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What were the intifadas?

They were two Palestinian uprisings against Israel.

Masked Palestinian youths place slogans near pictures of Palestinians who died during violence. There has been a wave of mainly stabbing attacks by Palestinians against Israelis that have raised concerns of a full-blown uprising akin to the first and second intifadas.
Mahmud Hams/AFP/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

The intifadas were two Palestinian uprisings against Israel, the first in the late 1980s and the second in the early 2000s. The intifadas had a dramatic effect on Israeli-Palestinian relations; the second, in particular, is widely seen as marking the end of the 1990s era negotiating process and ushering in a new, darker era in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The first intifada was a largely spontaneous series of Palestinian demonstrations, nonviolent actions like mass boycotts and Palestinians refusing to work jobs in Israel, and attacks (using rocks, Molotov cocktails, and occasionally firearms) on Israelis. Palestinian fatalities dramatically outpaced Israeli ones, as the Israeli military responded to the protests and attacks with heavy force.

The second, and far bloodier, intifada grew out of the collapse of the peace process in 2000. Negotiations between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat broke down, and the intifada began shortly afterwards. Typically, Israelis blame a conscious decision by Arafat to turn to violence for the intifada’s onset, while Palestinians point to an intentionally provocative visit to the contested Temple Mount by Israeli politician (and soon to be Prime Minister) Ariel Sharon. While both Arafat and Sharon played some part, the central cause was likely a basic mistrust between the two sides that made war inevitable after peace talks broke down.

The spark that lit this powder keg was a series of Palestinian demonstrations that Israeli soldiers fired on. Palestinian militants subsequently escalated to broader violence, and the PA refused to rein them in.

Unlike with the first intifada, Palestinian tactics centered on suicide bombings, rocket attacks, and sniper fire — which Israel met with even deadlier force. The conflict petered out in 2005, but not before about 1,000 Israelis and 3,200 Palestinians were killed.

The second intifada, together with the wave of rocket fire from Gaza after the Hamas takeover, had a transformative effect on Israeli attitudes toward the conflict. The Israeli peace camp’s traditional argument, that Israel would be eventually rewarded for trading land for peace, became significantly less popular. Skepticism of the peace process grew, complicating future efforts to arrive at a two-state agreement.

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