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Timeline: Conflict in the Middle East, 1947-2000

1947 - 1969 | 1970 - 2000  


President Harry S. Truman Great Britain, which has ruled the area known as Palestine since 1920, announces that it will transfer responsibility to the United Nations. The population of Palestine is two-thirds Arab and one-third Jewish, although Jewish settlers own only 6% of the land; many of the Jews are refugees from Europe and the Holocaust. American president Harry Truman has been pushing for greater Jewish immigration to Palestine, while Britain has resisted it.

November 29: A U.N.-sponsored partition plan passes the General Assembly 33-13 with 10 abstentions. Under this plan, Palestine will be divided into a Jewish state (with 56.47% of the land) and an Arab state (with 43.53% of the land), while Jerusalem will become an international protectorate. Although the United States, Soviet Union, and Jewish settlers accept the plan, Arab countries reject it, and the plan is never implemented.


President Truman in the Oval office with the Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion May 14: Following months of hostilities between Jewish and Arab forces, David Ben-Gurion proclaims the establishment of the state of Israel. Both the United States and the Soviet Union quickly extend diplomatic recognition, but neighboring Arab states Jordan, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, and Lebanon invade Israel. Israeli forces are largely victorious in the ensuing fighting, which results in the creation of several hundred thousand Palestinian refugees.


June: More than a year of war ends with a series of armistices between Israel and neighboring Arab states. Israel gains about 50% more territory than it would have had under the original U.N. plan, including West Jerusalem, while Jordan takes the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt assumes control of the Gaza Strip. Although U.N. Resolution 194 has called for a right of return for all peaceful refugees, their status remains unresolved.


King Hussein of Jordan July 20: Jordan's King Abdullah is assassinated while visiting a mosque in Jerusalem; his 17-year-old grandson Hussein will be crowned one year later.


Ben-Gurion steps down as Israel's first prime minister; he will become prime minister again in 1955. Gamal Abdel Nasser, who led a military coup against King Faruq in 1952, becomes president of Egypt.


October 29: After a series of border incidents and Egypt's nationalization of the Suez Canal, Israel invades the Sinai Peninsula as part of a secret agreement with France and England, who simultaneously invade the Suez Canal Zone. All three withdraw as a result of heavy pressure from American President Dwight Eisenhower.


Yasser Arafat, a former Egyptian soldier born in Gaza under Egyptian administration, founds Al Fatah, an organization dedicated to armed Palestinian struggle against Israel.


The Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) is created in Cairo. The group's charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Egyptian President Nasser tries to make it an instrument of Egyptian policy. Arafat opposes Nasser; he wants any Palestinian organization to be independent. Throughout the 1960s, Arafat will oversee a series of guerrilla attacks on Israeli forces.


May-June: Nasser closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, blocking its access to the Red Sea, and prepares to attack. On June 5, Israel launches a preemptive strike, destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground. The subsequent Six Day War roughly doubles the size of Israel; the Israelis seize the Sinai, West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights. Nearly half a million Palestinians are displaced by this round of fighting.

President Lyndon B. Johnson November: U.N. Resolution 242 calls for Israeli withdrawal from all of what become known as the "occupied territories." The United States, which had affirmed Israel's right to free passage through the Straits, by force if necessary, acquiesces in Israel's military operations but later supports withdrawal from the occupied territories, although President Lyndon Johnson's administration does not specify how much captured land Israel should relinquish.

December: George Habash, a doctor and Palestinian of Greek Orthodox background who had been forced to flee his home during the 1948 war, forms the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.F.L.P.), a Marxist organization that views the Palestinian struggle as part of a fight against imperialism and targets Western powers like America as well as Israel.


March 21: Fatah guerrillas including Yasser Arafat battle Israeli forces commanded by Ariel Sharon in the Jordanian town of Karameh, causing numerous casualties. After the debacle of the Six Day War, the performance of the Palestinian fighters is hailed as a victory and adds greatly to the prestige of the P.L.O. among Palestinians.

July 23: Determined to gain attention through dramatic action, the P.F.L.P. sends three militants to hijack an El Al (Israel's national airline) flight en route from Rome to Tel Aviv; this marks the first skyjacking by Palestinian fighters. The plane is diverted to Algiers, where all hostages are eventually freed. Israel subsequently releases 16 Arab prisoners.

December 26: Two P.F.L.P. fighters attack an El Al flight on the ground in Athens, killing a passenger, and are subsequently captured. In retaliation, Israeli forces destroy 13 aircraft at the Beirut airport.


February: Arafat takes over the P.L.O. Guerrillas of the P.F.L.P. again attack an El Al flight on the ground, this time in Zurich. The plane's co-pilot dies from his injuries and five others are wounded; one P.F.L.P. member is killed and the others are captured.

Portrait of Golda Meir March: Golda Meir becomes prime minister of Israel.

August 29: For the first time, the P.F.L.P. targets an American airline, hijacking a TWA flight from Rome to Tel Aviv. The leader of this operation is a 25-year-old native of Haifa named Leila Khaled whose family was forced to flee to Lebanon during the 1948 war. She and an accomplice divert the plane to Damascus and detonate a bomb in the cockpit after it has landed. All passengers except two Israeli men are quickly released; these two are exchanged for 13 Syrians held by the Israeli government. Two weeks later three P.F.L.P. members are arrested before boarding a TWA flight in Athens that they planned to skyjack.

December: American Secretary of State William Rogers proposes a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, but neither side accepts it.

1947 - 1969 | 1970 - 2000  

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