chapter  15
27 Pages

The Second Palestinian Uprising

On 28 September 2000 Ariel Sharon, the leader of the opposi-tion Likud party, accompanied by Likud members of the Knesset and over one thousand Israeli police officers, visited the al-Aqsa compound in the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, one of Islam’s holiest sites. Sharon had bought two properties in Arab old Jerusalem from which he flew the Israeli flag. At this time he was viewed by Palestinians as the man who in 1953 had been in charge of ‘Unit 101’ that had killed sixty-six Jordanians in the retaliatory Qibya raid, the commander of a division who had handled resistance in the Gaza Strip after the June 1967 War, the man censored by the Israeli Kahn commission for his role in the massacres in the Palestinian camps at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon on 18 September 1982, and who as Housing Minister had initiated a rapid and extensive expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Sharon’s rival in the Likud, Benjamin Netanyahu, had just been freed from prosecution for corruption charges, and possibly Sharon’s motive was to distract attention from a right-wing challenger. The actual visit of Sharon was seen by many Palestinians as an attempt to assert Israeli sovereignty over an Islamic shrine, but only resulted in scuffles and the throwing of stones. Ehud Barak, the Israeli Prime Minister, had ignored the pleas of Palestinian and American officials to stop Sharon’s visit: Barak possibly saw the visit as a challenge to his own credibility. On 29 September, after Friday prayers, in response to Palestinian demonstrations in the al-Aqsa compound, Israeli forces shot seven Palestinians and wounded over 200. Television cameras picked up the death of a twelve-year-old Palestinian at Gaza’s Netzarim road junction from forty-five minutes of continuous Israeli fire. This sparked what Palestinians saw as a mass revolt, led by the Tanzim, an organization of Arafat’s Al-Fatah movement. The Israeli

leadership viewed the response as one orchestrated by Arafat as the first stage in a Palestinian war of independence. Israeli helicopter gunships and anti-tank missiles struck apartment blocks in Gaza and snipers singled out individual Palestinians: by the end of October 127 Palestinians had been killed and 5,000 injured.1