The “Intifada” (literally “throwing off”) was an uprising by the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, taking the form of widespread rioting. It was spontaneous in the sense that the riots did not follow the direction of any organized leadership.
The uprising began in October 1987, when the driver of a Israeli civilian truck passing through a Gaza refugee camp lost control of his vehicle and smashed into an oncoming car, killing four people. Riots broke out throughout the camp and the local Israeli army detachment was attacked by a large crowd throwing rocks and armed with axes and knives. The soldiers responded with teargas and live ammunition, killing one person and wounding thirty, before the rioters were dispersed.
The next day riots erupted on the West Bank, and within a week the violence reached Jerusalem, with youths hurling stones at Jewish houses. Israeli troops poured into the Territories to confront the crowds with teargas.
In addition there were demonstrations, frequently led by women, and with banners in English, and there was also a general strike throughout the Territories, and by workers commuting to Israel, with serious damage to both economies.
A pattern of activity was established, in which streets were blockaded with burning tyres, and young boys and older youths bombarded the Israeli troops with stones, and rocks were dropped from adjacent houses. Occasionally “Molotov cocktail” petrol bombs were thrown at cars and buses.
The Intifada became a spectacular media event, with television crews and press photographers alerted before each violent episode, and massive international coverage.
The Israeli Response
As the rioting grew in intensity, Yitzhak Rabin, as Defence Minister in Shamir’s National Unity Government, attempted to neutralize it quickly. Much publicity was given to his supposed threat to “break the bones” of the rioters. In fact those words, reported throughout the world, were never actually used.