Intifada II: “The Oslo War”
The peace process, which began in 1993 with the Oslo Accords, was never truly finalized, and soon began to significantly deteriorate. In July 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and United States President Bill Clinton met at Camp David for the Middle East Peace Summit. Unlike the meetings seven years earlier, this summit failed, each side blaming the other as unwilling to compromise. The main issues which the two sides could not agree upon were Jerusalem and Temple Mount, Israel’s security concerns, the Palestinian “right of return,” and territorial disputes. Arafat and Barak walked out, and the lack of progress led to frustration in the Palestinian settlements.
On September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon, then the opposition leader of the Likud Party, visited the Temple Mount. He did so only after receiving permission from the PA and went during normal visiting hours, and he did not enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque itself. However, his visit is often regarded as the trigger for the Second Intifada, also called the Al-Aqsa Intifada or the Oslo War. The Palestinians claim that Sharon was trying to prove that his Likud government would place the Temple Mount under Israeli jurisdiction; the Israelis contend that Arafat had been planning an uprising ever since the failed peace talks in July. In fact, prior to Sharon’s visit, there had been sporadic outbreaks of violence, led by Arafat’s Fatah movement.
Palestinian unrest had been growing for a while—resentment at the developing of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza and a poor economy led to the radicalization of many Palestinians. On September 29, the day after Sharon’s visit, rioting broke out in the Old City. Palestinians stoned worshippers at the Western Wall, and Israel responded by storming the Temple Mount. Violence in the West Bank and Gaza quickly escalated. In October 2000, a series of riots and violence in Tel Aviv and Nazareth ratcheted up the tension between Arab citizens, who participated in the violence, and Israeli citizens. Though the riots initiated by Arab citizens eventually subsided, the Palestinian mobs took over and began attacking Israeli soldiers and citizens. Suicide attacks became the terror tactic of choice; over 138 suicide attacks were carried out in the next four years. The targets were not soldiers or political figures but pizzerias, buses, hotels, restaurants, malls, and even private homes.
In October 2000, Joseph’s Tomb, a holy shrine in Nablus, was ransacked and destroyed by Palestinian terrorists, in a direct effort to demolish Israel’s holy sites. On October 12th, two Israeli reservists unwittingly wandered into Ramallah and were immediately grabbed by Palestinian mobbed, and taken to police headquarters, where they were beaten and stabbed to death. The lynching shocked the Israeli public and provoked a strong military response from Israel. At first, Israel had tried to respond to the riots using non-violent methods, such as curfews and financial sanctions. However, as the violence increased, it became clear that a more aggressive stance needed to be taken.
The United States attempted to broker a peace agreement between the two sides, and both initially agreed to put an end to the violence. However, shortly after the summit, Arafat and Arab leaders met in an emergency Arab League summit, issuing a statement in praise of the Intifada. A suicide bombing two weeks later decisively ended the shaky peace.
In February 2001, Ariel Sharon was elected prime minister, and refused to meet in person with Arafat, breaking off the tentative peace negotiations which Barak had consented to the previous month. Terror attacks continued unabated throughout 2001—a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Tel Aviv nightclub; another one at the Sbarro Pizza store in Jerusalem; Israel’s tourism Minister was assassinated at the Hyatt Hotel in Jerusalem; twenty-six Israelis were murdered in a single week after suicide bombings in Haifa and Jerusalem. Israel declared the PA a terrorist entity and carried out a systematic attack, besieging the West Bank and destroying Arafat’s fleet of helicopters.
The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center shifted public opinion of the Intifada, especially because Hamas and Hezbollah were known to be associated with Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group. In January 2002, Israel captured an arms vessel destined for the PA, and upon inspection, the boat was found to be harboring a frightening fifty tons of weapons and explosives. Evidence was found linking Iran to the weapons cache. These events led many of the world’s nations to give more latitude to Israel’s incursion against Palestinian terror.
One of the most horrific attacks took place during the holiday of Passover in March 2002. At the Park Hotel in Netanya, a Hamas suicide bomber blew himself up, killing thirty and wounding 150. In response, Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, which led to the apprehension of many top Palestinian officers, and seizures of many of their weapons caches. The campaign also proved decisively that Arafat and the PA had not only supported, but financed many of these terrorist attacks. In April 2002, Palestinian militants holed themselves up inside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the holiest sites in Christianity. Inside the church were civilians and priests in addition to the militants. A stand-off ensued. After thirty-eight days, thirteen Palestinian militants were deported at the request of the IDF, and the IDF ended the stand-off.
In September, after suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, Israel invaded Gaza, including Gaza City, and also besieged Arafat in his Ramallah compound. In April 2003, Mahmud Abbas, a more moderate Palestinian leader, was elected prime minister of the PA in an attempt to execute the “road map” for peace, but the attacks did not abate. In fact, later that year, in October, a female suicide bomber—a relatively new weapon for the Palestinian terrorists—blew herself up inside a restaurant in Haifa. Six children were among the dead. In March of 2004, two terrorists disguised as IDF soldiers entered the Port of Ashdod, detonating explosives. By sheer luck, the ensuing fire missed the port’s ammonia tanks. Ten people were killed and over a dozen injured, though the calamity unleashed by a possible ammonia explosion would have been catastrophic. Following the Ashdod attack, the IDF targeted top Palestinian leaders for assassination. The Intifada finally began to wane with the illness and then death of Yasser Arafat, in November of 2004.
Over the course of the bloody Intifada, 319 soldiers lost their lives, as did 745 civilians. Over 2,000 soldiers and 5,000 civilians were wounded, and many of the wounded were maimed for life.