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Current Palestinian Intifada Differs From 1987 Uprising - 2002-03-26

Amid efforts to end 18 months of Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, politicians, activists, and analysts compare the level of violence to the 1987 Palestinian Intifada. More than 1,400 Israelis and Palestinians have died in the past 18 months, compared with fewer than 450 victims in the first year and a half of the 1987 uprising.

The 1987 Intifada erupted after four Palestinians were killed when an Israeli truck collided with two vans in Gaza's Jubaliya refugee camp. At the time, Israel administrated and controlled everyday life in the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli soldiers were based in every town, village, and refugee camp.

The traffic accident was the spark that let simmering frustrations boil over into a spontaneous uprising against decades of occupation. Israeli soldiers clashed almost daily with rock-throwing youngsters in a grassroots action that spread like wildfire across the impoverished Gaza Strip and West Bank.

Ze'ev Schiff is defense editor of the Israeli newspaper Ha-aretz. He co-authored a history of the first Intifada. "This was a surprise not only to Israel, but it was a surprise to Yasser Arafat and his group. They were outside, mainly in Tunisia. And this was an uprising by local Palestinians for two main reasons, not just nationalistic, but mainly economic reasons," he said.

The Intifada faded after Arab-Israeli peace talks were launched in 1991. Israeli analysts say international sympathy for the Intifada ended with Yasser Arafat's support for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during the 1991 Gulf War.

But many Palestinians credit the Intifada with seriously challenging Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and paving the way for the 1993 Oslo peace agreements.

In contrast, the present Al Aqsa Intifada, as it is known, has brought the peace process to a screeching halt. It exploded in September of 2000, after a controversial visit by then-Israeli politician Ariel Sharon to a disputed holy site in East Jerusalem.

Fifty-two-year-old Youssef, of Jubaliya camp in Gaza, was jailed for his activities during the first uprising. "This Intifada is more violent, he says. The first one was a popular uprising. This one is more of a military confrontation and has worsened since Ariel Sharon become prime minister," Youssef said.

Gaza psychiatrist Eyad Seraj says it is also more organized and more deadly. "The children of the first Intifada are the militants of this Intifada," he said.

Defense analyst Schiff says Palestinians are no longer throwing stones. Organized militant groups now are launching grenades, mortars, and suicide bombers. And, the fighting is no longer confined to the Palestinian territories. "They are coming to Israel looking for restaurants, looking for wedding parties, in order to explode and inflict casualties among civilians. It is more an armed conflict," the analyst said.

The Israeli response this time is harsher too. F-16 jets and helicopter gunships have pounded Palestinian security installations and targeted suspected terrorists. Tanks and troops have invaded Palestinian villages and refugee camps in the largest military incursion since Israel seized the West Bank and Gaza in 1967.

More than 1,000 Palestinians have died during the past 18 months, compared with about 1,500 during all six years of the first Intifada.

The death toll for Israeli victims is also significantly higher - more than 350, compared to 18 during the first year and a half of 1987 uprising. And that has undermined confidence in Prime Minister Sharon's response to the conflict.

Mr. Schiff says the terror has radicalized both communities. "Both are very frustrated. Both of them are very angry. Both are looking for revenge. Both of them do not trust each other and both are trying to take more extreme steps," he said.

Palestinian human-rights activist Raji Sourani says the 2000 uprising also reflects the depth of Palestinian despair. "The people have nothing to lose, and they have no hope in the process and no hope in the future," Raji Sourani said.

Analysts on both sides are unwilling to predict how this Intifada will end. But Palestinians insist a cease-fire without links to talks about Palestinian statehood will not resolve the crisis.