Prelude to the Uprising in the Gaza Strip
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The intifada (shaking off) began in the Gaza Strip, sparked by a seemingly minor-though tragic-incident wherein an Israeli military tank transport vehicle ploughed into a line of cars and vans on 8 December 1987. Four workers died in one van, crushed on impact. Their funerals that night in Jabalya refugee camp exploded into mass demonstrations. Residents attacked the police post inside the camp and the soldiers used live ammunition as well as tear gas to quell them. Since an Israeli had been stabbed to death on the main street of Gaza City on 6 December, many Palestinians thought the Israeli vehicle had deliberately struck the Palestinian van as an act of retaliation. Soldiers then shot dead a twenty- year-old in the funeral demonstrations and the Strip erupted in fury. The turmoil spread outside the camps into towns and villages. Israeli patrols even besieged the main government hospital in Gaza, seizing wounded persons from the wards and dropping tear gas from helicopters onto the buildings. Jabalya camp endured a week-long curfew. Demonstrations quickly spread to the West Bank, where Palestinians expressed open defiance of Israeli military rule.
Ann M. Lesch is associate professor of political science at Villanova University. Her most recent book is Israel, Egypt, and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada, with Mark Tessler.