First Intifada Breaks Out
Members of the border police patrolling the Kasba in Nablus, January 23, 1990. Photo: Knesset

December 9, 1987

Riots erupt in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in what comes to be recognized as the start of the First Intifada, an Arabic word meaning “awakening.” The immediate cause of the rioting is a crash the previous day in which an Israeli army truck runs head-on into Palestinian traffic near the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing four Palestinians and injuring seven others. Arabs suspect that the collision is not an accident but instead is retaliation for the stabbing death of a Jewish businessman shopping in Gaza on Dec. 6.

The confrontations between Palestinians armed with knives, axes, Molotov cocktails and stones and Israeli troops responding with tear gas and live gunfire are deadly from the outset, with one Palestinian 17-year-old killed on the first day and at least 16 other Arabs wounded. The protests escalate rapidly, unleashing 20 years of anger at the Israeli presence in Gaza and the West Bank. On Dec. 16, the Gaza director for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, Bernard Mills, says, “We’re in a situation of either total lawlessness or a popular uprising.”

The Palestine Liberation Organization works with small, local resistance groups to foment protests and counter Israeli responses. Mass violence sweeps Jerusalem, where young Palestinians attack Jewish neighborhoods, Israeli troops respond with force, and crowds attack each other. The Palestinians also deploy economic tactics, including boycotts of Israeli products and labor strikes that cripple the Israeli citrus and construction industries. By February 1988, Israel is spending $5 million a day to deploy extra troops in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli businesses are losing an estimated $19 million a day. Tourism is cut in half by the summer of 1988, and the Bank of Israel reports a $650 million decline in exports in 1988.

The First Intifada weakens during the Gulf War in early 1991 and is generally seen as ending with the Madrid peace conference at the end of October 1991, although some see the conclusion as the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. From Dec. 9, 1987, to the end of 1991, nearly 900 Palestinians and 100 Israelis are killed