Roots of Resistance: Israeli repression reminiscent of the first intifada may provoke a new uprising

Israel/Palestine
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Israeli soldiers torture Palestinians during the first intifada. (Warning: Graphic)

This post is part of the series “Roots of Resistance: 25 year retrospective on the first intifada.” Read the entire series here.

Yesterday, two Israeli ministers initiated a request within the Knesset that, if approved, would permit the Israeli army the right to use live ammunition against Palestinian civilian demonstrators. If passed, such a ruling sets a dangerous standard in place for all Palestinians committed to nonviolently resisting Israel’s occupation.

However, Israel’s use of live ammunition on unarmed Palestinian civilians is by no means a new tactic. In fact, it is eerily reminiscent of the days of the First Intifada, the 25th anniversary of which we celebrated just three days ago. While working as a medical doctor in occupied Palestine, I had to provide medical care and organize first aid teams to help the thousands of young people shot and injured by the Israeli army. Many of them were shot in the back, leaving them paralyzed from the waist down. Those were the lucky ones, however. The unlucky ones ended up suffering fatal gunshot wounds to the head.

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A Palestinian woman outside Gaza’s Ansar II prison camp,
January 8, 1988. (Photo: Sven Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

During the six years of our First Intifada, 1,200 Palestinianins—237 of which were children—were killed by the Israeli military and over 120,000 were imprisoned. Moreover, in just the first two years of the, approximately 29,900 children required medical treatment for injuries caused by beatings from Israeli soldiers, according to data compiled by the IMEU.

The systematic brutality of the Israeli army in those days cannot accurately be described.

Demonstrators who were caught by the Israeli army had the bones in their hands shattered to pieces with rifle butts. Yitzak Rabin, the Minister of Defense in 1987 and subsequent Nobel Peace Prize winner, had given explicit orders to his troops instructing them to break the limbs of Palestinians participating in the uprising. The order was unerringly carried out and eventually exposed on by video tape displaying four Israeli soldiers using stones to break the bones of two young Palestinian men they had just detained. The clip can be seen in the second part of the video above.

During this period, in April of 1988, I accompanied four physicians with American Physicians for Human Rights, three of which were Jewish-American doctors, who came to the territories in order to document and expose the grave violations committed by Israel against Palestinian civil rights activists. They came in response to the wide number of injuries and the then Israeli run health care system’s inability or, more probably, lack of will to appropriately treat them. At the time, the Israeli government was in complete charge of the territories as well as its health system. To glimpse the situation briefly, at the time Israel was allocating $600 USD in health services for every Israeli citizen and just $18 USD to every Palestinian citizen for the same purposes. Our health care system just couldn’t handle the number of injuries.

For that reason, we organized and trained thousands of first aid volunteers in order to meet our struggling population’s needs. Any demonstrator taken to a hospital was at risk of being arrested, so we organized a community based first aid system and popular blood bank that operated within people’s homes and small informal clinics within the villages. We went from house to house, compiling a comprehensive blood donor network – a database we compiled on our first ever computer, a 286 Dos, one of the few computers in the entire country at the time.

Whenever someone was injured, we would check their blood type against our database and call up the appropriate donors; however, soon enough, our doctors had to pay the price for their humanitarian work.  In response to our grassroots efforts in treating the wounded without informing the occupying Israeli authorities, the Israeli army began to arrest and jail our medical doctors. Doctors such as Mahmoud Brighith, the current Director General of the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) as well as Mohammad Abushi, the director of PMRS in the Tulkaram area, were both arrested for over a year for treating injured people without a permit from the Israeli army.

I will never forget the images of those who were viciously killed while peacefully demonstrating for our freedom. I will never forget the image of the young man who was shot and killed while climbing a street light in an attempt to hang the Palestinian flag. All he wanted to do was raise our flag.

So many sacrifices were made. If history was just, the first Intifada should have brought us our independence. If it wasn’t for Oslo, that awful trap into which the Palestinian leadership fell and which subsequently dragged this conflict on for the last twenty years and counting, today we would probably be living in freedom and peace in a sovereign Palestinian state via the full implementation of the two state solution. 

Instead, we have seen Israeli settlements rise exponentially  over the last 19 years. Israel’s illegal settler population has more than doubled since the beginning of Oslo and now lies somewhere in the realm of 550,000 in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

And now the Israeli army is officially allowing its soldiers to shoot peaceful civilian demonstrators, in addition to ramping up its settlement activity and withholding Palestinian tax dollars. To me, these aggressive actions seem to be the type of constant provocations that would push things towards a third Intifada—hopefully a peaceful nonviolent one through which we will achieve what should have been achieved twenty years ago, a just and lasting peace with dignity and full sovereignty.

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