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Palestinian fedayeen

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Palestinian fedayeen

Palestinian fedayeen (from the Arabic fidā'ī, plural fidā'iyūn, فدائيون) are militants or guerrillas of a nationalist orientation from among the Palestinian people. Most Palestinians consider the fedayeen to be "freedom fighters", while most Israelis consider 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 left-wing nationalist, socialist or communist, and their proclaimed purpose was to defeat Zionism, claim Palestine and establish it as "a secular, democratic, nonsectarian state". The meaning of a secular, democratic and non-sectarian, however greatly diverged among fedayeen factions.

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 mid-1950s the fedayeen began mounting cross-border operations into Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan. The earliest infiltrations were often to access the lands agricultural products they had lost as a result of the war, or to attack Israeli military, and sometimes civilian targets. The Gaza Strip, the sole territory of the All-Palestine Government—an independent Palestinian state declared in October 1948, became the focal point of the Palestinian fedayeen activity. Fedayeen attacks were directed on Gaza and Sinai borders with Israel, and as a result 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". 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".

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."

Edmund Jan Osmańczyk's Encyclopedia of the United Nations and International Agreements (2002) defines fedayeen as "Palestinian resistance fighters", whereas Martin Gilbert's The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2005) defines fedayeen as "Palestinian terrorist groups". Robert McNamara refers to the fedayeen simply as "guerrillas", as do Zeev Schiff and Raphael Rothstein in their work Fedayeen: Guerrillas 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"). 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.

1948 to 1956

Palestinian immigration into Palestine first emerged among the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, living in camps in Jordan (including the Jordania-occupied West Bank), Lebanon, Egypt (including the Egyptian protectorate in Gaza), and Syria. Initially, most infiltrations were economic in nature, with Palestinians crossing the border seeking food or the recovery of property lost in the 1948 war.

Between 1948 and 1955, immigration by Palestinians into Israel was opposed by Arab governments, in order to prevent escalation into another war. The problem of establishing and guarding the demarcation line separating the Gaza Strip from the Israeli-held Negev area proved vexing, largely due to the presence of over 200,000 Palestinian Arab refugees in this Gaza area. The terms of the Armistice Agreement restricted Egypt’s use and deployment of regular armed forces in the Gaza strip. In keeping with this restriction, the Egyptian Government’s solution was to form a Palestinian para-military police force. The Palestinian Border police was created in December 1952. The Border police were placed under the command of ‘Abd-al-Man’imi ‘Abd-al-Ra’uf, a former Egyptian air brigade commander, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and member of the Revolutionary Council. 250 Palestinian volunteers started training in March 1953, with further volunteers coming forward for training in May and December 1953. Some Border police personnel were attached to the Military Governor’s office, under ‘Abd-al-‘Azim al-Saharti, to guard public installations in the Gaza strip. After an Israeli raid on an Egyptian military outpost in Gaza in February 1955, during which 37 Egyptian soldiers were killed, the Egyptian government began to actively sponsor fedayeen raids into Israel.

The first struggle by Palestinian fedayeen may have been launched from Syrian territory in 1951, though most counterattacks between 1951 and 1953 were launched from Jordanian territory. According to Yeshoshfat Harkabi (former head of Israeli military intelligence), these early infiltrations were limited "incursions", initially motivated by economic reasons, such as Palestinians crossing the border into Israel to harvest crops in their former villages. Gradually, they developed into violent robbery and deliberate 'terrorist' attacks as fedayeen replaced the 'innocent' refugees as the perpetrators.

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion tasked Ariel Sharon, then security chief of the Northern Region, with setting up of a new commando unit, Unit 101, designed to respond to fedayeen infiltrations (see retribution operations). After one month of training, "a patrol of the unit that infiltrated into the Gaza Strip as an exercise, encountered Palestinians in al-Bureij refugee camp, opened fire to rescue itself and left behind about 30 killed Arabs and dozens of wounded." In its five-month existence, Unit 101 was also responsible for carrying out the Qibya massacre 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 "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, 967 Israelis were killed in what he claims as "Arab terrorist attacks", a figure Benny Morris characterizes as "pure nonsense". 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. 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". 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.

United Nations reports indicate that between 1949 and 1956, Israel launched more than seventeen raids on Egyptian territory and 31 attacks on Arab towns or military forces.

From late 1954 onwards, larger scale Fedayeen operations were mounted from Egyptian territory. The Egyptian government supervised the establishment of formal fedayeen groups in Gaza and the northeastern Sinai. General Mustafa Hafez, commander of Egyptian army intelligence, is said to have founded Palestinian fedayeen units "to launch terrorist raids across Israel's southern border," nearly always against civilians. In a speech on 31 August 1955, Egyptian President Nasser said:

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.

In 1955, it is reported that 260 Israeli citizens were killed or wounded by the fedayeen. Some believe fedayeen attacks contributed to the outbreak of the Suez Crisis; they were cited by Israel as the reason for undertaking the 1956 Sinai Campaign. Others argue that Israel "engineered eve-of-war lies and deceptions.... to give Israel the excuse needed to launch its strike", such as presenting a group of "captured fedayeen" to journalists, who were in fact Israeli soldiers.

In 1956, Israeli troops entered Khan Yunis in the Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip, conducting house-to-house searches for Palestinian fedayeen and weaponry. During this operation, 275 Palestinians were killed, with an additional 111 killed in Israeli raids on the Rafah refugee camp. Israel claimed these killings resulted from "refugee resistance", a claim denied by refugees; there were no Israeli casualties.

Suez Crisis

On 29 October 1956, the first day of Israel's invasion of the Sinai Peninsula, Israeli forces attacked "fedayeen units" in the towns of Ras al-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 as the saboteurs. On 9 November, 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.

During the invasion of Sinai, Israeli forces killed fifty defenseless fedayeen on a lorry in Ras Sudar. (Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Saul Ziv told Maariv in 1995 he was haunted by this killing.) After Israel took control of the Gaza Strip, dozens of fedayeen were summarily executed, mostly in two separate incidents. Sixty-six were killed in screening operations in the area; while a US diplomat estimated that of the 500 fedayeen captured by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), "about 30" were killed.

1956 to 1967

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.

During the mid and late 1960s, there emerged a number of independent Palestinian fedayeen groups who sought "the liberation of all Palestine through a Palestinian armed struggle." The first incursion by these fedayeen may have been the 1 January 1965 commando infiltration into Israel, to plant explosives that destroyed a section of pipeline designed to divert water from the Jordan River into Israel. In 1966, the Israeli military attacked the Jordanian-controlled West Bank village of Samu, in response to Fatah raids against Israel's eastern border, increasing tensions leading to the Six-Day War.

1967 to 1987

Fedayeen groups began joining the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1968. 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 PLO framework, 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 4 July 1969, when a single militant placed three pounds of explosives under the manifold 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 a fire destroyed over 1,500 tons of refined oil.

West Bank

In the late 1960s, attempts were made to organize fedayeen resistance cells among the refugee population in the West Bank. The stony and empty terrain of the West Bank mountains made the fedayeen easy to spot; and Israeli collective punishment against the families of fighters resulted in the fedayeen being pushed out of the West Bank altogether, within a few months. Yasser Arafat reportedly escaped arrest in Ramallah by jumping out a window, as Israeli police came in the front door. Without a base in the West Bank, and prevented from operating in Syria and Egypt, the fedayeen concentrated in 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, while "brisk and indiscriminate" Israeli retaliations destroyed Jordanian villages, farms and installations, causing 100,000 people to flee the Jordan Valley eastward. The increasing ferocity of those Israeli reprisals directed at Jordanians (not Palestinians) for fedayeen raids into Israel became a growing cause of concern for the Jordanian authorities.

One such Israeli reprisal was in the Jordanian town of Karameh, home to the headquarters of an emerging fedayeen group called Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat. Warned of large-scale Israeli military preparations, many fedayeen groups, including the PFLP and the DFLP, withdraw their forces from the town. Advised by a pro-Fatah Jordanian divisional commander to withdraw his men and headquarters to nearby hills, Arafat refused, stating "We want to convince the world that there are those in the Arab world who will not withdraw or flee." Fatah remained, and the Jordanian Army agreed to back them if heavy fighting ensued.

On the night of 21 March 1968, Israel 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. 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. 13 Jordanian tanks were destroyed in the battle; while the Israelis lost 4 tanks, 3 half tracks, 2 armoured cars, and an airplane shot down by Jordanian forces.

The Battle of Karameh raised the profile of the fedayeen, as they were regarded the "daring heroes of the Arab world". 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 the "foundation myth" of the Palestinian commando movement, whereby "failure against overwhelming odds [was] brilliantly narrated as [an] heroic triumph."

Financial donations and recruitment increased as many young Arabs, including thousands of non-Palestinians, joined the ranks of the organization. The ruling Hashemite authorities in Jordan grew increasingly alarmed by the PLO's activities, as they established a "state within a state", providing military training and social welfare services to the Palestinian population, bypassing the Jordanian authorities. 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 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 held in European jails was met. After everyone had disembarked, the fedayeen destroyed the airplanes on the tarmac.

Black September in Jordan

On 16 September 1970, King Hussein ordered his troops to strike 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 of Palestinians were killed in the initial battle — which came to be known as Black September — and thousands more in the security crackdown that followed. 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.

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. Dozens 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." The destruction of the secular infrastructure, 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". On 11 March 1978, twelve fedayeen led by Dalal Mughrabi infiltrated Israel from the sea and hijacked a bus along the coastal highway, killing 38 civilians in the ensuing gunfight between them and police. Israel invaded southern Lebanon in the 1978 Israel-Lebanon conflict, occupying a 20 kilometres (12 mi) wide area there to put an end to Palestinian attacks on Israel, but fedayeen rocket strikes on 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. 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. The new PLO headquarters was destroyed during an Israeli airstrike in 1985.

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."

First Intifada

On 25 November 1987, PFLP-GC launched an attack, in which two fedayeen infiltrated northern Israel from an undisclosed Syrian-controlled area in southern Lebanon with hang gliders. One of them was killed at the border, while the other proceeded to land at an army camp, initially killing a soldier in a passing vehicle, then five more in the camp, before being shot dead. Thomas Friedman said that judging by commentary in the Arab world, the raid was seen as a boost to the Palestinian national movement, just as it had seemed to be almost totally eclipsed by the Iran–Iraq War. Palestinians in Gaza began taunting Israeli soldiers, chanting "six to one" and the raid has been noted as a catalyst to the 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 assets in struggles over a particular political line."

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.

Second Intifada and current situation

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 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 town 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."

Today, the fedayeen have been eclipsed politically by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), which consists of the major factions of the PLO, and militarily by Islamist groups, particularly Hamas. Already strained relations between Hamas and the PNA collapsed entirely when the former took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. Although the fedayeen are leftist and secular, during the most recent hostilities between Israel and the Gaza Strip, fedayeen groups fought alongside and in coordination with Hamas even though a number of the factions were previously sworn enemies of them. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an armed faction loyal to the Fatah-controlled PNA, undermined Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas by lobbing rockets into southern Israel in concert with rivals Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. According to researcher Maha Azzam, this symbolized the disintegration of Fatah and the division between the grassroots organization and the current leadership. The PFLP and the Popular Resistance Committees also joined in the fighting.

To rival the PNA and increase Palestinian fedayeen cooperation, a Damascus-based coalition composed of representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, as-Sa'iqa, the Palestinian Popular Struggle Front, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and other anti-PNA factions within the PLO, such as Fatah al-Intifada, was established during the Gaza War in 2009.

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.

Infighting and breakaway movements

During the post-Six-Day War era, individual fedayeen movements quarreled over issues about the recognition of Israel, alliances with various Arab states, and ideologies. A faction led by Nayef Hawatmeh and Yasser Abed Rabbo split from PFLP in 1974, because they preferred a Maoist and non-Nasserist approach. This new movement became known as the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). 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", 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-Sa'iqa, the Arab Liberation Front and the Palestine Liberation Front, among others, to form a breakaway movement which came to be known as the Rejectionist Front.

During the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the PLO aligned itself with the Communist and Nasserist Lebanese National Movement. Although they were initially backed by Syrian president Hafez al-Assad, when he switched sides in the conflict, the smaller pro-Syrian factions within the Palestinian fedayeen camp, namely as-Sa'iqa and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command fought against Arafat's Fatah-led PLO. In 1988, after Arafat and al-Assad partially reconciled, Arafat loyalists in the refugee camps of Bourj al-Barajneh and Shatila attempted to force out Fatah al-Intifada—a pro-Syrian Fatah breakaway movement formed by Said al-Muragha in 1983. Instead, al-Muragha's forces overran Arafat loyalists from both camps after bitter fighting in which Fatah al-Intifada received backing from the Lebanese Amal militia.

The PLO and other Palestinian armed movements became increasingly divided after the Oslo Accords in 1993. They were rejected by the PFLP, DFLP, Hamas, and twenty other factions, as well as Palestinian intellectuals, refugees outside of the Palestinian territories, and the local leadership of the territories. The Rejectionist fedayeen factions formed a common front with the Islamists, culminating in the creation of the Alliance of Palestinian Forces. This new alliance failed to act as a cohesive unit, but revealed the sharp divisions among the PLO, with the fedayeen finding themselves aligning with Palestinian Islamists for the first time. Disintegration within the PLO's main body Fatah increased as Farouk Qaddoumi—in charge of foreign affairs—voiced his opposition to negotiations with Israel. Members of the PLO-Executive Committee, poet Mahmoud Darwish and refugee leader Shafiq al-Hout resigned from their posts in response to the PLO's acceptance of Oslo's terms.


Until 1968, fedayeen tactics consisted largely of hit-and-run raids on Israeli military targets. 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". 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 their struggle against Israel beyond the Middle East was first adopted by the Palestinian fedayeen in 1968. 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 an 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." 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. 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. 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.


Palestinian fedayeen Wikipedia