The Intifada was the last anti-colonial uprising of the 20th century, following the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya, the Algerian revolution and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, amongst others.
In December 1987, the population of Gaza and the West Bank initiated simultaneous mass demonstrations and a general strike aimed at saying, loud and clear, to the whole world and to the Israeli population in particular, “enough is enough! We don’t want Israeli occupation anymore! We want to be free!" Intifada was indeed the best Arabic concept to describe what was happening: it expresses the attempt of the horse to overthrow its rider. The general strike lasted for three years—daily demonstrations and confrontations with the occupation forces forced Israeli and international public opinion to acknowledge the obvious: the occupation has not been normalized and the Palestinian population is united in its demand to end it, now.
The price paid by the Palestinian insurgents was extremely high: in 30 months, more than 1,200 unarmed civilians, men, women and especially children, were murdered by the Israeli military. Nevertheless, their struggle paid off: Israeli public opinion gradually changed and a strong solidarity movement developed that ultimately forced the government to end its rejectionist policy and to open negotiations with the PLO, with the goal of ending two decades of occupation-colonization. In the international arena, the Palestinian demand for freedom and sovereignty was endorsed not only by popular public opinion, but—with the obvious exception of the US—by the international community too.
In 1991, Israel started indirect negotiations with the PLO, negotiations which became direct in 1992 under the general title of “The Oslo Process.” Indeed, the Intifada brought about a process of political negotiations aimed at the decolonization of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel in June 1967. The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the coming to power of the Israeli neocons (Netanyahu), combined with the global recolonization strategy of their US counterparts, put an end to that decolonization. From 1999 onwards, Ehud Barak and, later, Ariel Sharon, launched a war of reconquest and destroyed the (limited) achievements of the Intifada.
I put “first Intifada” in quotations, because I strongly deny that there was a second one! In fact, what is usually described as “The Second Intifada” is exactly the opposite of the first one. While the Intifada was a Palestinian initiative, an anti-colonial uprising, the so-called Second Intifada is an Israeli offensive, planned for a long time by the Israeli military in order to reconquer what had been gained by the Intifada. The “Second Intifada" is not an Intifada, but an “anti-Intifada.”
The year 2000 is a global turning point, marking the end of the decolonization era and the start of the global war of recolonization, the so-called War on Terror. The Israeli-Palestinian negotiating process was caught right in the middle: it started as the last decolonization process (with a Nobel Prize for its main actors) and ended as the first “battle against international terrorism,” a code name for the global offensive against progressive movements throughout the world (with Yasser Arafat being relabeled as “terrorist,” disqualified and imprisoned in his headquarters in Ramallah until his death).
The fact that there were very few commemorations for the anniversary of the Intifada testifies to the severe setback that characterizes these last years for the Palestinian national liberation movement. The worse thing to do is to close our eyes to this reality: we have to be aware of the changes in the relations of forces, internationally as well as locally, not to sink into despair and demoralization, but to adapt our expectations and strategies to the actual reality, to reorganize our own ranks and to prepare for future offensives. The heroic and successful resistance of Hezbollah to the Israeli war in summer 2006 provides us with living and inspiring evidence that the might and the arrogance of our enemies is definitively not a proof of their invincibility. There will be a second Intifada, and sooner than they are expecting.