Palestinian Political and Military Factions

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Palestinian Political and Military Factions:

As shown in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict page, the historical and religious animosity between Israel and the Palestinians runs deep. After the formation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, Palestinian guerilla/commando/terrorist groups began a series of organized and increasingly violent attacks on Israel itself and on Israeli targets around the world. Israel responded in various ways, including commando raids of their own, assassinations of PLO leaders and operatives around the world, and, at times, full-scale invasions of neighboring countries which gave the PLO aid and sanctuary. No war is simple to explain or define, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in many ways especially difficult to define, since Israel had not one foe to contend with, but over a dozen different Palestinian factions that often had different goals, different tactics, different sponsors among the Arab nations (and among the Communist bloc), and which were often at odds with one another almost as often as they fought the Israelis.

Below is a listing of the major Palestinian political and military factions. (NOTE: This page is a work in progress as of July, 2010)


Fatah Party: Fatah served as Arafat’s power base within the PLO, and under Abbas continues to dominate much of the political scene in the Territories. The founders of Fatah favor a specific Palestinian nationalism over general Arab nationalist ideology,and officially sanctioned political violence against Israel until the 1990’s as part of their nationalist rhetoric.

Force 17: Force 17 was formed in the early 1970’s as a personal security force for Arafat and other PLO leaders. Force 17 members were involved in attacks on Israelitargets in the early 1980’s and it claimed responsibility for killing three Israelis in Cyprus in 1985. In 1994, when the Palestinian Authority was established, Force 17 was merged into the official Palestinian Authority security apparatus and technically ceased to exist, although some Palestinian Authority security officialsapparently continue to identify themselves as Force 17 members. Recent attempts by the Palestinian Authority to consolidate its security services did not include Force 17.

Heroes of the Return:

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: This organization appeared after the start of the2000 Palestinian uprising, reportedly formed by Tanzim or other Fatah activists whobelieve in a more violent approach to force Israel to end its occupation. The al-AqsaMartyrs Brigades, which is secular, says it does not share the ideology of Hamas and thePIJ, which purport to seek Israel’s destruction.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) - Second largest, radically militant and communist

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command (PFLP-GC)-- In 1968, Ahmed Jibril broke away from the PFLP to form this Syrian-backed Palestinian militant group.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) --formed in 1969 as a separate, Maoist organization under Nayef Hawatmeh and Yasser Abd Rabbo, initially called the PDFLP.

The Popular Revolutionary Front for the Liberation of Palestine -- formed following a split in PFLP in 1972.

The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) - Third largest, communist

The Palestine Liberation Front (PLF, Abu Abbas faction) - Minor left-wing faction

The Arab Liberation Front (ALF) - Minor faction, aligned to the old Iraqi Ba'ath Party

As-Sa'iqa - Syrian-controlled Ba'athist faction within the Palestinian movement.

The Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF, Samir Ghawsha faction) - minor left-wing faction within the Palestinian movement.

The Palestinian Arab Front (PAF) - minor faction within the Palestinian movement.

Internet Sources:

Palestinian Factions

Print Sources:


Fedayeen: The Arab-Israeli Dilemma (The Free Press, 1973), by John Laffin. This book has a decidedly pro-Israel tilt, but outlines the formation of the PLO, and the internal dissensions and conflicts dividing the various Palestinian factions.


Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and the Countdown to the Suez War (Oxford University Press, 1997) by Benny Morris. This is a very detailed look at the initial Palestinian response to al-Nakba (Arabic for "The Cataclysm") in which large portions of the Palestinian population fled Palestine after the 1948-1949 war. It was hard to find in the late 90's when I bought it, and I think it may be out of print. Worth hunting for!


No Victor, No Vanquished: The Yom Kippur War (Presidio Press, 1978) by Edgar O'Ballance. Another very well-done look at a major Arab-Israeli War and the background to the conflict.


The Third Arab-Israeli War (Archon Books, 1972), also by Edgar O'Ballance. A good book on the 1967 War.


Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East (Presidio Press, 2003) by Michael B. Oren. This is a more recent book that also provides a lot of background to the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, and a good analysis of why the 1967 war should be considered THE major turning point in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Copyright © 1998-2012 Roger A. Lee and History Guy Media; Last Modified: 11.18.12

"The History Guy" is a Registered Trademark.

Video of the 1972 Munich Massacre of Israeli Athletes by Palestinian Terrorists

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Outside Links

Nakba--Recounts al-Nakba (Arabic for "The Cataclysm") in which large portions of the Palestinian population fled Palestine during the 1948-1949 Arab-Israeli War.

Fateh Online--English language version of the al-Fatah movement's website.

BBC NEWS | In Depth | Israel and the Palestinians --Objective information from the BBC.

The Electronic Intifada --Official website of the Palestinian National Authority.

Middle East 101 --Click on "Sticking Points" for a succinct rundown of the issues from both sides, courtesy of the Christian Science Monitor.

Mideast: Centuries of Conflict --CNN's In-Depth Special makes a good starting point for background information and news. Go to "Maps: Occupied lands" for a helpful clickable map of the disputed regions.

PREDECESSOR: (Related conflicts and events that occurred before)

The Great Arab Uprising (1936-1938)


CONCURRENT: (Related conflicts occurring at the same time)

1948 Arab-Israeli War (1948-1949)

Suez/Sinai War (1956)

1967 Arab-Israeli War (1967)

War of Attrition (1968-1970)

1973 Arab-Israeli War (1968-1970)

Jordanian Civil War (1970-1971)

Lebanese Civil War (1975-1992)

Israeli Invasion & Occupation of South Lebanon (1982-2000)

Second Persian Gulf War/Operation Desert Storm (1990-1991)

Third Persian Gulf War/ Iraq War (2003-Present)


SUCCESSOR: (Related conflicts that occur later)

None yet as this is an ongoing conflict

Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip are at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Map from the CIA World Factbook-Israel http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/is.html