The current Palestinian Intifada or uprising for statehood has seen a dramatic shift in tactics by an increasingly coordinated armed resistance, Dr Abd al-Sattar Kassem told Aljazeera.

Today’s struggle against the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a far cry from the stone-throwing and mass public demonstrations that marked the beginning of the current Intifada in late 2000, he said.

With the peace process in shreds, continued conflict seems inevitable for the foreseeable future, and through the cold analysis of numbers of dead, the Palestinians seem to be having more success than ever before.

Protest too costly

Palestinians claim that the disproportionate Israeli response to the protests and stone-throwing at Israeli checkpoints is what escalated the current conflict. Too many protesting Palestinians were being shot leading to a drastic change of approach.

Stone-throwing is no longer the symbol of the Intifada

“Each day around eight Palestinians were being killed at checkpoint protests, once 12 in a single day. So the Palestinians retaliated,” Kassem said.

“This is no longer an Intifada. The majority support the armed resistance, but there are fewer people protesting in the streets.”

The major tactical shift by the Palestinian resistance came in summer 2001. A spate of human bombings in Israeli towns killed more than 40 people from May to August. The region had seen people blowing themselves up before, but these attacks were part of an organised assault that left Israel reeling.

The Israeli army stepped up its own campaign to wipe out the resistance groups and their sponsors, but throughout 2002 coordinated attacks continued to claim hundreds of lives.

At least 800 Israeli soldiers and civilians have been killed in the current conflict. The Palestinians have lost 2480 many of whom were children, giving a ratio of 3:1. Given the disparity of the two sides’ weaponry, Palestinian resistance groups have hailed this as a success.

New hardware

The clampdown on Palestinians through methods such as the building of an apartheid wall, curfews and increased isolation and security around Palestinian island towns in Israeli occupied areas will make it harder for the bombers to get through, the Israeli authorities say.

But this is forcing armed resistance of groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad to seek new, more sophisticated ways of launching attacks into Israeli-held territory, including conventional rockets.

For the moment, the tactics have become those of guerrilla warfare. 

Hamas have fired Qassam rockets and mortars from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory. They may have generated more noise and fear than actual damage - one person was killed out of the tens of mortars and rockets that have been aimed at Israeli-held areas.

Guerrilla war

Shimon Romach, a former member of the Israel Security Agency (ISA), told Aljazeera, “I would call it guerrilla warfare. The difference between the first Intifada and this one is much greater use of weapons by the Palestinians. During the first Intifada there was a limited number of weapons and explosives in Gaza, as Israel was ruling the territories.”

The main characteristics of the first Intifada, between 1987 and 1992, was public demonstrations and people throwing stones at Israeli tanks and checkpoints.

Romach claimed that Israel’s relaxed grip on the territories made an armed uprising more likely this time. “When the PLO came back into Palestine (in 1994) with armed forces and guns, the ground was laid for a very different kind of Intifada.”

The Israelis have tried to keep the war in Palestinian territory, keeping suspected attackers out through strengthened checkpoints and by targeting resistance leaders in their homes.

Shortly into the current Intifada, they started facing war on their own turf. Romach said it was this that has forced Israel to resort to a firmer military response.

“The high point came a year and a half ago with a 'suicide' bombing in the Park Hotel in Netanya (on 27 March 2002, killing 29 civilians),” he said. “After that Israel escalated its reaction.”

False dawn

Hunting for the heads of the Palestinian armed sections, the Israeli army overran the Palestinian towns of Nablus and Jenin. Houses were bulldozed and dozens of Palestinian non-combatants killed in incursions that were roundly condemned by the international community.

George Bush's "road map" plan has hit a dead end 

The peace plan hailed by George Bush at the end of 2002, the so-called “road map”, proved a false dawn.

With Islamic resistance groups enjoying almost equal or even more support in the polls as Yasir Arafat’s Fatah movement, the US-backed prime minister Mahmud Abbas’ attempt to rein in the resistance fighters was doomed to failure.

“The Palestinian Authority has very little power,” said Kassem, a vociferous critic of Arafat. “Only those that receive salaries support it.”
 
Under the unilateral ceasefire declared in June 2003, Palestinian resistance groups did hold off from attacking Israeli troops and civilians, but Israel did not reciprocate.

They continued to assassinate Palestinian activists, kill and wound bystanders, and destroy homes in Palestinian towns, while claiming to be attacking “terrorist infrastructure”.

The Israelis decision to ignore the truce may have made trust between the two sides an impossibility.

Hamas' patience ran out on 19 August with a huge bus bombing in Jerusalem that killed 22 people.

Apartheid wall

Since then Israel has scaled up its helicopter rocket strikes on homes of suspected resistance fighters in the West Bank and Gaza, and both sides are more belligerent than ever.

A stretch of the apartheid wall near Qalqilya in the West Bank

The apartheid wall, known to Israelis as the separation or security fence, is a new weapon in Israel’s war against the Palestinians aspirations to statehood.

It purports to keep Palestinian attackers out of Israeli-controlled areas, but is also a controversial attempt to pre-empt the borders of a future two-state solution to the Palestinian question, critics say.

Instead of sticking to the "green line" marking the West Bank's boundary, much of the planned 370-mile fence, 100 miles of which has already been built, cuts deep into Palestinian land.

To include the Israeli settlement of Ariel, where 18,000 people live, the barrier would have to swing eastwards 12 miles into the West Bank.

The US has opposed the building of the fence on Palestinian land and has threatened to deduct the cost from around $8 billion of loan guarantees it has given Israel.

Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon told Yedioth Ahronoth, an Israeli daily, on 27 September that American pressure had forced him to change his policy,

"The Americans were sensitive about construction in the Ariel area. We were worried about the loan guarantees, their intention to deduct the sum invested in the fence from the guarantees. It was agreed that the fence would not enclose the Ariel area."

Sharon’s compromise was to say that a heavily-guarded "breach" would be left in the fence, giving Israel the option of extending the barrier to include Ariel at a later stage.

Yedioth Ahronoth also reported on its website last week that one section of the apartheid wall would have a new measure to minimise further the risk of Israeli military casualties.

“The separation fence to be built in the Gilboa region will include remote-control machine guns that will be operated by female soldiers from their command posts and will shoot at those suspected of being terrorists," the paper said on its website, citing Israeli army sources

The sources did not mention how such people will be identified.

Hatred

The increasing radicalisation of both Israeli and Palestinian populations - due to decades of conflict of which this Intifada is only the most recent chapter - means that very few Palestinians are interested in having the Israelis listen to their cause and vice versa.

Negotiation has been replaced by bitter opposition. Israeli security expert Romach said he did not believe things would change under Sharon.

“The current Israeli regime will never negotiate with Arafat,” he said. “They have the support of the Americans in this. The only chance for change is the Labour party winning an election.”