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Is This Really the Third Intifada?

As from the beginning of October at least 77 Palestinians have been killed and another 2000 injured, while 10 Israelis have been killed and at least 100 have been injured.

Since the rise of this new wave of violence I have grappled with some important questions: is this violence that can be controlled somehow? Can this wave of terror be stopped eventually? How does this “Intifada” differ from the previous ones?

Before attempting to answer these questions, it is necessary to see how we arrived at the current situation and why it has deteriorated so quickly.

For weeks in September Palestinians were protesting in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem against the unmotivated violence of Israeli Police towards peaceful protesters. The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, was the growing tensions surrounding the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound (or Temple Mount, as Jewish people call it), a holy place both for Muslims and Jews. According to old agreements Jews are permitted visit the holy site but cannot pray over there, with only Muslims allowed to so. In the past weeks Israeli police forces dangerously restricted access to the site for Muslims and many Palestinians feared that Israel was going to attempt to change the status quo, even if Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, has always denied it. The violence has quickly escalated and finally erupted in what is now defined the “Third Intifada” or “Intifada of Knives”.

The First Intifada (9th December 1987-13th September 1993) began with civil disobedience techniques including the boycott of Israeli products and general strikes. The famous “stones throwing” occurred later: the Palestinian people, particularly the youngest generations, used to throw stones, the only sort of weapon available, at Israeli Police and Settlers. Even so, the violence during that uprising was relatively contained.

The Second Intifada (28th September 2000-8th February 2005) was quite different than the first: since the very beginning Palestinians frequently utilized such tactics as fire weapons and suicide bomb attacks. The Israeli Defence Forces responded with tanks, helicopters, and missile strikes. The last time Israel deployed that kind of artillery was during the Six-Day War (1967).

Despite their stark differences, these two Intifada events had an important common feature: clear leadership. During the First Intifada there was the Unified National Command of the Uprising (the PLO, Palestine Liberation Organization, was still illegal at that time); the Second Intifada was jointly guided by the PLO, no longer illegal, and by Islamist organizations such as Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their armed branches, Izz al-Din al-Qassam and al-Quds Brigades (all still considered terrorist organizations). Such traits are still undetected in this Third Intifada: all Palestinian attackers are correctly referred to as ”lone-wolves”. In fact, it seems they don’t respond or relate to any of the pre-mentioned organizations; instead, they are acting by their own initiatives, willing to die for the Palestinian National Cause without any recognizable high-level coordination.

The main reason behind this lack of leadership is the failure of both Fatah and Hamas in delivering their promises to give to the Palestinians Jerusalem and to retake the occupied territories. In the past, the only way to climb the social ladder for a young Palestinian was to join one of the pre-mentioned organizations, usually the one controlling their neighbourhood; so, at that time, these groups benefited due to their enormous fame. Nowadays these groups have lost all of their appeal and are facing raging criticism. On the one hand, Palestinian President Abbas’ status is getting precarious and weaker day by day: according to Palestinian Public Opinion Poll No (57) from Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey (PCPSR)

“[…][the] popularity of president Abbas and Fatah declines and two thirds demand the president’s resignation; indeed a majority supports a return to armed intifada”.

President Abbas, in the attempt to regain consensus among his people, while addressing the UN General Assembly for the 70th UN Anniversary, announced that Palestinian Authority will no longer respect the Oslo Accords because of Israel’s missing commitment to the accords since 1993 which many saw as a desperate and unproductive attempt to regain their long-gone popularity. On the other hand, Hamas too is facing lots of criticism. Despite the Islamist organization persistently trying to frame the Gaza Conflict of July 2014 (Operation Protective Edge, as Israel called it) as a victory, the reality (1461 Palestinian civilians killed, a third of them children) told a totally different story. “The extent of the devastation and human suffering in Gaza was unprecedented and will impact generations to come” said Mary McGowan Davis, Commissioner of the United Nations Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza Conflict. Hamas increasingly looks like a dying creature grasping for oxygen which, in order to survive, is willing to do anything, even courting Israel.

This lack of leadership is perhaps the most worrisome aspect of this “Third Intifada” because if there are not two clear factions confronting each other then there is no margin for negotiations, meaning Israel cannot do very much to achieve that military supremacy to get fruitful talks started.

Eventually, for all the aspects highlighted before, this could potentially be the most dangerous uprising since the beginning of the Israeli-Arab Conflicts. These young Palestinians who attack armed only with a knife, perfectly aware they are most likely going to die, are instilling true terror among Israeli civilian people and it is quite likely the Israeli armed response will be more and more forceful day by day. This attitude will only increase violence, exacerbate spirits on both sides and will not lead to a concrete solution.

Gianluca Aquino


Author Biography

Gianluca Aquino holds a law degree from the University of Naples Federico II and is currently doing a Master’s Degree in Economy and the Institutions of Islamic Countries (MISLAM) at LUISS University in Rome. He is particularly interested in geopolitics and analysing national public policies, foreign policy towards regional and global actors and geopolitical dynamics.

Cover image: Michael K. under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Creative Commons license


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