What started the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000?
In July of 2000, Yasser Arafat walked out of the Camp David peace talks and began plans for the armed struggle to resume. On September 27, 2000 Sgt. David Biri, 19, of Jerusalem, was fatally wounded near Netzarim in the Gaza Strip in the explosion of a roadside bomb. The next day in the West Bank city of Kalkilya, a Palestinian police officer working with Israeli police on a joint patrol opened fire and killed his Israeli counterpart. Also on September 28, 2000, Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This visit became the pretext for instigating large scale demonstrations, the start of the al-Aqsa infifada.
Sharon did not attempt to enter any mosques during his 34 minute visit to the Temple Mount, Judaism?s holiest place, which Muslims have renamed Haram al-Sharif. His visit was conducted during normal hours when the area is open to tourists. Palestinian youths ? eventually numbering around 1,500 ? shouted slogans in an attempt to inflame the situation. Some 1,500 Israeli police were present at the scene to forestall violence.
There were limited disturbances during Sharon’s visit, mostly involving stone throwing. During the remainder of the day, outbreaks of stone throwing continued on the Temple Mount and in the vicinity, leaving 28 Israeli policemen injured, three of whom were hospitalized. There are no accounts of Palestinian injuries on that day. Significant and orchestrated violence was initiated by Palestinians the following day after Friday prayers.
In a revealing interview with the London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat (September 29, 2001), Marwan Barghouti, head of the Tanzim, admitted his critical role in igniting the October 2000 intifada in both the West Bank and Gaza, as well as among the Israeli Arabs:
- I knew that the end of September was the last period (of time) before the explosion, but when Sharon reached the al-Aqsa Mosque, this was the most appropriate moment for the outbreak of the intifada….The night prior to Sharon’s visit, I participated in a panel on a local television station and I seized the opportunity to call on the public to go to the al-Aqsa Mosque in the morning, for it was not possible that Sharon would reach al-Haram al-Sharif just so, and walk away peacefully. I finished and went to al-Aqsa in the morning….We tried to create clashes without success because of the differences of opinion that emerged with others in the al-Aqsa compound at the time….After Sharon left, I remained for two hours in the presence of other people, we discussed the manner of response and how it was possible to react in all the cities (bilad) and not just in Jerusalem. We contacted all (the Palestinian) factions.
In the evening of the same day, Barghouti traveled to the Arab Triangle inside Israel where he was to participate in a conference. He confessed:
- While we were in the car on the way to the Triangle, I prepared a leaflet in the name of the Higher Committee of Fatah, coordinated with the brothers (e.g., Hamas), in which we called for a reaction to what happened in Jerusalem.
Imad Falouji, the Palestinian Authority Communications Minister, said at a rally in Lebanon on March 3, 2001,
that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon’s “provocation.” He said:
- Whoever thinks that this [war] started as a result of Sharon’s despicable visit to Al Aksa is in error. It was planned since Arafat’s return from Camp David [where he] firmly stood up to Clinton and rejected the U.S. terms.
The intifada has little to do with Sharon’s visit, and everything to do with the Palistinian Arabs’ political agenda.Sakhr Habash, a member of the Fatah’s Central Committee, gave an interview to the Palestinian Authority newspapger, including this comment on the outbreak:
- [The Intifada] did not break out in order to improve our bargaining ability in the negotiations, nor as a reaction to Sharon’s provocative visit to Al-Haram Al-Sharif: this was only the spark. It was accumulated in the depths of our people and was bound to explode in the face of Barak’s government because of the political problem that was put off for more than a year and a half — the problem of independence.
On September 29, Palestinian Arabs staged large demonstrations and threw stones at police at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Police used rubber-coated metal bullets and live ammunition to disperse the demonstrators, killing 4 persons and injuring approximately 200.
Palestinians began violent demonstrations against IDF soldiers, settlers, and other Israeli civilians throughout the occupied territories; these demonstrations and ensuing clashes are known to Palestinian Arabs and many Israelis as the “al-Aqsa intifada”.
From the beginning, in September 2000, the al-Aqsa intifada developed into the worst period of violence in Israel’s history, excepting only the periods of all-out war with neighboring Arab countries.