Four years on, what are the conclusions?

By Danny Rabinowitz


Tishrei 17, 5765

We need reminding of the reasons for the events of October, 2000. First, there was the surge in the identification of young Arabs in Israel with Palestinian nationalism, which turned into an angry wave of distrust after Israel's behavior at Camp David in the summer of 2000.

Second is the feeling of structural discrimination that increases the despair of the Arab population. This moderated in Yitzhak Rabin's time but waxed even stronger during the tenures of prime ministers Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak as they perpetuated civil inequality and blocked prosperity.

Third, there was the mistaken concept was adopted by the police, according to which the Arab population had chosen a path of confrontation with the state - a concept that eventually became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But alongside the core processes it is important to understand the sequence of events of the weekend of the 28th of September to October 1, 2000, to identify their weight in lighting the fires and to draw conclusions from them for the future.

Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount on Thursday, September 28, was accompanied by a large presence of security forces, who clashed with demonstrators. The escalation came on the following day, September 29, when a large number of Palestinians came for Friday prayers on the mount, to protest Sharon's visit. The demonstrations got out of control, the police station on the mount was attacked and at the end of the day there were first seven fatalities of the Al Aqsa intifada.

The next day, Saturday, September 30, there were dozens of clashes in the territories with the IDF, which left 20 Palestinian dead, including the child Muhammad Dura. The boy who was shot dead, and his helpless father trying to protect him, symbolized two generations that had grown up under the occupation and were now falling, in front of the camera, victims of Palestinian inferiority and Israeli strength.

The chilling pictures from the Netzarim junction created among the Arabs of Israel a rare moment of spontaneous unity and a wave of solidarity that was looking for an outlet. The Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee in Israel met on the Saturday night for panicky discussions but with limited options.

The declaration of a general strike for the next day, the last day of the Rosh Hashanah vacation, was the easy part. The real challenge was to divert the boiling tempers into a safe path of protest. When an event is expected, the monitoring committee announces weeks in advance a central location or two for demonstrations and rallies and makes sure they will be approved and organized by local councils in coordination with the police.

In the early autumn of 2000, there was no time to organize a central rally. Instead it was decided to hold demonstrations and protest marches across the community centers. In retrospect, it is clear that the decision led to spontaneous demonstrations, without a directing hand, which got out of control on the ground.

In the defense of the Supreme Arab Monitoring Committee, it must be said that on September 30, the option that police would fire live bullets at demonstrators, something that had not happened since March, 1978, never occurred to the committee members and was not discussed.

On Sunday, October 1, spontaneous demonstrations erupted in the Arab locations and spilled over onto inter-urban roads. The police, who were not prepared and were cut off from the leadership, deployed small forces, neither trained nor briefed and in some cases they opened fire as a means of punishment. The first fatality fell in Jatt, a second in Um al Fahm.

There were dozens of wounded, among them the mayor of Um al Fahm, Raad Salah, who was wounded as he was trying to persuade young people to open the intersection at the entrance to the city. The first rounds of firing by the police defined the situation as an extreme confrontation situation.

The "they" and the "we" stopped being defined in civilian terms and took on the shape and coloration of dividing lines between embattled armies. The blending of the leadership and the rank and file in the Arab sector was etched in a feeling of the commonality of the fate of the Palestinian people, solidarity and the willingness to pay a personal price.

The possibility that in such an atmosphere leaders would arise who would try to come between their publics and the police was, at least temporarily, not realistic.

The next two weeks saw the development of a devastating vicious cycle of protest against the killings on both sides of the Green Line, more lethal police shootings, and increasing protests.

A probing treatment of the roots of the core reasons behind the October disturbances and their escalation is essential and requires sustained government determination.

However, the creation of a system of local coordination between the police and Arab leaders, which would have prevented the degeneration of four years ago and prevented bloodshed, is immediately achievable. The question of whether such a system has been established and what its nature is still remains in wait of an answer.