Palestinian fedayeen

Palestinian fedayeen

Palestinian fedayeen (from the Arabic "fidā'ī", plural "fidā'iyūn", فدائيون) refers to militants or guerrillas of a nationalist orientation from among the Palestinian people. Most Palestinians consider the fedayeen to be "freedom fighters",cite book|title="The Design of Dissent"|author=Milton Glaser and Mirko Ilic|year=2005|publisher=Rockport Publishers|isbn=1592531172] while the Israeli government considers them to be "terrorists".

Considered symbols of the Palestinian national movement, the Palestinian fedayeen drew inspiration from guerrilla movements in Vietnam, China, Algeria and Latin America. The ideology of the Palestinian fedayeen was mainly socialist or communist, and their proclaimed purpose was to destroy Zionism, "liberate" Palestine and establish it as "a secular, democratic, nonsectarian state".cite book|title=" [,+democratic,+nonsectarian+state+Robert+Owen+Freedman+The+Intifada:+Its+Impact+on+Israel,+the+Arab+World,+and+the+Superpowers+disagreement&sig=WZQWKruN32NGyz_ik6fGYZ_WCvc The Intifada: Its Impact on Israel, the Arab World, and the Superpowers] "|author=Robert Owen Freedman et al.|year=1991|pages=64-66|publisher=University Press of Florida|isbn=0813010403]

Emerging from among the Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their villages as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, in the early 1950s the fedayeen began mounting cross-border operations into Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan. The earliest infiltrations were often to access the lands and agricultural products they had lost as a result of the war, or to attack Israeli military, and sometimes, civilian targets. Israel undertook retaliatory actions targeting the fedayeen that also often targeted the citizens of their host countries, which in turn provoked more attacks.

Fedayeen actions were cited by Israel as one of the reasons for its launching of the Sinai Campaign of 1956, the 1967 War, and the 1978 and 1982 invasions of Lebanon. Palestinian fedayeen groups were united under the umbrella the Palestine Liberation Organization after the defeat of the Arab armies in the 1967 Six-Day War, though each group retained its own leader and independent armed forces.

Definitions of the term

The words "Palestinian" and "fedayeen" have had different meanings to different people at various points in history. According to the Sakhr Arabic-English dictionary, "fida'i" — the singular form of the plural "fedayeen" — means "one who risks his life voluntarily" or "one who sacrifices himself".cite web|title=Dictionaries|publisher=Sakhr|accessdate=2008-01-06|url=] In their book, "The Arab-Israeli Conflict", Tony Rea and John Wright have adopted this more literal translation, translating the term fedayeen as "self-sacrificers".cite book|title="The Arab-Israeli Conflict"|author=Tony Rea and John Wright|publisher=Oxford University Press|year=1993|page=43|isbn=019917170X]

In his essay, "The Palestinian Leadership and the American Media: Changing Images, Conflicting Results" (1995), R.S. Zaharna comments on the perceptions and use of the terms "Palestinian" and "fedayeen" in the 1970s, writing:

"Palestinian" became synonymous with "terrorists", "skyjackers", "commandos", and "guerrillas". The term "fedayeen" was often used but rarely translated. This added to the mysteriousness of Palestinian groups. Fedayeen means "freedom fighter"cite book|title="The U.S. Media and the Middle East: Image and Perception"|author=Yahya R. Kamalipour|year=1995|publisher=Greenwood Press|page=43|isbn=0313292795] cite book|title="The Israeli-Egyptian Peace Process in the Reporting of Western Journalists"|author=Mohammed El-Nawawy|publisher=Inc NetLibrary|year=2002|page=49|isbn=1567505457 Mohammed al-Nawaway uses Zaharna translation of fedayeen as "freedom fighters" in his book "The Israeli-Egyptian Peace Process in the Reporting of Western Journalists" (2002).]

Edmund Jan Osmanczyk's "Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements" (2002) defines fedayeen as "Palestinian resistance fighters",cite book|title="Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements"|author=Edmund Jan Osmanczyk|publisher=Taylor & Francis|page=702|year=2002|isbn=0415939216] whereas Martin Gilbert's "The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict" (2005) defines fedayeen as "Palestinian terrorist groups".cite book| url=,M1| title=The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict| author=Martin Gilbert| publisher=Routledge| year=2005| page=58|isbn=0415359015] Robert Mcnamara refers to the fedayeen simply as "guerrillas",cite book|title="Britain, Nasser and the Balance of Power in the Middle East 1952-1967|author=Robert Mcnamara|year=2003|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0714653977|page=74] as do Zeev Schiff and Raphael Rothstein in their work "Fedayeen: Guerrila Against Israel" (1972). Fedayeen can also be used to refer to militant or guerrilla groups that are not Palestinian. (See Fedayeen for more.)

Beverly Milton-Edwards describes the Palestinian fedayeen as "modern revolutionaries fighting for national liberation, not religious salvation," distinguishing them from mujahaddin (i.e. "fighters of the jihad").cite book|title="Islamic Politics in Palestine"|author=Beverley Milton-Edwards|year=1996|pages=94-95|publisher=I.B.Tauris|isbn=1860644759] While the fallen soldiers of both mujahaddin and fedayeen are called shahid (i.e. "martyrs") by Palestinians, Milton nevertheless contends that it would be political and religious blasphemy to call the "leftist fighters" of the fedayeen, mujahaddin.



Palestinian infiltration into Israel first emerged among the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, living in camps in Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt, and Syria. Most of the infiltration at this time was economic in nature, with Palestinians crossing the border seeking food or the recovery of property lost in the 1948 war. Between 1948 and 1955, infiltration by Palestinians into Israel was firmly opposed by Arab governments. ["There is strong evidence from Arab, British, American, UN and even Israeli sources to suggest that for the first six years after the [1948] war, the Arab governments were opposed to infiltration and tried to curb it...The Lebanese...effectively sealed the border with Israel. The Syrian authorities also exercised strict control over their border with Israel, and infiltration was rarer. The Egyptian authorities...pursued a consistent policy of curbing infiltration until 1955...Secret Jordanian documents captured by the Israeli army during the June 1967 war...reveal strenuous efforts on the part of the Jordanian military and civilian keep [infiltrators] from crossing [the Israeli border] ." - Shlaim, "The Iron Wall" pp. 84-85, ISBN 0-14-028870-8] It was only after Israel's raid on an Egyptian military outpost in Gaza in February 1955, in which 37 Egyptian soldiers were killed, that an Arab government - in this case the Egyptian - began to actively sponsor fedayeen raids into Israel. ["Records show that until the Gaza raid, the Egyptian military authorities had a consistent and firm policy of curbing infiltration...into Israel...and that it was only following the raid that a new policy was put in place, that of organizing the fedayeen units and turning them into an official instrument of warfare against Israel." - Shlaim, p. 128-129.]

According to Orna Almog, the very first attack by Palestinian fedayeen was launched by guerrillas from Syrian territory in 1951, though the majority of the attacks between 1951 and 1953 were launched from Jordanian territory.cite book|title="Britain, Israel, and the United States, 1955-1958: Beyond Suez"|author=Orna Almog|year=2003|page=20|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0714652466] These early fedayeen attacks were incursions on a limited scale. Yeshoshfat Harkabi, former head of Israeli military intelligence, stated that the early attacks were often motivated by economic reasons, with Palestinians crossing the border into Israel to, for example, harvest crops in their former villages. Fedayeen operations on a larger scale began to be mounted from 1954 onwards from Egyptian territory.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion charged Ariel Sharon, then security chief of the Northern Region, with the setting up of a new commando unit, Unit 101, designed to respond to fedayeen infiltrations. In its short five month existence, Unit 101 was responsible for the carrying out of the Qibya massacre which took place on the night of 14-15 October 1953 in the Jordanian village of the same name. Cross-border operations by Israel were conducted in both Egypt and Jordan, "in order to 'teach' the Arab leaders that the Israeli government saw them as responsible for these activities, even if they had not directly conducted them." Moshe Dayan felt that retaliatory action by Israel was the only way to convince Arab countries that for the safety of their own citizens, they should work to stop fedayeen infiltrations. Dayan stated, "We are not able to protect every man, but we can prove that the price for Jewish blood is high."

According to Martin Gilbert, between 1951 and 1955, 1967 Israelis were killed in what he terms "Arab terrorist attacks", a figure Benny Morris characterizes as "pure nonsense".cite book|title="Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956"|author=Benny Morris|year=1993|publisher=Oxford University Press|page=101|isbn=0198292627] Morris explains that Gilbert's fatality figures are "3-5 times higher than the figures given in contemporary Israeli reports" and that they seem to be based on a 1956 speech by David Ben-Gurion in which he uses the word "nifga'im" to refer to "casualties" in the broad sense of the term (i.e. both dead and wounded). According to the Jewish Agency for Israel between 1951 and 1956, 400 Israelis were killed and 900 wounded in fedayeen attacks.cite web | publisher=Jewish Agency for Israel | title=Map|url=] Dozens of these attacks are today cited by the Israeli government as "Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis prior to the 1967 Six-Day War".cite web|publisher=Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs|title=Major terror attacks|url=] cite web|publisher=Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs|title=Palestinian Terror|url=] According to the Jewish Virtual Library, while the attacks violated the 1949 Armistice Agreements prohibiting hostilities by paramilitary forces, it was Israel that was condemned by the United Nations Security Council for its counterattacks.cite web |publisher= Jewish Virtual Library | title= Fedayeen |url=]

United Nations reports indicate that between 1949 and 1956, Israel launched more than 17 raids on Egyptian territory and 31 attacks on Arab towns or military forces.cite book|title="Native Vs. Settler: Ethnic Conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa|author=Thomas G. Mitchell|page=133|year=2000|isbn=0313313571]

Involvement of President Nasser and Egyptian intelligence

According to Martin Gilbert, towards the end of 1954, the Egyptian government supervised the formal establishment of fedayeen groups in Gaza and the northeastern Sinai.cite book| url=,M1| title=The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict| author=Martin Gilbert| publisher=Routledge| year=2005| isbn=0415359015] Lela Gilbert in The Jerusalem Post writes that General Mustafa Hafez, appointed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918 - 1970) to command Egyptian army intelligence, was the one who founded the Palestinian fedayeen units in Egypt "to launch terrorist raids across Israel's southern border."cite news |url= |title=An 'infidel' in Israel |author=Lela Gilbert |publisher=The Jerusalem Post |date=2007-10-23 ]

The Jewish Virtual Library illustrates the adoption of this new tactic by quoting an excerpt of a speech delivered by President Nasser on 31 August 1955:

:Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine....There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death.cite web |publisher= Jewish Virtual Library | title= Fedayeen |url=]

According to the Anti-Defamation League, 260 Israeli citizens were killed or wounded by the fedayeen in 1955.cite web |publisher=Anti-Defamation League |title=Record |url=] Meron Benvenisti writes that the fedayeen attacks directly contributed to the outbreak of the Suez Crisis.cite book |title= [ Sacred Landscape, The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948: Ghosts and Infiltrators] |author=Meron Benvenisti |publisher=University of California Press ] Benny Morris writes that fedayeen attacks were cited by Israel as the reason for the undertaking of the 1956 Sinai Campaign, but that there were exaggerated and false reports put forward by the Israelis regarding their activities.cite book| url=| title=Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and| author=Benny Morris| publisher=Oxford University Press| year=1993| isbn=0198292627|page=149] Ian Lustick writes that among the "engineered eve-of-war lies and deceptions [...] designed to give Israel the excuse needed to launch its strike [on Egypt] " was the presentation to journalists of a group of captured fedayeen, who were in fact Israeli soldiers.cite book|title="Traditions and Transitions in Israel Studies"|author=Ian Lustick|publisher=Association for Israel Studies:SUNY Press|year=2003|page=23|isbn=0791455858] In 1956, Israeli troops entered Khan Yunis in the Gaza Strip, then controlled by Egypt, conducting house-to-house searches for Palestinian fedayeen and weaponry.cite book|title="How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict"|author=Baylis Thomas|page=107|year=1999|publisher=Lexington Books|isbn=0739100645] During this operation, 275 Palestinians were killed, with an additional 111 killed in Israeli raids on the Rafah refugee camp.cite book|title="The Fateful Triangle:The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians"|author=Noam Chomsky|year=1999|page=102|publisher=South End Press|isbn=0896086011] Noam Chomsky writes that "Israel claimed that the killings were caused by 'refugee resistance', a claim denied by refugees." He further notes that there were no Israeli casualties.

1956 War

On October 29, 1956, the first day of Israel's invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Israeli forces attacked "fedayeen units" in the towns of Ras an-Naqb and Kuntilla. Two days later, fedayeen destroyed water pipelines in Kibbutz Ma'ayan along the Lebanese border and began a campaign of mining in the area, which lasted throughout November. In the first week of November, similar attacks occurred along the Syrian and Jordanian borders, the Jerusalem corridor and in the Wadi Ara region — although the state armies of both those countries are suspected to have been the saboteurs. On November 9, four Israeli soldiers were injured after their vehicle was ambushed by fedayeen near the city of Ramla and several water pipelines and bridges were sabotaged in the Negev.cite book|title= ['s Border Wars, 1949-1956: The Sinai-Suez Wars and the end of the Fedayeen] |author=Benny Morris |page=419-425 |year=1993 |publisher=Oxford University Press |isbn=0198292627]

During the invasion of Sinai, a group of Palestinian fedayeen were killed by Israeli forces. Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Saul Ziv told "Maariv" in 1995 that he was haunted by this killing of fifty defenseless fedayeen on a lorry in Ras Sudar.cite book|title=The New A-Z of the Middle East |author=Alain Gresh |coauthor=Dominique Vidal |page=282-283 |year=2004 |publisher=I.B. Tauris |isbn=1860643264] After Israel took control of the Gaza Strip, dozens of fedayeen were summarily executed, mostly in two massacres. Sixty-six were killed in screening operations in the area, although a US diplomat estimated that of the 500 fedayeen that were captured by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) "about 30" were killed.

Between the 1956 and 1967 wars

Between the 1956 war and the 1967 war, Israeli civilian and military casualties on all Arab fronts inflicted by regular and irregular forces (including those of Palestinian fedayeen), averaged one per month (an estimated total of 132 fatalities).cite book|title="Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict"|author=Norman Finkelstein|page=253|year=2003|publisher=Verso|isbn=1859844421]

During the mid and late 1960s, a number of independent Palestinian fedyaeen groups emerged who sought to bring about "the liberation of all Palestine through a Palestinian armed struggle."cite book|title="The Communist Movement In The Arab World"|author=Tareq Y. Ismael|publisher=Routledge|year=2005|page=76|isbn=041534851X] According to Jamal R. Nasser, the very first incursion by this set of fedayeen fighters took place on 1 January 1965 when a Palestinian commando infiltrated Israel to plant explosives that destroyed a section of pipeline designed to divert water from the Jordan River into Israel.cite book|title="Globalization and Terrorism: The Migration of Dreams and Nightmares"|author=Jamal R. Nassar|page=50|year=2005|publisher=Rowman & Littlefield|isbn=074252504X]

Between the 1967 War and the First Intifada

Fedayeen groups began joining the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), beginning in 1968.cite book|title="The New A-Z of the Middle East"|author=Alain Gresh and Dominique Vidal|publisher=I.B.Tauris|year=2004|isbn=1860643264|page=232] While the PLO was the "unifying framework" under which these groups operated, each fedayeen organization had its own leader and armed forces and retained autonomy in operations. Of the dozen or so fedayeen groups under the framework of the PLO, the most important were the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) headed by George Habash, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) headed by Nayef Hawatmeh, the PFLP-General Command headed by Ahmed Jibril, as-Sa'iqa (affiliated with Syria), and the Arab Liberation Front (backed by Iraq).

The most severe act of sabotage of the fedayeen occurred on July 4, 1969, when a single militant placed three pounds of explosives under the manifold of a complex of eight pipelines carrying oil from the Haifa refinery to the dockside. As a result of the explosion, three pipelines were temporarily out of commission and caused a fire which destroyed over 1,500 tons of refined oil.cite web|title=Commando Riposte|date=July 4 1969|publisher=Time Magazine|url=,9171,840176,00.html?promoid=googlep]

West Bank

In the late 1960s, attempts were made to organize fedayeen resistance cells in the West Bank. The mobilization that did occur was based to a large extent in the refugee population of the West Bank.cite book|title="The Palestinian Diaspora: Formation of Identities and Politics of Homeland"|author=Helena Lindholm Schulz and Juliane Hammer|year=2003|page=68|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0415268206] The stony and empty terrain of the West Bank mountains made the fedayeen easy to spot and this, coupled with a harsh regime of collective punishment deployed by Israeli forces against the families of fighters, resulted in the fedayeen being pushed out of the West Bank altogether within a few months. Arafat reportedly escaped arrest in Ramallah by jumping out a window as Israeli police came in the front door. Having been pushed out of the West Bank and prevented from operating in Syria and Egypt, the fedayeen concentrated on Jordan.


After the influx of a second wave of Palestinian refugees from the 1967 war, fedayeen bases in Jordan began to proliferate and there were increased fedayeen attacks on Israel. Fedayeen fighters launched ineffective bazooka-shelling attacks on Israeli targets across the Jordan River and "brisk and indiscriminate" Israeli retaliations destroyed Jordanian villages, farms and installations, causing 100,000 people to flee the Jordan Valley eastward.cite book|title="The Jordanian-Palestinian Relationship: The Bankruptcy of the Confederal Idea"|author=Musa S. Braizat|year=1998|publisher=British Academic Press|page=138|isbn=1860642918] According to Milton-Edwards and Hinchcliffe, the increasing ferocity of Israeli reprisals conducted against Jordanians, and not Palestinians, for the fedayeen raids into Israel became a growing cause of concern for the Jordanian authorities.

One such Israeli reprisal was conducted in the Jordanian town of Karameh, home to the headquarters of an emerging fedayeen group called Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat. According to Said Aburish, the government of Jordan and a number of Fatah commandos informed Arafat that large-scale Israeli military preparations for an attack on the town were underway, prompting many fedayeen groups, including the PFLP and the DFLP, to withdraw their forces from the town. Though advised by a pro-Fatah Jordanian divisional commander to withdraw his men and headquarters to nearby hills, Arafat refused,cite book |last=Aburish |first=Said K. |authorlink=Said K. Aburish |title=From Defender to Dictator |year=1998 |publisher=Bloomsbury Publishing |pages=pp.69–98 |location=New York |isbn=1-58234-049-8 ] stating, "We want to convince the world that there are those in the Arab world who will not withdraw or flee".cite book |last=Sayigh |first=Yezid |authorlink= |title=Armed Struggle and the Search for State, the Palestinian National Movement, 1949–1993 |year=1997 |publisher=Oxford University Press |pages= |location= |isbn=0198296436 ] Fatah remained, and the Jordanian Army agreed to back them if heavy fighting ensued.

On the night of March 21, the IDF attacked Karameh with heavy weaponry, armored vehicles and fighter jets. Fatah held its ground, surprising the Israeli military. As Israel's forces intensified their campaign, the Jordanian Army became involved, causing the Israelis to retreat in order to avoid a full-scale war.cite book |last=Bulloch |first=John |title=Final Conflict |year=1983 |publisher=Faber Publishing |pages=pp.165 |location= |isbn= ] By the battle's end, 100 Fatah militants had been killed, 100 wounded and 120-150 captured; Jordanian fatalities were 61 soldiers and civilians, 108 wounded; and Israeli casualties were 28 soldiers killed and 69 wounded. Thirteen Jordanian tanks were destroyed in the battle, while the Israelis lost four tanks, three half tracks, two armoured cars, and an airplane shot down by Jordanian forces.cite book|title="Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness, 1948-1991"|author=Kenneth M. Pollack|year=2004|publisher=University of Nebraska Press|isbn=0803287836|page=334]

The profile of the fedayeen were raised by the Battle of Karameh, and they came to be regarded as the "daring heroes of the Arab world".cite book|title="The Palestinian Diaspora: Formation of Identities and Politics of Homeland"|author=Helena Lindholm Schulz and Juliane Hammer|page=120|publisher=Routledge|year=2003|isbn=0415268206] Despite the higher Arab death toll, Fatah considered the battle a victory because of the Israeli army's rapid withdrawal. Such developments prompted Rashid Khalidi to dub the Battle of Karameh as the "foundation myth" of the Palestinian commando movement, whereby "failure against overwhelming odds [was] brilliantly narrated as [a] heroic triumph."

Financial donations and recruitment increased as many young Arabs, including thousands of non-Palestinians, joined the ranks of the organization.cite book |last=Cobban |first=Helena |title=The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Power, People and Politics |year=1984 |publisher=Cambridge University Press |pages=pp.39 |isbn=0521272165 ] The ruling Hashemite authorities in Jordan grew increasingly alarmed by the activities of the PLO who had established a "state within a state", providing military training and social welfare services to the Palestinian population, while bypassing the Jordanian authorities.cite book|title="Jordan: A Hashemite Legacy"|author=Beverley Milton-Edwards and Peter Hinchcliffe|year=2001|pages=46-48|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0415267269] Palestinian criticism of the poor performance of the Arab Legion, the King's army, was an insult to both the King and the regime. Further, many Palestinian fedayeen groups of the radical left, such as the PFLP, "called for the overthrow of the Arab monarchies, including the Hashemite regime in Jordan, arguing that this was an essential first step toward the liberation of Palestine."

In the first week of September in 1970, PFLP forces hijacked three airplanes (British, Swiss and German) at Dawson's field in Jordan. To secure the release of the passengers, the demand to free PFLP militants being held in European jails was met. After everyone had disembarked, the fedayeen destroyed the airplanes on the tarmac.

On September 16, 1970, King Hussein ordered his troops to strike at and eliminate the fedayeen network in Jordan. Syrian troops intervened to support the fedayeen but were turned back by Jordanian armour and Israeli army overflights. Thousands were killed in the initial battle which came to known as Black September, and thousands more in the security crackdown that followed, and by the summer of 1971, the Palestinian fedayeen network in Jordan had been effectively dismantled with most of the fighters setting up base in southern Lebanon instead.

The French writer Jean Genet who visited Palestinian fedayeen at their bases in Jordan between 1970 and 1972, "memorialized what he perceived to be their bravery, idealism, flexibility of identity, and heroism" in his novel "Prisoner of Love" (1986).cite book|title="The Palestinians: In Search of a Just Peace"|author=Cheryl Rubenberg|year=2003|page=40|publisher=Lynne Rienner Publishers|isbn=1588262251]

Gaza Strip

The emergence of a fedayeen movement in the Gaza Strip was catalyzed by Israel's occupation of the territory during the 1967 war. Palestinian fedayeen from Gaza "waged a mini-war" against Israel for three years before the movement was crushed by the Israeli military in 1971 under the orders of then Defense Minister, Ariel Sharon.

Palestinians in Gaza were proud of their role in establishing a fedayeen movement there when no such movement existed in the West Bank at the time. The fighters were housed in refugee camps or hid in the citrus groves of wealthy Gazan landowners, carrying out raids against Israeli soldiers from these sites.

The most active of the fedayeen groups in Gaza was the PFLP, an offshoot of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) — who enjoyed instant popularity among the already secularized, socialist population who had come of age during Egyptian President Nasser's rule of Gaza. The emergence of armed struggle as the liberation strategy for the Gaza Strip reflected larger ideological changes within the Palestinian national movement toward political violence.

"The ideology of armed struggle was, by this time, broadly secular in content; Palestinians were asked to take up arms not as part of a jihad against the infidel but to free the oppressed from the Zionist colonial regime. The vocabulary of liberation was distinctly secular."
The "radical left" dominated the political scene, and the overarching slogan of the time was, "We will liberate Palestine first, then the rest of the Arab world."

During Israel's 1971 military campaign to contain or control the fedayeen, an estimated 15,000 suspected fighters were rounded up and deported to detention camps in Abu Zneima and Abu Rudeis in the Sinai. Tens of homes were demolished by Israeli forces, rendering hundreds of people homeless. According to Milton-Edwards, "This security policy successfully instilled terror in the camps and wiped out the fedayeen bases." It is also paved the way for the rise of the Islamic movement, which began organizing as early as 1969-1970, led by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.


On 3 November 1969, the Lebanese government signed the Cairo agreement which granted Palestinians the right to launch attacks on Israel from southern Lebanon in coordination with the Lebanese army. After the expulsion of the Palestinian fedayeen from Jordan and a series of Israeli raids on Lebanon, the Lebanese government granted the PLO the right to defend Palestinian refugee camps there and to possess heavy weaponry. After the outbreak of 1975 Lebanese civil war, the PLO increasingly began to act once again as a "state within a state". Israel invaded southern Lebanon in the 1978 Israel-Lebanon conflict, occupying a 20 kilometer wide area there to put an end to Palestinian attacks on Israel, but fedayeen missile attacks on villages in northern Israel continued.

Israeli armoured artillery and infantry forces, supported by air force and naval units again entered Lebanon on 6 June 1982 in an operation code-named "Peace for Galilee", encountering "fierce resistance" from the Palestinian fedayeen there.cite book|title="Foreign Armed Intervention in Internal Conflict"|author=Antonio Tanca|year=1993|page=178|publisher=Martinus Nijhoff Publishers|isbn=0792324269] Israel's occupation of southern Lebanon and its siege and constant shelling of the capital Beirut in the 1982 Lebanon War, eventually forced the Palestinian fedayeen to accept an internationally brokered agreement that moved them out of Lebanon to different places in the Arab world. The headquarters of the PLO was moved out of Lebanon to Tunis at this time.

During a September 2, 1982 press conference at the United Nations, Yasser Arafat stated that, "Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayeen who carried his sword along the path on which the Palestinians today carry their cross."cite book|title="The Dhimmi: Jews and Christians Under Islam"|author=Bat Ye'or|publisher=Fairleigh Dickinson University Press|page=145|year=1985|isbn=0838632629]

First Intifada

During the First Intifada, armed violence on the part of Palestinians was kept to a minimum, in favor of mass demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience. However, the issue of the role of armed struggle did not die out altogether. Those Palestinian groups affiliated with the PLO and based outside of historic Palestine, such as rebels within Fatah and the PFLP-GC, used the lack of fedayeen operations as their main weapon of criticism against the PLO leadership at the time. The PFLP and DFLP even made a few abortive attempts at fedayeen operations inside Israel. According to Jamal Raji Nassar and Roger Heacock, "

[...] at least parts of the Palestinian left sacrificed all to the golden calf of armed struggle when measuring the degree of revolutionary commitment by the number of fedayeen operations, instead of focusing on the positions of power they doubtless held inside the Occupied Territories and which were major assests in struggles over a particular political line."cite book|title="Intifada: Palestine at the Crossroads"|author=Jamal Raji Nassar and Roger Heacock|year=1990|pages=221-222|publisher=Praeger/Greenwood|isbn=027593411X]

During the First Intifada, but particularly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, the fedayeen steadily lost ground to the emerging forces of the mujahaddin, represented initially and most prominently by Hamas. The fedayeen lost their position as a political force and the secular nationalist movement that had represented the first generation of the Palestinian resistance became instead a symbolic, cultural force that was seen by some as having failed in its duties.cite book|title="Face to Face With Political Islam"|author=François Burgat|page=117|year=2003|publisher=I.B.Tauris|isbn=1860642136]

econd Intifada

After being dormant for many years, Palestinian fedayeen reactivated their operations during the Second Intifada. In August 2001, ten Palestinian commandos from the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) penetrated the electric fences of the fortified army base of Bedolah, killing an Israeli major and two soldiers and wounding seven others. One of the commandos was killed in the firefight. Another was tracked for hours and later shot in head, while the rest escaped. In Gaza, the attack produced "a sense of euphoria - and nostalgia for the Palestinian fedayeen raids in the early days of the Jewish state." Israel responded by launching airstrikes at at the police headquarters in Gaza City, an intelligence building in the central Gaza town of Deir al-Balah and a police building in the West Bank village of Salfit. Salah Zeidan, head of the DFLP in Gaza, stated of the operation that, "It's a classic model - soldier to soldier, gun to gun, face to face [...] Our technical expertise has increased in recent days. So has our courage, and people are going to see that this is a better way to resist the occupation than suicide bombs inside the Jewish state."cite web|title=Israeli jets avenge raid on army by commandos|author=Suzanne Goldenberg|publisher=The Guardian|date=August 27 2001|accessdate=2008-02-04|url=]

Philosophical grounding and objectives

The objectives of the fedayeen were articulated in the statements and literature they produced, which were consistent with reference to the aim of destroying Zionism. In 1970, the stated aim of the fedayeen was establishing Palestine as "a secular, democratic, nonsectarian state." Robert Freedman writes that for some fedayeen groups, the secular aspect of the struggle was "merely a slogan for assuaging world opinion," while others strove "to give the concept meaningful content." Prior to 1974, the fedayeen position was that any Jew who renounced Zionism could remain in the Palestinian state to be created. After 1974, the issue became less clear and there were suggestions that only those Jews who were in Palestine prior to "the Zionist invasion", alternatively placed at 1947 or 1917, would be able to remain.

In "The Intifada:Its Impact on Israel, the Arab World, and the Superpowers", Bard O'Neill writes that the fedayeen attempted to study and borrow from all of the revolutionary models available, but that their publications and statements show a particular affinity for the Cuban, Algerian, Vietnamese, and Chinese experiences.


During post-Six-Day War era, individual fedayeen movements quarreled over issues about the recognition of Israel and on alliances with various "pro-Western" Arab states. In 1974, the PNC approved the Ten Point Program (drawn up by Arafat and his advisers), and proposed a compromise with the Israelis. The Program called for a Palestinian national authority over every part of "liberated Palestinian territory", [cite web |url= |title=Political Program Adopted at the 12th Session of the Palestine National Council |publisher=Permanent Observer Mission of Palestine to the United Nations |date=1974-06-08 ] which referred to areas captured by Arab forces in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War (present-day West Bank and Gaza Strip). Perceived by some Palestinians as overtures to the United States and concessions to Israel, the program fostered internal discontent, and prompted several of the PLO factions, such as the PFLP, DFLP, as-Saiqa, the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Front, among other, to form a breakaway movement which came to be known as the Rejectionist Front.cite book |last=Aburish |first=Said K. |authorlink=Said K. Aburish |title=From Defender to Dictator |year=1998 |publisher=Bloomsbury Publishing |pages=pp.140-142 |location=New York |isbn=1-58234-049-8 ]


Until 1968, fedayeen tactics consisted largely of hit-and-run raids on Israeli military targets.cite book|title="Jackal: The Complete Story of the Legendary Terrorist, Carlos the Jackal"|author=John Follain|pages=20-21|year=1998|publisher=Arcade Publishing|isbn=1559704667] A commitment to "armed struggle" was incorporated into PLO Charter in clauses that stated: "Armed struggle is the only way to liberate Palestine" and "Commando action constitutes the nucleus of the Palestinian popular liberation war."

Preceding the Six-Day War in 1967, the fedayeen carried out several campaigns of sabotage against Israeli infrastructure. Common acts of this included the consistent mining of water and irrigation pipelines along the Jordan River and its tributaries, as well as the Lebanese-Israeli border and in various locations in the Galilee. Other acts of sabotage involved bombing bridges, mining roads, ambushing cars and vandalizing (sometimes destroying) houses. After the Six-Day War, these incidents steadily decreased with the exception of the bombing of a complex of oil pipelines sourcing from the Haifa refinery in 1969.

The IDFs counterinsurgency tactics, which from 1967 onwards regularly included the use of home demolitions, curfews, deportations, and other forms of collective punishment, effectively precluded the ability of the Palestinian fedayeen to create internal bases from which to wage "a people's war".cite book|title="The Path to Mass Rebellion: An Analysis of Two Intifadas"|author=Ruth Margolies Beitler|year=2004|publisher=Lexington Books|page=56-57|isbn=0739107097] The tendency among many captured guerrillas to collaborate with the Israeli authorities, providing information that led to the destruction of numerous "terrorist cells", also contributed to the failure to establish bases in the territories occupied by Israel. The fedayeen were compelled to establish external bases, resulting in frictions with their host countries which led to conflicts (such as Black September), diverting them from their primary objective of "bleeding Israel".

Airplane hijackings

The tactic of exporting the struggle of against Israel outside the Middle East was first adopted by the Palestinian fedayeen in 1968.cite book|title="The New Dimension of International Terrorism"|author=Stefan M. Aubrey|page=34|year=2004|publisher=Hochschulverlag|isbn=3728129496] According to John Follain, it was Wadie Haddad of the PFLP who, unconvinced with the effectiveness of raids on military targets, masterminded the first hijacking of a civilian passenger plane by Palestinian fedayeen in July 1968. Two commandos forced an El Al Boeing 747 en route from Rome to Tel Aviv to land in Algiers, renaming the flight "Palestinian Liberation 007". While publicly proclaiming that it would not negotiate with terrorists, the Israelis did negotiate. The passengers were released unharmed in exchange for the release of sixteen Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails. The first hijacking of a American airliner was conducted by the PFLP on 29 August 1969. Robert D. Kumamoto describes the hijacking as a response to an American veto of a United Nations Security Council resolution censuring Israel for its March 1969 aerial attacks on Jordanian villages suspected of harbouring fedayeen, and for the impending delivery of American Phantom jets to Israel. The flight, en route to Tel Aviv from Rome, was forced to land in Damascus where, Leila Khaled, one of the two fedayeen to hijack the plane proclaimed that, "this hijacking is one of the operational aspects of our war against Zionism and all who support it, including the United States ... [;] it was a perfectly normal thing to do, the sort of thing all freedom fighters must tackle."cite book|title="International Terrorism & American Foreign Relations, 1945-1976"|author=Robert D. Kumamoto|year=1999|publisher=UPNE|isbn=1555533892] Most of the passengers and crew were released immediately after the plane landed. Six Israeli passengers were taken hostage and held for questioning by Syria. Four women among them were released after two days, and the two men were released after a week of intensive negotiations between all the parties involved. Of this PFLP hijacking and those that followed at Dawson's field, Kumamoto writes: "The PFLP hijackers had seized no armies, mountaintops, or cities. Theirs was not necessarily a war of arms; it was a war of words - a war of propaganda, the exploitation of violence to attract world attention. In that regard, the Dawson's Field episode was a publicity goldmine."

George Habash, leader of the PFLP, explained his view of the efficacy of hijacking as a tactic in a 1970 interview, stating, "When we hijack a plane it has more effect than if we killed a hundred Israelis in battle." Habash also stated that after decades of being ignored, "At least the world is talking about us now." The hijacking attempts did indeed continue. On 8 May 1972, a Sabena Airlines 707 was forced to land in Tel Aviv after it was commandeered by four Black September commandos who demanded the release of 317 fedayeen fighters being held in Israeli jails. While the Red Cross was negotiating, Israeli paratroopers disguised as mechanics stormed the plane, shot and killed two of hijackers and captured the remaining two after a gunfight that injured five passengers and two paratroopers.

The tactics employed by the Black September group in subsequent operations differed sharply from the other "run-of-the-mill PLO attacks of the day". The unprecedented level of violence evident in multiple international attacks between 1971 and 1972 included the Sabena airliner hijacking (mentioned above), the assassination of the Jordanian Prime Minister in Cairo, the Massacre at Lod airport, and the Munich Olympics massacre. In "The Dynamics of Armed Struggle", J. Bowyer Bell contends that "armed struggle" is a message to the enemy that they are "doomed by history" and that operations are "violent message units" designed to "accelerate history" to this end.cite book|title="The Dynamics of the Armed Struggle"|author=J. Bowyer Bell|year=1998|publisher=Routledge|isbn=0714648655|page=168-169] Bell argues that despite the apparent failure of the Munich operation which collapsed into chaos, murder, and gun battles, the basic fedayeen intention was achieved since, "The West was appalled and wanted to know the rationale of the terrorists, the Israelis were outraged and punished, many of the Palestinians were encouraged by the visibility and ignored the killings, and the rebels felt that they had acted, helped history along." He notes the opposite was true for the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight redirected to Uganda where the Israelis scored an "enormous tactical victory" in Operation Entebbe. While their death as martyrs had been foreseen, the fedayeen had not expected to die as villains, "bested by a display of Zionist skill."

Affiliations with other guerrilla groups

Several fedayeen groups maintained contacts with a number of other guerrilla groups worldwide. The IRA for example had long held ties with Palestinians, and volunteers trained at fedayeen bases in Lebanon.cite book|title="The Secret Army: The IRA"|author=J. Bowyer Bell|pages=437-438|year=1997|publisher=Transaction Publishers|isbn=1560009012] In 1977, Palestinian fedayeen from Fatah helped arrange for the delivery of a sizable arms shipment to the Provos by way of Cyprus, but it was intercepted by the Belgian authorities.

The PFLP and the DFLP established connections with revolutionary groups such as the Red Army Faction of West Germany, the Action Directe of France, the Red Brigades of Italy, the Japanese Red Army and the Tupamaros of Uruguay. These groups, especially the Japanese Red Army participated in many of the PFLP's operations including hijackings and the Lod Airport massacre. The Red Army Faction joined the PFLP in the hijackings of two airplanes that landed in Entebbe Airport.cite book |last=Aburish |first=Said K. |authorlink=Said K. Aburish |title=From Defender to Dictator |year=1998 |publisher=Bloomsbury Publishing |pages=pp.101-102 |location=New York |isbn=1-58234-049-8 ]

ee also

*1947 UN Partition Plan
*Arab-Israeli conflict
**1948 Arab-Israeli War
**Occupation of the Gaza Strip by Egypt
**History of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
**Israeli-Palestinian conflict
**Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty
**Peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
**Palestinian political violence
**Palestinian immigration (Israel)


External links

* [ Map of Fedayeen Raids]
* [ The Cold War]
* [,9171,942080,00.html Middle East: The Fedayeen Revisited] "Time" June 13, 1969
* [,9171,944878,00.html Cease-Fire Strains] "Time" June 24, 1974
*cite book| url=,M1| title=Britain, Israel and the United States, 1955-1958: Beyond Suez| author=Orna Almog| publisher=Routledge| year=2003| isbn=0714652466
*cite book| url=,M1| title=People and Politics in the Middle East| author=Michael Curtis| publisher=Transaction Publishers| year=1971| isbn=0878555005
*cite book| url=| title=The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East Conflict| author=Mitchell Bard| publisher=Alpha Books| year=2003| isbn=0028644107
* [ Black September in Jordan 1970-1971]

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