Rising of the oppressed: the second Intifada

Issue: 116

Ruth Tenne

Ramzy Baroud, The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle (Pluto, 2006), £15.99

The unique strength of Ramzy Baroud’s book lies in its masterful weaving of personal experience and feelings into a meticulous and powerful account of the second Palestinian uprising. Baroud’s gripping narrative of outrage, desperation and consuming pain pays a memorable homage to the struggle of his own people and to their courageous endurance and resilience.

Baroud was born in a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip and as a young child witnessed “Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to their knees…threatening to beat them if they did not spit upon a photo of Yasser Arafat”. This symbolic act of humiliation has shamefully become an acceptable practice used by Israeli soldiers to humiliate Palestinian children. Yet these degradations were only a prelude to the terrors endured by the Palestinian people during the second Intifada.

The critical factor that ignited the second Palestinian uprising was the provocative visit by the then Israeli defence minister, Ariel Sharon, and his entourage to one of the holiest Islamic sites, Haram Al Sharif, in September 2000. Sharon’s contrived plan to trigger a Palestinian revolt earned him the Israeli premiership through his promotion of an aggressive campaign which “promised to crack down on Palestinian violence in 100 days”. The five years of bloodshed that followed, from September 2000 to September 2005, claimed the lives of 4,166 Palestinians, of whom 886 were children. This was almost four times the number of Israeli fatalities—1,113, including 113 children.

Baroud demonstrates that the Israeli response to the uprising took the shape of “a fierce and calculated assassination policy”, resulting in 554 extra-judicial executions and 253 fatalities of bystanders. He contends that Israeli leaders have violated international law and ought therefore to be indicted under the Hague Convention (1907) and the Geneva Convention (1949). Baroud adds a personal touch to his accounts of Israeli atrocities by telling the story of one innocent child who, although critically injured by bullets lodged in his throat, was prevented from receiving medical treatment in Jordan—resulting in his untimely death a few months later.

“It is only human,” Baroud argues, “following decades of disproportionately dispensed suffering, violence and dispossession that one’s determination to attain freedom would partly concede to an overpowering sense of desperation and raw desire for vengeance.”

The feelings experienced by young Palestinians are not alien to me. Having been brought up on nationalistic Zionist tenets, I am only too familiar with the admiration accorded by many Israelis to the historic Israeli underground movement—Irgun—which in its desperation to get rid of the British Mandate resorted to many acts of sheer sabotage, including the blowing up of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem (1946), resulting in the deaths of dozens of innocent people. Although he understands the root causes of suicide bombing, Baroud observes that “suicide bombing played well into the hands of Israel, thanks in part to the unbalanced and out of context media coverage”. He is also critical of the feud between the Palestinian factions, which offered ammunition to Israel’s argument “that under the current Palestinian leadership a ‘viable’ Palestinian statehood could not possibly be obtained”.

The death of Yasser Arafat in November 2004 and the subsequent rise of Hamas, coupled with Israel’s unilateral “disengagement” from Gaza, signalled the end of the second uprising. Nevertheless, Baroud asserts that “the Palestinian resistance will continue as long as the circumstances that contributed to its commencement remain in place”. His book offers a profound insight into the uprising. But above all it is a compelling book whose compassion could not fail to touch the conscience of the many across the world who have not abandoned their sense of justice and humanity.