Confronting Israel with stones and courage

Israeli soldiers detain a Palestinian man while on patrol in Gaza during the first intifada.

Patrick Robert Corbis

The people of Gaza took pride in confronting their occupier during the first intifada.

Around noon each day, young men would gather at the entrance of Maghazi refugee camp. When an Israeli tank passed, they would pelt it with stones.

Israel responded by using cannons that were capable of firing the rocks back at the camp’s residents. But the young men kept on resisting.

Amin Abu Mandeel, a resident of Maghazi in central Gaza, recalled how he used to fill bottles with urine and excrement and then hurl them at Israeli soldiers.

When Israel imposed a curfew on the camp, Abu Mandeel and some other youth hid on nearby farmland. After they managed to throw stones at Israeli soldiers, the youth would flee into an orchard and take cover amid its trees.

“We were defying them, as much as we could,” said Abu Mandeel.

The first intifada broke out 30 years ago this month. It erupted in Gaza before spreading to other parts of Palestine.

Muhammad Ali Ismail – also living in Maghazi – lost his father, Ali, in the incident that catalyzed the uprising.

Ali was one of four Palestinians killed when an Israeli truck crashed into two cars.

It was widely believed among Palestinians that the collision was deliberate.

“I feel so proud that my father was one of the first martyrs,” said Muhammad.

Backdrop of brutality

The incident took place against a backdrop of brutality. Earlier in 1987, for example, an official Israeli commission authorized the use of “physical pressure” – a euphemism for torture – on detainees.

In early October of that year, schoolchildren and university students in Gaza had gone on strike to protest at how Israel killed three people near al-Bureij refugee camp. The protest was attacked by Israeli forces.

Similar demonstrations were held in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. For example, a general strike was called when George Shultz, then US secretary of state, visited Jerusalem in October that year.

On 29 November 1987 – the international day of solidarity with the Palestinian people – Israel shot protesters in both Gaza and the West Bank. A number of young people were also shot two days later during protests in the Khan Younis area of Gaza.

Despite being a child, Muhammad helped the uprising. During its later stages, he was assigned by young men to monitor the whereabouts of Israeli soldiers.

On one occasion, he was stopped by Israeli troops. “A soldier asked me why I was in the street,” he said. “By then, my mother had come over and rescued me from the soldier.”

Community spirit

Wasif Abu Mashayikh, another resident of Maghazi, noted the strong community spirit that was evident during the intifada. Examples of cooperation ranged from providing food and drink to those involved to rallying around the families of people killed by the Israeli military.

“All forms of enjoyment would be halted – including wedding parties – when someone was killed,” he said. “That is how solidarity was shown to people who were killed or wounded.”

Muhammad Abu Sisi, who lives in Jabaliya refugee camp, north of Gaza City, recalled that news traveled fast of the collision on 8 December 1987.

“The next day all schoolchildren in the area came out to protest around the Israeli military posts,” he said.

His brother Hatim was one of the first young people killed by Israeli troops during the intifada. “He was hit by a live bullet right in his chest,” Muhammad said.

The ceremonies paying tribute to Hatim lasted for many days. The Israeli military “tried to force us to wrap them up,” Muhammad said. “Apparently, they wanted to contain our anger.”

If that was the military’s intention, then its efforts failed. Daily confrontations against Israeli soldiers continued, even when young Palestinians were killed and seriously wounded.

Many people in Gaza displayed great courage during the uprising.

Latifa al-Taluli – also known as Um Suhail – lives in the center of Jabaliya camp. Confrontations between local youth and the Israeli army often took place next to her home.

When one young man was captured, she and a neighboring woman “snatched him back off the Israeli soldiers,” she said.

“We had an important role,” she added. “If we wanted to help rescue a young man, we would pretend that he was our son.”

More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces between 1987 and the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993. At times during the intifada, more than 200,000 people in Gaza and 1 million in the West Bank were placed under total curfew.

On a positive note, the first intifada exemplified the resourcefulness of Palestinians. With schools and universities closed, communities organized their own classes in homes and houses of worship, undeterred by Israel’s violent efforts to thwart such gatherings.

By confronting Israel with little more than stones and courage, Palestinians made the outside world aware of their struggle for justice and equality. The widespread protests witnessed in response to last week’s announcement by Donald Trump, the US president, on Jerusalem underscore how that struggle is still very much alive.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.