Palestinian resistance 1967-74

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  • The Six Day War was a disaster for Palestinians.  Those living in Gaza found themselves under Israeli military control;
  • Six new emergency refugee camps had to be opened up by the UN.
  • With few exceptions these Palestinian refugees were not allowed to become citizens in the Arab countries where they now lived.
  • This meant that they could not vote or have passports, making travel and finding work very difficult.  The Arab argument was that if they were granted citizenship they would lose their ‘right to return’ to their own lands.
  • Losing faith in the ability or willingness of Arab states to defeat Israel Palestinians began to plan ways of defeating Israel themselves.


  • Unsurprisingly, many of the refugees joined guerrilla movements, particularly placing their faith in Fatah under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, who continued to launch attacks directly on Israel from its bases in the Lebanon and in Jordan.  Those attacks peaked when a Fatah mine blew up an Israeli school bus in March 1968, killing the teachers and wounding ten children (the 38th mission that year).
  • Israel’s response was to attack Fatah’s base in Karameh even though it meant crossing into across Jordanian territory.  Israel sent 15000 troops to destroy Karameh but was met with fierce Fatah resistance supported by Jordanian troops.  What was thought to have been a small operation became a 15 hour battle.  Although Israel achieved its objectives, it lost 28 soldiers, 27 tanks and two aircraft and was concerned by world opinion for its excessive use of force. By contrast, Fatah’s strength grew – with 5000 new recruits joining within 2 days of the battle.  Fatah carried out 2000 attacks in 1969 alone.  
  • Yasser Arafat’s profile rose and he was made chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation in 1969

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – Airplane Hijackings

  • However, new groups, like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) believed that terrorist action outside of Israel was key.
  • Led by Palestinian Christian, Dr George Habash, PFLP hijacked four airplanes – British, Swiss and American – and  (after allowing passengers to disembark) blew them up at Dawson’s Field a remote desert airstrip in Jordan. 
  • Israel carried out reprisals against Jordan which in turn led it into conflict with the Palestinian insurgents.

Black September

  • By 1970 over half of the population of Jordan were Palestinian refugees and King Hussein of Jordan believed that the PLO was developing aspirations to topple him from power;
  • King Hussein of Jordan moved to control the Palestinian bases and succeeded – over a period of 10 days – known as ‘Black September’ to Palestinians in having 2000 Palestinian troops killed and the guerrilla groups move out to Lebanon, where they set up their new headquarters in Beirut.

The Munich Olympics Massacre – September 1972

  • In the aftermath a more extreme group emerged which named itself after Black September and The most notorious action of PLO terrorism was carried out when – after assassinating the Jordanian Prime Minister – the eight armed members entered the Olympic village in Munich, Germany on 5th September at 4.30 am and, after shooting dead two Israeli athletes – a further 9 were taken hostage.
  • German negotiators agreed to helicopter the terrorists and their hostages to a military airbase but at the airport an attempt was made by West German police to free the hostages. It was a monumental blunder.  In the gun battle that followed, all 9 of the athletes and 5 of the terrorists were killed.

A good historical video only available YouTube because age restricted, can be found here.

Change and Continuity – The Impact of Terrorism

  • Terrorism did little to change Israeli policy.  The Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir ordered air attacks on Syria and Lebanon which killed approximately 200-500 people.
  • She also launched Operation Wrath of God – which secretly authorized Mossad to find and assassinate all those responsible for the Munich massacre (this is depicted in Spielberg’s film Munich which is excellent, but not for the faint hearted).
  • However, the terrorism and the reprisals for it ensured that world attention was refocused on the problems of Palestine.  It helped to turn the perpetrators of the Olympic massacre into heroes for many Palestinians.
  • In 1974 Yasser Arafat was invited to address the United Nations Assembly in which he declared that he held an olive branch in one hand and a freedom fighter’s gun in the other.  ‘Don’t let the olive branch fall from my hand!’ he declared.  Palestine was awarded ‘observer status’ – much to the chagrin of Israel, America and the UK – but the road to Oslo 1995 was being formed.

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