battle for the holy land
homeon the groundcycle of violencecan anything end this?discussion
combatants

Palestinians
Since the current uprising began, in September 2000, popular support for radical Islamist militant groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad has surged, while new players such as the secular Al Aqsa Brigades, with ties to Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement, have emerged on the scene. Here's an overview of the Palestinian political organizations and militant groups, their key figures, and their ideologies.


+ Palestinian political organizations

+ Palestinian militant groups

+ Secular Palestinian militant groups

+ Islamist militant groups

PALESTINIAN POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS

- Palestinian Authority (PA)

The Palestinian Authority was established according to the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, one aim of which was to establish a "Palestinian Interim Self-Government Authority" for Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In January 1996, general elections were held for the presidency and the 88-member Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Yasser Arafat, who returned from exile in 1994, overwhelmingly won the presidency with 88 percent of the vote, and members of his Fatah organization won a majority of seats on the PLC. Arafat remains the president today.

+

- Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has been at the forefront of the Palestinian independence movement. An umbrella political organization, it is comprised of various political factions and guerrilla groups. The largest faction of the PLO today is Yasser Arafat's Fatah organization. Throughout its history, the PLO has remained a secular movement.

The PLO was established in 1964 with the support of Arab governments, and Yasser Arafat became its chairman in 1969. At the 1974 Arab summit, the PLO was recognized as the "sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people," and it has since represented Palestinians at the United Nations and other international forums.

Until 1996, the PLO operated in exile, first in Jordan, then Lebanon, and finally Tunisia. Although some members today remain in Tunisia, many PLO leaders returned to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to join the Palestinian Authority once it was established after the 1993 Oslo accords. In recent years, some of these PLO "outsiders" (as the former exiles are known) have been accused of corruption. The PLO has faced a resulting challenge to its authority by the West Bank and Gaza "insiders" -- including members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad -- who had fought during the first intifada in 1987 and retain tremendous popular support among Palestinian civilians.

- Fatah

An acronym for Palestine National Liberation Movement, Fatah is a political movement founded by Yasser Arafat in the 1950s. At its inception the movement's ultimate goal was the creation of a Palestinian state, and it supported and conducted terrorist attacks against Israel and Israeli citizens to achieve this goal.

In 1968, Fatah joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and it became the organization's dominant faction when Arafat became the PLO's leader in 1969. The party plays an integral role in the Palestinian Authority (PA), where its members hold the presidency and a majority of the legislature. Fatah has been linked to several secular militant groups, including Force 17, Tanzim and the Al Aqsa Brigades.

PALESTINIAN MILITANT GROUPS

Traditionally, the Palestinian militant organizations have been divided along secular and Islamic lines. However, during the current intifada, there is evidence that the traditional divisions between the two groups have collapsed. While suicide bombing has often been a tactic of the Islamic militants, it has only recently been embraced by secular groups such as the PFLP and, in particular, the Al Aqsa Brigades.

SECULAR PALESTINIAN MILITANT GROUPS

- Force 17

Formed in the early 1970s, Force 17 is Yasser Arafat's personal security force, and is subject solely to his authority. Israel claims they have participated in attacks against Israeli interests since the beginning of the Al Aqsa intifada, and Israeli forces have repeatedly attacked Force 17 headquarters. In March 2002, 230 members of the U.S. Congress signed a letter to President Bush urging him to place the group on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations.

- Tanzim

Not much is known about the Tanzim, which since 1995 has served as a Fatah militia. It is believed that Arafat set up the Tanzim to serve a dual purpose: first as a secular counterbalance to the growing power and influence of the Islamist militant groups, and also as a pro-Arafat force that could attack the Israeli occupiers.

Organized into local cells, the Tanzim is considered to be a grassroots organization that has inherited the legacy of the first intifada. Marwan Barghouti, one of Arafat's top Fatah lieutenants with critical grassroots credibility among ordinary Palestinians, is considered to be the commander of the Tanzim. Barghouti has said that Tanzim forces target Israeli soldiers and civilians solely in the occupied territories. However, Israeli security officials charge that Tanzim members also have attacked citizens in Israel.

- Al Aqsa Brigades

The Al Aqsa Brigades, sometimes called the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, is a group that has arisen during the current intifada. It has been linked to Arafat's Fatah movement and the Tanzim, although the group's members claim that Arafat has had no direct contact with them. The militia says it favors the peace process and has pledged allegiance to Arafat; however, it says it will not lay down its arms until Israel has withdrawn from the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Al Aqsa Brigades is organized into local cells, which have conducted shooting attacks and suicide bombings both inside Israel and in the occupied territories. Several of its leaders have been killed by targeted Israeli assassinations. In March 2002, the group was designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

In April 2002, Israel announced it had seized documents from Yasser Arafat's Ramallah compound that showed a Palestinian Authority finance official had distributed funds to finance Al Aqsa operations, including a weapons factory.

+

- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

Founded in 1967, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) is a Marxist-Leninist organization that was among the first Palestinian nationalist movements to embrace terrorism as a way to attract attention to its cause. It conducted a series of notorious airline hijackings during the 1970s. The PFLP was one of the original members of the PLO. However, because of its opposition to peace with Israel, it suspended its membership after PLO leader Yasser Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles. The U.S. State Department has designated the PFLP as a terrorist organization, and says the group receives financial and military assistance from Syria and Libya.

The PFLP has been active in the current intifada. While it was previously known for its tactics of drive-by shootings and car bombings, in October 2001 the PFLP claimed responsibility for its first suicide attack in the Gaza Strip. Also in October, PFLP gunmen assassinated Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in response to Israel's assassination of PFLP leader Mustafa Zibri. Zeevi's assassination marked the first time a Palestinian group had assassinated an Israeli Cabinet minister.

+

- Splinter Groups of the PFLP

The PFLP is associated with several splinter groups. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) split from the PFLP in 1969. Like the PFLP, the DFLP has a Marxist-Leninist political orientation, but it believes that its goal of a Palestinian state can only be achieved through a popular revolt by the working class. The DFLP continues to oppose the peace process and its members have been the object of Israel's targeted assassinations.

Claiming it wanted to focus more on fighting than politics, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) split from the PFLP in 1968. The group continues to oppose the peace process and the PLO. It has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which says the group is closely tied to Syria and Iran.

In turn, the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) split from the PFLP-GC in the mid-1970s. The PLF later split into three factions, one of which was responsible for the 1985 murder of U.S. citizen Leon Klinghoffer on the cruise ship Achille Lauro. After the Achille Lauro attack, the PLF moved its headquarters from Tunisia to Iraq. The PLF has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which says the group has also received support from Libya in the past.

ISLAMIST MILITANT GROUPS

- Hamas

Hamas was formed in late 1987 during the first Palestinian intifada, but it refers to itself as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood movement of the 1940s. Its name is an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, and its goal is the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state. The group is adamantly opposed to the peace process and considers itself to be waging jihad against Israel.

Although Hamas is best known for its suicide attacks, the group's tactics also include kidnapping, assassinations, raids, and bombings. Its clandestine military wing, known as Izzedine al-Qassam, targets Israeli soldiers and citizens alike, inside both Israel and the occupied territories. Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack that Israelis are calling the "Passover massacre" -- the March 27, 2002, suicide bombing of a Passover seder at a Netanya hotel which killed 26 people. Hamas has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which says the group receives external aid from Iran, Palestinian expatriates, private citizens in Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

In addition to its terrorist activities, Hamas also has a social service arm, which operates in the occupied territories and is one reason for its tremendous popularity among ordinary Palestinians. Its social service organizations, which include schools and medical clinics, also provide a pretext for the group to raise funds around the world, including in North America and Europe. The spiritual head of Hamas is Sheik Ahmed Yassin.

+

- Islamic Jihad

Islamic Jihad is a name used by many different Islamist groups. The Islamic Jihad that operates out of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is sometimes referred to as Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The group was formed in 1979-1980 by Palestinian students living in Egypt who were influenced by radicalized Egyptian Islamic student activists and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran. It is committed to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic Palestinian state. Unlike Hamas, however, Islamic Jihad is strictly a military organization and does not operate a social services wing.

Islamic Jihad was active during the first Palestinian intifada as well as the current one. Its primary tactic is suicide bombings conducted against Israeli targets inside Israel and the occupied territories. It has been known to collaborate with other terrorist groups, including Hamas. On March 19, 2002, the group carried out a suicide bombing on a bus in Israel which killed 7 people, including 4 Israeli soldiers. Islamic Jihad has been designated as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which says that the organization receives financial assistance from Iran and Syria.

+

- Hezbollah

Hezbollah, a Shiite Muslim group based in Lebanon, was founded after the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Its ideology is based upon the 1979 Iranian revolution, with the twin goals of the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic republic in Lebanon. In addition to its military operations against Israel, Hezbollah operates a social services arm and its own satellite television station.

Hezbollah's military tactics include kidnappings, bombings and suicide bombings. The group is suspected of attacks on U.S. interests in Lebanon, including the 1983 truck bombings of the U.S. Marine barracks and U.S. Embassy in Beirut. It has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department, which says the group receives substantial support from Iran and Syria.

The spiritual leader of Hezbollah is Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who has been very outspoken in his support of the Palestinian intifada. The group is believed to have provided operational and financial assistance to Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah. In March and April 2002 there have been multiple reports of clashes between Israeli forces and Hezbollah fighters along Israel's northern border -- including the first report of attacks based out of southern Lebanon, since Israel's May 2000 unilateral withdrawal from the country. In recent days Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer has warned of the potential for a second front in Israel's war against terrorism along the border with Lebanon.

--April 4, 2002

home - on the ground - cycle of violence - can anything end this? - combatants - introduction
discussion - video excerpts - producer chat - map
tapes & transcripts - press - credits - privacy policy
FRONTLINE - wgbh - pbs

web site copyright 1995-2014 WGBH educational foundation

SUPPORT PROVIDED BY

RECENT STORIES

FRONTLINE on

ShopPBS