' Skip To Content
Hijacked! | Timeline

Conflict in the Middle East (1947-2000)

President Harry S. Truman | Truman Presidential Museum

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 | National Archives

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 | National Archives

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 | National Archives

 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.

Golda Meir | Library of Congress

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.

February 21: A P.F.L.P. splinter group detonates altitude bombs in two airplanes, causing one to crash while the other lands safely. Forty-seven people are killed, and both the P.F.L.P. and other Palestinian guerrilla organizations condemn the attacks.

July 22: Two days before a couple of P.F.L.P. members are to go on trial in Greece, six others hijack an Olympic Airways flight from Beirut to Athens. After landing in Greece, they threaten to blow up the plane unless their comrades (and five others already convicted) are released. Although the Israelis now refuse to negotiate with hijackers, the Greek government agrees to the deal. Emboldened by this success, the P.F.L.P. plots its most dramatic skyjacking operation yet.

September 6: Three teams of P.F.L.P. guerrillas attempt to hijack three separate planes and divert them to "Revolution Airport," a natural airstrip in the middle of the Jordanian desert that was formerly used by the British. Jordan is selected because the P.L.O. has a large presence in the country, almost running a de facto government at odds with the regime of King Hussein. The skyjackers successfully seize TWA Flight 74 from Frankfurt to New York and Swissair Flight 100 from Zurich to New York; together these planes carry more than 300 hostages, most of them Americans. But the four hijackers assigned to El Al Flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York run into problems. Two are removed by security before the plane takes off, and when the remaining guerrillas, Khaled and an American named Patrick Arguello, try to skyjack the flight, pilot Uri Bar Lev puts the plane into a nosedive. In the resulting confusion, Arguello shoots a flight steward (he later recovers), Khaled is subdued, and Arguello is mortally wounded by an air marshal. The plane lands safely in London, where Khaled is arrested.

Meanwhile, the two P.F.L.P. fighters who had been removed buy first-class tickets on Pam Am Flight 93 from Amsterdam to New York. Although they again arouse suspicions, a search of their persons fails to detect the grenade and pistols they have concealed. They commandeer the jumbo jet but later conclude that it is too large to land at Revolution Airport. After refueling in Beirut, the Pan Am flight arrives in Cairo and the hijackers blow it up after all the passengers have gotten off. The P.F.L.P. members are arrested by Egyptian police.

The first hijacked plane, TWA Flight 74, lands with its 145 passengers and ten crewmembers at 6:45pm in Jordan, followed ten minutes later by the Swissair plane with 143 passengers and a crew of 12.

September 7: In the morning, the hijackers issue their demands, giving the governments whose citizens are on board 72 hours to release Palestinian militants (including Khaled) held in Europe and Israel or the hostages will be killed. The European governments involved and the United States agree to negotiate with the P.F.L.P. via the Red Cross, but Israel refuses. Meanwhile, the Palestinian forces at Revolution Airport have been surrounded by Jordanian troops; after a period of negotiation, the guerrillas agree to release 127 women and children in exchange for a pullback of Jordanian forces. These hostages are taken to an Amman hotel, but all Jewish women and children are kept on the planes. That night the P.F.L.P. also removes three U.S. government employees, two rabbis, and a man named Gerry Berkowitz and takes them to a secret location 100 miles away in case the Israelis try to mount a rescue operation.

September 8: President Richard Nixon assembles his advisers to discuss the American response. He later phones Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird and instructs him to bomb the P.F.L.P. positions, but Laird claims the weather is not favorable for an air strike. Laird will later say that, with American troops still in Vietnam, he was opposed to any military action and used the weather as an excuse.

September 9: With the P.F.L.P.'s deadline soon to expire, three militants skyjack a British BOAC plane with 105 passengers and nine crew members while en route from Bahrain to London. After the plane lands at Revolution Airport, the P.F.L.P. extends the deadline for meeting its demands until Sunday, September 13. Meanwhile, in Amman Palestinian fighters have been battling Hussein's troops just outside the hotel where the freed hostages are staying; Jordanian forces are finally able to get them safely out of the country.

September 10: Nixon begins to ratchet up the U.S. response, putting the 82nd Airborne division on "semialert" and flying transport planes to Turkey where they can help in any evacuation of Americans. The next day elements of the U.S. Sixth Fleet also leave port to assist in operations.

September 12: The P.F.L.P. guerrillas remove the remaining hostages from the three planes at Revolution Airport and then blow up the aircraft. While many of the hostages are released, more than 50 Jewish passengers and all male crew members are kept as "political prisoners." Over the next few days, King Hussein decides he must strike against the Palestinian forces or risk losing control of the country.

September 16: Heavy fighting breaks out between Jordanian troops and P.L.O. guerrillas, and for the next ten days civil war rages in Jordan. The Nixon administration, while determined to keep Hussein in power, also wants to avoid a wider war or anything that might tip the balance of power between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in the region. Crisis seems imminent when Syrian tanks cross into Jordan, leading to calls for an armed Israeli response. But Egyptian President Nasser summons Arafat and Hussein to Cairo and brokers a settlement. The next day Nasser dies of a heart attack, but his agreement holds, and by the end of the month all the remaining airplane hostages will have been released, as will be Khaled and her six P.F.L.P. colleagues held in European jails. Palestinian militants dub the events of this month "Black September," and a new wave of guerrillas press on with their struggle.

Driven out of Jordan, the P.L.O. makes its new headquarters in Lebanon.

February 22: Guerrillas, believed to be with the P.F.L.P., hijack a Lufthansa flight from New Delhi to Frankfurt. Joseph Kennedy II, son of slain Senator Robert Kennedy, is among the passengers. All passengers are released in exchange for a $5,000,000 payment by the West German government. 

May 30: Three Japanese P.F.L.P. associates open fire in the lobby of Israel's Lod airport with automatic weapons and grenades. They kill 27 people and wound 78.

September 5: Guerrillas from a Palestinian group called "Black September" kill 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.

October 6-22: Egypt and Syria launch a surprise attack on Israel, which initially suffers heavy losses. An American airlift of military supplies helps turn the tide, and by the time a ceasefire takes effect on October 22, Israel has taken territory on the western side of the Suez Canal and areas of Syria beyond the Golan Heights. In response to American support of Israel, Saudi Arabia leads an oil embargo that will last until March 1974. 

Israel reaches agreements with Egypt and Syria that lead to the establishment of demilitarized zones and a partial Israeli withdrawal. Arafat speaks at the U.N. while wearing a pistol, but says he is also "bearing an olive branch"; the P.L.O. is granted observer status in the General Assembly.

Anwar Sadat, who had taken power in Egypt after Nasser's death, comes to Jerusalem and addresses the Israeli parliament.

Menachem Begin, Jimmy Carter, and Anwar Sadat attending a military exhibition during the Camp David Summit, 1978 | National Archives

President Jimmy Carter hosts Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, Maryland, producing a series of accords that lead to peace between the two states. In a March 1979 treaty, Egypt recognizes Israel's right to exist and Israel agrees to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula.

October 6: Anwar Sadat is assassinated by members of a militant Islamic organization opposed to Egypt's peace with Israel.

June 6: Israel invades Lebanon, forcing the P.L.O. to relocate to Tunis. American troops will be stationed in Lebanon as peacekeepers late in the year. Israel will withdraw from the majority of Lebanese territory it has occupied by 1985, but it will hold onto a buffer strip until 2000.

April 18: A suicide bomber destroys the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Fifty-seven people are killed, including 17 Americans.

October 23: A suicide bomber kills 241 U.S. Marines stationed in Beirut.

December: The first Palestinian "intifada," or uprising, begins against Israeli troops in Gaza, soon spreading to the West Bank. Demonstrators throw stones and stage civil disobedience; by the time it ends in 1993, more than a thousand Palestinians will have died.

The P.L.O. announces that it is the government in exile of a Palestinian state and recognizes Israel's right to exist. The U.S. begins discussions, but Israel refuses to participate.

The first Gulf War results in the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait. The P.L.O., which had backed Iraq's invasion, is excluded from a U.S.-organized peace conference held in Madrid. Israel is pressured by the U.S. to attend.

President Bill Clinton supports the Oslo accords between the P.L.O. and Israel, which culminate in an agreement between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin and a historic handshake on the White House lawn. As part of the agreement, the P.L.O. renounces terrorism and Israel agrees to limited Palestinian sovereignty in parts of Gaza and the West Bank. Additional agreements will expand areas under Palestinian control in the coming years.

Arafat, Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres are awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Rabin is assassinated by a right-wing Israeli law student.

Arafat, who has been allowed to establish his headquarters in Gaza, is elected president of the Palestinian Authority. Over the next few years, the Palestinians and Israelis will attempt to build on the Oslo accords, but progress is hampered by violence from both sides.

President Clinton tries, and fails, to engineer another Israeli-Palestinian agreement. A visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem sparks a second intifada. The coming years will feature both renewed bloodshed and halting steps towards Palestinian self-rule and eventual statehood.


Support Provided by: Learn More