How The Events Of 9/11 Still Affect The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
Updated September 10, 2021 at 12:11 PM ET
On Sept. 11, 2001, American TV viewers saw scenes of cheering Palestinians, jubilant to see Israel's ally attacked. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had his security services quash the scattered celebrations, and issued a statement.
"We want to send a message to the world: we are not with Al Qaeda and its activities," said Nabil Amr, then Palestinian minister of information, who helped draft the condemnation.
At the time, the Palestinian Intifada, or uprising — with militant bombings and shootings, and attacks by Israeli troops — had been going on for one year. The 9/11 attacks made Arafat worried that Palestinians, who considered themselves freedom fighters, would be seen by the West as terrorists.
"At this stage, I think Yasser Arafat knew very well that the Intifada must stop," said Nasser Jumaa, a former Palestinian combatant leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. Jumaa said Arafat's emissaries delivered that message to Palestinian armed groups like his.
Violence decreased, but only for a short while.
"Yasser Arafat ... wanted to distance himself from this axis of evil, and the only way to do it was to stop the Intifada," said retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom. "But it didn't stop, and not because of Yasser Arafat. Because of the Israeli side. We missed this opportunity."
In January 2002, Israel killed a top West Bank militant, restarting a policy of assassinations. "We couldn't overcome the urge," Brom said.
Not all put the blame on Israel. Former Maj. Gen. Amos Gilead, who oversaw Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories during the Intifada, believed Arafat was committed to violence, and Jumaa believed Arafat could not control the various Palestinian combatant groups.
In March 2002, a suicide bomber killed 30 civilians during a Passover meal at an Israeli hotel. "The moment I got the message, I said, 'That's it. Now we will invade,' " Gilead recalled.
Six months after 9/11, Israel launched a full-scale invasion of the West Bank, rolling tanks into the streets and killing hundreds of Palestinians. Israel's view was the U.S. would understand. "It's an American expression, very simple one: terror is terror," Gilead said.
The peace process for a two-state solution has never fully regained momentum, and Israelis widely believe their security requires keeping the West Bank under their control. The violence of the Intifada "completely destroyed the mutual trust between the two sides. Completely destroyed and never returned," Brom said.
After 9/11, the U.S. and Arab states became preoccupied elsewhere in the region, and Jumaa believes that spelled "an end of the Palestinian dream for a Palestinian state."
This story originally published in the Morning Edition live blog.
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