March 29, 2002
In September 2000, following the breakdown of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians at Camp David, the Palestinians launched the Second Intifada. The Intifada would last almost five years with major Palestinian terrorist attacks hitting Israeli civilian centers, killing dozens and wounding hundreds of Israelis. Despite large scale terrorist attacks in 2001, for the most part, Israel had exercised restraint in putting down the Intifada at the urging of American and European diplomats. Terrorism would peak during March 2002 forcing Israel to rethink its approach. A bombing by Hamas terrorists at a Passover Seder in Netanya on March 27th, in which thirty people were killed, was particularly brutal. Despite Yasser Arafat’s call for a ceasefire following the Passover attack, terrorist attacks continued for the next two days in Jerusalem and Elon Moreh.
Israel’s Cabinet met and released the following statement: “”The Cabinet met last night in special session against the background of the severe escalation in Palestinian terror. The Cabinet approved, in principle, a wide-ranging operational action plan against Palestinian terror. Israel will act to defeat the infrastructure of Palestinian terror in all its parts and components; to this end, broad action will be undertaken until this goal is secured. Arafat – who set up a coalition of terror against Israel – is an enemy; at this stage, he will be isolated. The Cabinet approved the mobilization of reserves as per operational need.”
Thirty thousand reserve troops were called up as part of Operation Defensive Shield and, within a few days, Israel had gained control of most West Bank cities and had killed or captured many responsible for planning the terror attacks. Yasser Arafat was isolated and confined to his compound in Ramallah (the siege of which is shown in the photo). On April 15th, Israel arrested Marwan Barghouti, the most senior official of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and the man responsible for planning many of the terrorist attacks. Most significantly, the IDF seized computers and recovered hundreds of internal Palestinian documents which showed support for terrorist attacks among key PLO leaders, including Yasser Arafat. Evidence showed that Arafat himself had authorized payments to terrorists and used money from the Palestinian Authority treasury to supply and support the terrorist infrastructure.
The campaign ended on April 17th, after increased pressure from the international community to end the operation quickly. Shortly after Operation Defensive Shield ended, the Israeli government decided to construct the West Bank Security Barrier – a series of fences, walls, and checkpoints to deter future terror attacks.