A look at the impact of fedayeens in the Arab world after the Six-Day War

The Six-Day War remains an important event in the history of Israel. It ended with the occupation of Judea and Samaria, East Jerusalem, the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights, and the Shebaa Farms by Israeli forces. During this time, Israel tripled its amount of territory. However, this war made Palestinians – who after the Nakba mainly settled in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – began to develop not only their own institutions within another state, but also their own identity. Before the Six-Day War, King Hussein I of Jordan, like his grandfather, identified himself as the representative of the Palestinians. And is that with Israel’s Independence War most of the 750,000 Palestinians, who left the new Jewish state, went to Jordan. In fact, it is estimated that today there are 3 million Palestinians there.

As a result of this influx of Palestinians, the Hashemite Kingdom worked to ensure that the Palestinians were not only part of Jordanian society but also integrated. An example of this is the granting of Jordanian citizenship to Palestinians and the annexation of the West Bank, an area mainly populated by Palestinian refugees at the time. King Hussein argued that Palestinians did not need their own institutions because they were under his rule and the protection of his army. But in the aftermath of the Six-Day War, in the Arab World, this changed and a new identity developed. This led to the fedayeen’s warfare campaign. Palestinian fedayeen were militants of a nationalist orientation from the Palestinian people.

Members of these groups were living in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank or in neighboring Lebanon and Syria. Prior to Israel’s seizure of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War, these areas, “originally destined for a Palestinian state,” were under Jordanian or Egyptian occupation, respectively. Prior to the Six Day War, there was a fedayeen group already called Fatah, led by Yasser Arafat. After the end of the war in 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was born. This group is a secular Palestinian Marxist-Leninist and revolutionary organization founded in 1967 by George Habash. It has consistently been the second largest of the groups forming the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the largest being Fatah. The PLO was created by the Arab League in 1964 and was named as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians.” King Hussein did not agree with this, and with Yasser Arafat’s ascent into the PLO in 1968 their relations were quite bad.

To the point that King Hussein threatened the Americans by saying that if they recognized Arafat and the PLO, they could not have relations with the Hashemite kingdom. In fact, the creation of Palestinians institutions within Jordan, what was called by the Israelis as “fatahland,” led to a civil war.

Unlike Fatah and the PLO, the PFLP was interested in overthrowing King Hussein from Jordan, and attack Israel from there. At this point, it is necessary to mention that the fedayeen’s, unlike the Arab states, came to be seen by these societies like heroes because of the guerrilla confrontation they led against Israel after 1967. These organizations, which were supported by Gamal Abdel Nasser, were also supported by Syria. Although it is important to emphasize that after its formation, the PFLP decided to ally itself with China and Vietnam, and turned away from Nasser. In the case of Fatah and the PLO, they recruited Palestinians for their acts of abduction of Israeli aircraft and paramilitary acts in the Jordan Valley, especially in Lebanon.

These were then trained in Syria. Because the Arab world recognized that they should look for other options to attack Israel, the acts perpetrated by the fedayeen’s, from their point of view, could make Israel become vulnerable. So the guerrilla warfare employed by these groups, Operation Karameh and the War of Attrition (1968-1969), caused the Palestinians to reappear in the political and military scene of the Arab world. On the other hand, it is noteworthy that the military and propaganda support that Syria and Egypt gave to these groups – for example the PLO had a radio program in Egypt – somehow mythologized the “success” that fedayeen’s had against the “Zionist entity.” In addition, and with the rise of PLO’s popularity, the Arab states were blamed for what happened to the Palestinians by not proactively fighting the Israelis.

In conclusion, I think that because the fedayeen’s did not have a real plan of what they wanted to achieve with their attacks, operations or kidnappings, they were effectively contained by Israel. In addition, I consider that the ceasefire between Israel and Egypt in 1970 affected the fedayeen’s. In fact, they were overwhelmed by Nasser’s acceptance of this ceasefire with Israel, which was sponsored by the United States. Interestingly, when Arafat complained to Nasser, the latter decided to close the radio station of the PLO in Egypt. So I have no doubt that the Six-Day War caused the Palestinians to reappear in the scene of the Arab world thanks to the fedayeen’s and gave them the legitimacy to represent the Palestinian people. Evidently, Israelis measures to fight the fedayeen´s back in the Jordan Valley -including the “symbolic fence” they created between the West Bank and Jordan- and their counter-terrorism initiatives were also critical for the failure of the fedayeen’s.

Not receiving the support, especially from Egypt as result of the 1970 ceasefire signed between Cairo and Jerusalem, was also critical for the fedayeen´s failure in the field.

About the Author
José Lev Gómez is an MA candidate in Security and Intelligence at the University of Buckingham in England and has a degree in Neuroscience with a minor in Israel Studies from the American University in Washington, DC. José has interned at the House of Representatives of Puerto Rico, at the College Republicans National Committee and The David Project in Washington, DC. In addition to his interest in Spanish politics, diplomacy and security issues in the Middle East, José has worked as coordinator of events related to Israel for American University Hillel and as an events assistant for the Center for Israel Studies at the American University. He recently completed a diplomatic internship at the Iraqi Kurdistan Delegation in Washington, DC. In addition to collaborating with this newspaper, José writes for Diario Judío (Mexico) and has written for newspapers such as El Nuevo Día (Puerto Rico), El Vocero de Puerto Rico (Puerto Rico), Latino Rebels (United States) and Red Alert Politics (United States). José is the author of two books: "Panorama Internacional: Una mirada a la geopolítica e historia mundial (2016-2017)" and "Puerto Rico: El nocivismo del insularismo y el colonialismo", and he completed his final project in Israel Studies on the "Relations of Israel with Basque and Catalan Nationalism.
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