The conflict between the Israeli armed forces and the Palestinian population in the occupied territories
and the West Bank
which eventually brought about the peace talks
between the two sides.
The Intifada started as a series of violent demonstrations, with Palestinian children and youth throwing stones and molotov cocktail bottles at Israeli patrols. It became more and more violent, however, as time went on, and many were killed on both sides. The IDF utilized many anti-riot techniques, such as the rubber bullets, which it should not have done. For a long time killings and injuries of Palestinians caused through bad decision making and confusing standing orders (which kept changing, as no one knew what to do) were hushed up, and some of the culprits have never been brought to trial. Sanctions on the Palestinian population at large became more and more strict as the violence escalated.
Many Palestinian towns, such as Bethlehem, which were prosperous before the insurgence, lost their Israeli clientelle as well as being now unsafe for tourists. At the same time, the Israelies were restricting the number of people with work permits inside Israel more and more, for security reasons. Poverty lead to anger, which lead to more violence. Many schools and almost all of the universities in the West Bank were closed at one time or another, under the pretext that they were breeding grounds for trouble makers. One can only imagine what long-term damage this has caused to the Palestinian population, now struggling to maintain a normal regime with its own doctors, lawyers and teachers.
At the same time, the Israeli populace lived in fear for its recruits patrolling the Palestinian towns virtually unprotected. The Palestinians were no suckers - they would send out 10 year old children to throw molotov cocktails and grenades - not just once, but as a regular tactic. Many children were hurt and killed, the soldiers who shot them traumatised for life. The alternative was to stand there and take the grenade. The situation in South Lebanon was worsening all the time, more and more soldiers were being killed. Three went just from my year in highschool.
Stone throwing on passing cars and buses was an everyday occurance, stabbings in the Old City of Jerusalem happened weekly. In time there were more and more shootings on vehicles passing through Palestinian villages and towns, the tragic side effect of which was that some people shot back (if anyone has been wondering why I have such a bee in my bonnet about guns not being a good protective measure, this is it.), and with lethal accuracy.
The worst legacy of the Intifada are the terrorist organisations which sprung up to fill the void left by the now-legitimised PLO. The Hamas and the Islamic Front are here to stay. They wield power, deadly power, and Palestinian state or not, they are unlikely to just roll over and give it up. Many of the disgruntled ex-operatives of the PLO make up their senior rank. Many extremists within the population still harbour them with pride.
On the Israeli side, there is much bitterness and a great sense of loss. It is felt by the majority of the population that as long as Hamas are still sending buses flying into the air in the centres of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, as long as we still have knifing attacks and bomb attacks, shootings and kidnappings, there can be and should be no peace agreement. On the Palestinian side, many feel that there can be no question of amity without the refugees being granted property rights for their ancestral homes in places like Jaffa, Lod and Ramle (well within the '48 borders of Israel these days).
We can only hope that the years of conflict and suffering have taught us all a lesson. That the citizens of Bethlehem like their new plazas and re-opened shopping centres more than they hate the Israeli soldiers at the outpost of Rachel's Grave. That Israeli Jews enjoy having safe access to the holy places in the West Bank more than they hate the people who live there.
The establishments on both sides are at once weak, divided and corrupt. It is for the people on both sides to make what they can of the opportunity for peace. Unfortunately it doesn't look like they know what it is that they are letting slip away.
Update: 22 July 2004
This was written just before the breakout of the "second Intifada", the far deadlier conflict that has been raging in the area for the past 3 years. It does seem to have been strangely prophetic, and it saddens me to read it now because all the probelms and obstacles on the road to peace between Israel and Palestine have since only been exaserbated to such a degree that any hope I may have had in 2000 for peace between the two nations is all but gone now, a defiant flicker in a resigned heart.