Contrary to popular myth, Palestinian Arabs had been deliberately targeting Jewish civilians for decades before Israel was even established, and half a century before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The first major attacks on civilians took place in 1920-21, when violent riots erupted in Jerusalem and Jaffa. In 1929, at least 85 Jews were killed in massacres in Hebron and Safed, among other locations; in the early 1930’s, the first Palestinian terror organization, Black Hand, began carrying out attacks against civilians; and during the Arab Revolt of 1936-1939, violence against civilians became widespread throughout Palestine.
Attacks by Arabs against Jewish civilians continued during the 1948 War, including an ambush on a medical convoy in which 79 Jews – mostly doctors and nurses – were killed, and massacres in Kfar Etzion and Haifa. During the 1950’s and 60’s, terrorists from neighboring Arab countries ("fedayeen") repeatedly infiltrated Israel to attack civilian targets, including a wedding, a synagogue, buses, trains, and civilian homes.
Attacks on civilians intensified in the period leading up to and following the Six Day War, including deliberate massacres of children in a school and on a school bus, the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympic Games, and attacks on civilian buses, apartment buildings, hotels, airport terminals, and pedestrian malls, among others. Palestinian terrorism during this period also included the hijacking and/or bombing of several civilian flights and a cruise ship.
Palestinian suicide attacks began in 1989 and continued throughout the 1990’s. The frequency of suicide bombings greatly intensified in the early 2000’s, with targets including many restaurants, bars and cafes, a Passover Seder, a discotheque, a university cafeteria, shopping malls, and many buses. Israel responded by building the West Bank security barrier and reinforcing the Gaza barrier, both of which have proved very effective at preventing terrorist attacks.
Since the Gaza barrier prevented terrorists from attacking Israelis at close range, they changed tactics and began firing rockets at Israeli cities. Between 2001 and 2009, 8,600 rockets and mortars were fired at Israeli population centers. The rocketfire was multiplied several times over following Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005. After 8 years of rocket attacks on civilian targets, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in an attempt to root out the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza.
“This will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre which will be spoken of like the Mongolian massacres and the Crusades.”
- Azzam Pasha, Secretary General of the Arab League, May 15, 1948 (one day after Israel declared independence)