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Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) (Arabic Al-Jabhah al-Sha'biyyah Li-Tahrir Filastin الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين) is a secular, Marxist-Leninist, nationalist Palestinian organization, founded after the Six-Day War in 1967.
The PFLP grew out of the Harakat al-Qawmiyyin al-Arab, or Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), founded in 1953 by Dr. George Habash, a Palestinian Christian, from Lydda/Lod in what is now Israel. In interviews with journalists, Habash has said his family was forced into exile after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The 22-year-old Habash went to Lebanon to study medicine at the American University in Beirut, graduating in 1951.
In an interview with American journalist John Cooley, Habash identified the Arab defeat by Israel as "the scientific society of Israel as against our own backwardness in the Arab world. This called for the total rebuilding of Arab society into a twentieth-century society," (Green March Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs by John K. Cooley, London 1973, p. 135).
The ANM was founded in this nationalist spirit. "[W]e held the 'Guevara view' of the 'revolutionary human being'," Habash told Cooley. "A new breed of man had to emerge, among the Arabs as everywhere else. This meant applying everything in human power to the realization of a cause." (ibid.)
The ANM formed underground branches in several Arab countries, including Libya, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, then still under British rule. It adopted socialist economic ideas and formed a commando group, Abtal al-Audah, Heroes of the Return. Around August of 1967, this group merged with two other groups, Youth for Revenge and the Syrian-backed Palestine Liberation Front, to form the PFLP, with Habash as leader. By early 1968, the PFLP had trained between one and three thousand guerrillas. It had the financial backing of Syria, and was headquarted there, and one of its training camps was based in Salt, Jordan.
The PFLP gained notoriety in the late 1960s and early 1970s for a series of terrorist attacks, including:
- The hijack of an El Al flight from Rome to Lod on July 23, 1968. The flight was targeted because the PFLP believed Israeli general Ariel Sharon, who had been a commander in Sinai in June 1967, was on board. The plane was diverted to Algiers, where 21 passengers and 11 crew members were held for 39 days, until August 31;
- Terrorists opened fire on an El Al passenger jet in Athens about to take off for New York on December 26, 1968, killing one passenger and wounding two others;
- An attack on El Al passengers jet at Zürich airport on February 18, 1969, killing the co-pilot and wounding the pilot;
- The bombing of a Jerusalem supermarket on February 20, 1969, killing two Israelis and wounding twenty others;
- The hijacking of a TWA flight from Los Angeles to Damascus on August 29, 1969 by a PFLP cell led by Leila Khaled, who became the PFLP's most famous recruit. Two Israeli passengers were held for 44 days;
- Three adult Palestinians and three boys aged 14 and 15 years old threw grenades at the Iraeli embassies in The Hague, Bonn and the El Al office in Brussels on the same day, September 9, 1969 with no casualties;
- Attack on a bus containing El Al passengers at Munich airport, killing one passenger and wounding 11 on February 10, 1970;
- The bombing, with a barometric pressure device, of a Swissair fight bound for Israel, killing 47, on February 21, 1970; for details see Swissair Flight 330.
- On September 6, 1970, the PFLP (including Leila Khaled) hijacked four passenger aircraft from Pan Am, TWA and Swissair on flights to New York from Brussels, Frankfurt and Zürich; and on September 9, 1970, hijacked a BOAC flight from Bombay to Rome. The Pan Am flight was diverted to Cairo; the TWA, Swissair and BOAC flights were diverted to Dawson's Field in Zarqa, Jordan. The TWA, Swissair and BOAC aircraft were subsequently blown up by the terrorists on September 12, with no casualties. In response, King Hussein of Jordan formed a military government on September 16, 1970 and began shelling Palestinian guerrilla positions, eventually expelling the PLO from Jordan, in what became known as Black September and which, in turn, gave rise to the formation of a new terrorist unit of Yasser Arafat's al-Fatah faction, comprised of men associated with al-Fatah and the PFLP. This group also called itself Black September.
Although the PFLP had joined the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella organization of the Palestinian national movement, in 1968, becoming the second-largest faction after al-Fatah, it withdrew in 1974, accusing the PLO of abandoning the goal of destroying Israel outright in favor of a binational solution, which was opposed by the PFLP leadership.
At the PFLP's Sixth National Conference in 2000, Habash stepped down as general secretary. Abu Ali Mustafa was elected to replace him, but was killed on August 27th, 2001 when an Israeli helicopter fired rockets at his office in the West Bank town of Ramallah. The PFLP shot and killed the far-right Israeli Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi in November 17, 2001 in revenge.
Two factions that broke away from PFLP are the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine - General Command (PFLP-GC) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP).
The fall of the Soviet Union and consequent decline in support for Marxist-Leninist organizations, together with the rise in the Arab world of Islamism -- and particularly the creation of the Islamist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad -- has pushed the PFLP onto the sidelines of the Arab-Israeli war.
- http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Terrorism/incidents.html Middle East terrorist incidents 1968-1973]
Green March Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs by John K. Cooley, Frank Cass & Co,. Ltd., London 1973
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