Intifadas: What you need to know

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem could spark a "third intifada," Hamas leaders say. But what exactly is an intifada, and what did the first two mean for the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians? DW has the facts.

What is an intifada?

In English, the word intifada is often translated as a "rebellion" or "uprising," but the original meaning in Arabic is closer to "shaking off" or "getting rid of" someone or something. When intifada is used in the context of the decades of fighting between the Palestinians and Israelis, it means an organized, both grassroots- and politically-backed uprising of local Palestinians against the Israeli military. The opposing sides already fought two such conflicts. The first one started in 1987 and ended in 1993, and the second one, far bloodier, broke out in 2000 and lasted for over four years.

Politics | 16.12.2017

Angered over Donald Trump's decision to move the US embassy to from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the militant Palestinian group Hamas is now calling for a third intifada.

Israel claims Jerusalem as its capital. However, Palestinian officials also claim that East Jerusalem, currently occupied by Israel, should become the capital of a future Palestinian state. Moving the US embassy to Israel in Jerusalem is seen as the US openly taking Israel's side.

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Who are Hamas?

Hamas is a militant, Islamist Palestinian faction that incorporates both a political and a military wing. It is also the second-largest political force in the occupied Palestinian territories, behind the less hawkish Fatah. The two groups are working on bridging their divide to form a unity government.

Hamas denies Israel's right to exist and has called for the destruction of the Jewish state. It has fought several wars against Israel in recent years, including the bloody conflict in the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014. The faction also committed a range of terror strikes and suicide bombings against Israeli targets.

Hamas was founded in 1987, in the opening year of the first intifada.

Read more: What are Fatah and Hamas?

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What was the first intifada?

The beginning: The first intifada started on December 8, 1987 when an Israeli military truck crashed into a civilian car transporting Palestinian workers who were waiting to return to the Gaza Strip. Four Palestinians were killed in the collision. While the Israelis maintained that the driver lost control of his vehicle, many Arab observers believe that the truck intentionally rammed the vehicle, seeking revenge for a deadly stabbing that claimed the life of an Israeli some days earlier. The preceding months were characterized by simmering violence on both sides.

Yassir Arafat Porträt Archiv 2003

Yasser Arafat led the PLO until his death in 2004

The escalation: The deaths of the Palestinian workers prompted violent riots against Israeli soldiers, who repeatedly used live rounds against the crowds. The violence escalated in the following days, with protesters raising barricades and pelting Israeli vehicles with stones. While the unrest was initially spontaneous, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) led by the late Yasser Arafat soon started directing the events.

Read more: Palestinians protest against US recognizing Jerusalem as Israel's capital

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At the same time, many Palestinians also refused to go to work in Israel, pay taxes or buy Israeli products, among other acts of civil disobedience. The opening of the first intifada also saw the birth of Hamas, which was founded by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin with the aid of the Muslim Brotherhood and religious members of the PLO.

Israel launched a crackdown in occupied areas to quell the revolt. Israeli forces imposed curfews and notably used beatings, torture and mass arrests — exacerbating the conflict.

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The ending and death toll: After years of violence, the first intifada ended with the signing of the Oslo Accords between the Israeli government and the PLO in 1993. The document created the Palestinian Authority and enabled a measure of self-governance in the occupied regions, but it was rejected by Hamas.

While estimates of the death tolls differ among various sources, Israeli NGO B'Tselem claims that 1,203 Palestinians were killed by the end of 1993, compared to 179 Israelis. Israel's brutal crackdown also seriously damaged its international reputation.

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UN Security Council Resolution 242, 1967

United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, passed on November 22, 1967, called for the exchange of land for peace. Since then, many of the attempts to establish peace in the region have referred to 242. The resolution was written in accordance with Chapter VI of the UN Charter, under which resolutions are recommendations, not orders.

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Camp David Accords, 1978

A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, fought Israel in the Yom Kippur or October War in October 1973. The conflict eventually led to the secret peace talks that yielded two agreements after 12 days. This picture from March 26, 1979, shows Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, his US counterpart Jimmy Carter and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin after signing the accords in Washington.

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The Madrid Conference, 1991

The US and the former Soviet Union came together to organize a conference in the Spanish capital city of Madrid. The discussions involved Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestinians — not from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) — who met with Israeli negotiators for the first time. While the conference achieved little, it did create the framework for later, more productive talks.

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Oslo I Accord, 1993

The negotiations in Norway between Israel and the PLO, the first direct meeting between the two parties, resulted in the the Oslo I Accord. The agreement was signed in the US in September 1993. It demanded that Israeli troops withdraw from West Bank and Gaza and a self-governing, interim Palestinian authority be set up for a five-year transitional period. A second accord was signed in 1995.

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Camp David Summit Meeting, 2000

US President Bill Clinton invited Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to the retreat in July 2000 to discuss borders, security, settlements, refugees and Jerusalem. Despite the negotiations being more detailed than ever before, no agreement was concluded. The failure to reach a consensus at Camp David was followed by renewed Palestinian uprising, the Second Intifada.

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The Arab Peace Initiative, 2002

The Camp David negotiations were followed first by meetings in Washington and then in Cairo and Taba, Egypt — all without results. Later the Arab League proposed the Arab Peace Initiative in Beirut in March 2002. The plan called on Israel to withdraw to pre-1967 borders so that a Palestinian state could be set up in the West Bank and Gaza. In return, Arab countries would agree to recognize Israel.

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The Roadmap, 2003

The US, EU, Russia and the UN worked together as the Middle East Quartet to develop a road map to peace. While Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas accepted the text, his Israeli counterpart Ariel Sharon had more reservations with the wording. The timetable called for a final agreement on a two-state solution to be reached in 2005. Unfortunately, it was never implemented.

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Annapolis, 2007

In 2007 US President George W. Bush hosted a conference in Annapolis, Maryland, to relaunch the peace process. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took part in talks with officials from the Quartet and over a dozen Arab states. It was agreed that further negotiations would be held with the goal of reaching a peace deal by the end of 2008.

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Washington, 2010

In 2010, US Middle East Envoy George Mitchell convinced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to and implement a ten-month moratorium on settlements in disputed territories. Later, Netanyahu and Abbas agreed to relaunch direct negotiations to resolve all issues. Negotiations began in Washington in September 2010, but within weeks there was a deadlock.

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Cycle of escalation and ceasefire continues

A new round of violence broke out in and around Gaza late 2012. A ceasefire was reached between Israel and those in power in the Gaza Strip, which held until June 2014. The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in June 2014 resulted in renewed violence and eventually led to the Israeli military operation Protective Edge. It ended with a ceasefire on August 26, 2014.

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Paris Summit, 2017

Envoys from over 70 countries gathered in Paris, France, to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu slammed the discussions as "rigged" against his country. Neither Israeli nor Palestinian representatives attended the summit. "A two-state solution is the only possible one," French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said at the opening of the event.

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Deteriorating relations in 2017

Despite the year's optimistic opening, 2017 brought further stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. A deadly summer attack on Israeli police at the Temple Mount, a site holy to both Jews and Muslims, sparked deadly clashes. Then US President Donald Trump's plan to move the embassy to Jerusalem prompted Palestinian leader Abbas to say "the measures ... undermine all peace efforts."

What was the second intifada?

The beginning: On September 28, 2000, Israeli politician Ariel Sharon visited the Israeli-occupied areas of East Jerusalem, triggering the second intifada. Palestinian leaders saw the visit as Israel laying claim to both the occupied territories and Islam's holy sites at Jerusalem's Temple Mount. While Sharon served as opposition leader in Israel's parliament at the time of the visit, he was elected prime minister several months later. The move also fed pre-existing resentment among the Palestinians, linked to the breakdown of peace talks in Camp David in July 2000.

Sharon visited the Temple Mount under massive police escort, but reportedly steered clear of the renowned Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was also at the center of the repeated outbreaks of violence in 2016 and 2017. Still, his visit sparked riots and condemnation in the Palestinian media. Protesters attacked hundreds of police officers guarding Sharon and his fellow lawmakers. The violence escalated quickly once again, and two days later a shootout in the Gaza Strip claimed the life of 12-year-old Muhammad al-Durrah in a widely publicized incident.

The escalation: Hamas declared October 6, 2000, a "day of rage" and called on Palestinians to attack Israeli army outposts, further escalating the conflict, which continued for years.

Unlike the first intifada, which saw Palestinians use mostly stones and Molotov cocktails against the Israeli forces, the second mass uprising saw Hamas and other jihadist groups fight gunbattles with Israeli soldiers and shell Israeli towns. Both sides also engaged in high-profile assassinations.

Read more: Trump's Jerusalem decision sparks global outcry

Notably, Hamas used suicide bombers to kill Israeli civilians. Their targets included buses, restaurants and hotels.

In turn, Israel launched airstrikes against targets in Gaza and large-scale military attacks in the occupied territories. The intifada also prompted Israeli officials to start constructing the large "anti-terror" barrier.

The ending and death toll: The Israeli daily Haaretz estimates that some 1,330 Israelis were killed and also notes 3,330 victims on the Palestinian side in the five years of fighting. While the second intifada has no clearly determined end date, some observers point to the death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 as the decisive moment. However, lethal attacks continued for months after his death.

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Jerusalem, the city of David

According to the Old Testament, David, king of the two partial kingdoms of Judah and Israel, won Jerusalem from the Jebusites around 1000 BC. He moved his seat of government to Jerusalem, making it the capital and religious center of his kingdom. The Bible says David's son Solomon built the first temple for Yahweh, the God of Israel. Jerusalem became the center of Judaism.

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Under Persian rule

The Neo-Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar II (3rd from the left) conquered Jerusalem in 597 and again in 586 BC, as the Bible says. He took King Jehoiakim (5th from the right) and the Jewish upper class into captivity, sent them to Babylon and destroyed the temple. After Persian king Cyrus the Great seized Babylon, he allowed the exiled Jews to return home to Jerusalem and to rebuild their temple.

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Under Roman and Byzantine rule

The Roman Empire ruled Jerusalem from the year 63 AD. Resistance movements rapidly formed among the population, so that in 66 AD, the First Jewish–Roman War broke out. The war ended 4 years later, with a Roman victory and another destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. The Romans and Byzantines ruled Palestine for approximately 600 years.

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Conquest by the Arabs

Over the course of the Islamic conquest of Greater Syria, Muslim armies also reached Palestine. By order of the Caliph Umar (in the picture), Jerusalem was besieged and captured in the year 637 AD. In the following era of Muslim rule, various, mutually hostile and religiously divided rulers presided over the city. Jerusalem was often besieged and changed hands several times.

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The Crusades

From 1070 AD onward, the Muslim Seljuk rulers increasingly threatened the Christian world. Pope Urban II called for the First Crusade, which took Jerusalem in 1099 AD. Over a period of 200 years a total of nine crusades set out to conquer the city as it changed hands between Muslim and Christian rule. In 1244 AD the crusaders finally lost control of the city and it once again became Muslim.

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The Ottomans and the British

After the conquest of Egypt and Arabia by the Ottomans, Jerusalem became the seat of an Ottoman administrative district in 1535 AD. In its first decades of Ottoman rule, the city saw a clear revival. With a British victory over Ottoman troops in 1917 AD, Palestine fell under British rule. Jerusalem went to the British without a fight.

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The divided city

After World War II, the British gave up their Palestinian Mandate. The UN voted for a division of the country in order to create a home for the survivors of the Holocaust. Some Arab states then went to war against Israel and conquered part of Jerusalem. Until 1967, the city was divided into an Israeli west and a Jordanian east.

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East Jerusalem goes back to Israel

In 1967, Israel waged the Six-Day War against Egypt, Jordan and Syria. Israel took control of the Sinai, the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. Israeli paratroopers gained access to the Old City and stood at the Wailing Wall for the first time since 1949. East Jerusalem is not officially annexed, but rather integrated into the administration.

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Muslim pilgrimage to Israel

Israel has not denied Muslims access to its holy places. The Temple Mount is under an autonomous Muslim administration; Muslims can enter, visit the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa mosque and pray there.

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Unresolved status

Jerusalem remains to this day an obstacle to peace between Israel and Palestine. In 1980, Israel declared the whole city its "eternal and indivisible capital." After Jordan gave up its claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1988, the state of Palestine was proclaimed. Palestine also declares, in theory, Jerusalem as its capital.