophe' took place, that is, the displacement of thousands of Arab refugees. Egypt gained the Gaza strip, Jordan the West Bank including the old city of Jerusalem, while Israel also gained territory. Arabs were now largely absent in Jew-majority areas, although about 18 percent of the remaining population were Arabs. The fighting ended with a series of armistices but officially the Arab states remained at war with Israel. The refugees living under Arab rule were assured that Israel would be destroyed and that they would be able to return to their homes. Legally, the borders of Israel were never agreed. Many refugees then lived under Egyptian and Jordanian rule until these territories were occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War (1967). Israel also occupied the Golan Heights, which overlook Galilee. From Camp David (1979) on, a two-state solution to the Palestinian situation has been accepted by the international community.

The Peace Process and the Intifada

Following the Oslo Accord, the plan has been for the Palestinian National Authority to evolve into a sovereign state. However, Israeli settlements now divide up the West Bank, meaning that unless they are dismantled the remaining territory would not be economically viable. Camp David saw the return of the Sinai to Egypt based on the land for peace principle.

In 1994, Jordan also normalized relations with Israel. The status of Jerusalem remains problematic, since the Palestinians also claim it as their capital but Israel regards it as indivisibly part of Israeli territory. Among the many proposals under discussion is the possibility of joint-sovereignty over Jerusalem. A Palestinian state would have to be viable, while Israel continues to fear that its security will not be protected. The Intifadas of 1987 and of 2000 were popular uprisings expressing frustration that so little progress towards a permanent solution has been achieved, while the Palestinians continue to experience economic hardship and often starvation. On the one hand, some Arabs speak about the total destruction of Israel. On the other hand, some Israelis regard the West Bank as part of the Biblical Eretz Israel (land of Israel), and thus rightfully theirs. The Israeli Law of Return allows any Jew to migrate to Israel, while Palestinians who fled from or who were forced to leave Israel do not have a right to return. Most peace proposals call for a return to pre-1967 borders.[7]


  1. See Hamas' charter, "The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas)," MidEast Web Historical Documents, 18 August 1988, The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  2. "Imam Muqtada al-Sadr launches Iraqi Intifada," Asia News, April 5, 2004, Imam Muqtada al-Sadr launches Iraqi Intifada Retrieved March 23, 2007.
  3. "The Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations, 1922" Mid East Web, The Palestine Mandate of the League of Nations, 1922 Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  4. See the "McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, 1915" Mid East Web, McMahon-Hussein Correspondence, 1915 Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  5. "United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181," Jewish Virtual Library, United Nations General Assembly resolution 181 Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  6. "The Declaration of the State of Israel," Mid East Web, The Declaration of the State of Israel Retrieved March 24, 2007.
  7. see "A Performance-Based Road map to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict," US Dept of State, April 30, 2003, Road map to a Permanent Two State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Retrieved March 24, 2007. This is the plan for peace proposed by the European Union, the Russian Federation, the UN and the USA which was officially accepted by the Israeli government and by the former government of the Palestinian National Authority, before the 2006 election which saw the Hamas victory.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Baroud, Ramzy, Kathleen Christison, (Foreword), Bill Christison, (Foreword), Mahfouz Abu Turk (Illustrator), Matthew Cassel, (Illustrator), Jennifer Loewenstein, (Introduction). The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle. London: Pluto Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0745325477
  • Bucaille, Laetitia. Growing Up Palestinian: Israeli Occupation and the Intifada Generation. (Princeton Studies in Muslim Politics). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006. ISBN 978-0691126111
  • Carey, Roane (ed.) Noam Chomsky, (Author), Gila Svirsky, (Author), and Alison Weir, (Author). The New Intifada: Resisting Israel's Apartheid. London & NY: Verso, 2001. ISBN 978-1859843772
  • Hiltermann, Joost R. Behind the Intifada. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0691024806


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