Fedayeen -- the Palestinian guerillas -- is the newest and one of the most important forces in the 20-year battle for that strip of land which, since 1948, has been called Israel.
Fedayeen -- the Palestinian guerillas -- is the newest and one of the most important forces in the 20-year battle for that strip of land which, since 1948, has been called Israel. With frightening speed the Fedayeen has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to challenge the highly organised and efficient Israeli Army, to strike without warning not only in Israel, but in many other parts of the world. But their activities have become a constant source of embarrassment to the Arab Governments, are blamed for bringing about political crisis in the Lebanon and has sent Palestine Liberation Organisation Chairman Yasser Arafat, who is also leader of the largest guerilla organisation. El Fatah, hurrying to Beirut this week for urgent talks with Lebanese Army chiefs.
The commando organisations sprang up after the defeat of the Arab nations by Israel in the six-day war of 1967. One-time Palestinians decided that the only way in which they could successfully fight the highly efficient Israeli Army was guerrilla tactics. Today the efforts of the various Fedayeen are co-ordinated by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Its chairman is Yasser Arafat, who is also leader of El Fatah, the largest and most powerful arm of the guerilla organisation.
At a hidden camp in the north of Jordan, El Fatah guerrillas train The camp is well hidden and well protected -- not only against Israeli air-attacks, but also against Jordanian security forces. Recently, television cameras were allowed to film training in progress at the camp. Here, guerillas, with their faces covered to avoid identification later, go through a rigorous routine, training in the use of weapons, on tough assault courses, and even undergo special training to help them not to 'crack' under interrogation.
Children, too, play in their part in the guerilla organisation. At one secret camp, children as young as seven years have been training to take up arms against the Israelis. They have no permanent home. They are refugees, and it is in the refugee camps that the Fedayeen find their recruits. Their parents, too, have in the main, never known a home of their own. Since as long ago as the 1930's they have been trained and led by men who have been in bitter conflict with Zionism.
The guerrilla do discriminate between Zionism and Jews. Children in Fedayeen training camps in refugee centres are taught that Zionism is their enemy, but one day they will have to live with Jews.
In a television interview, El Fatah leader Yasser Arafat summed up their feelings:
The long arm of Fedayeen has reached far beyond the geographical bounds of the old Palestine in harassing and seeking vengeance from the Israelis. In December, 1968, the world was stunned when a Boring 707, belonging to the Israeli airline El Al, was raked with machine-gun fire while it stood on the tarmac at Athens Airport, Greece. In the shooting, one passenger died and an air-hostess was seriously injured. Later, El Fatah announced that it had ordered the attack, and the two gunmen told Swiss police that they were members of El Fatah.
Then, in February this year, four members of El Fatah machine-gunned and threw grenades at an El Fatah Boeing 720 as it was about to take off. Later police put on show bags and guns which they had found at the scene.
But this incident opened up a new phase in the conflict between the Israelis and the Fedayeen. This time, the Israelis were ready. A security man aboard the airliner shot dead of the attackers. But there was another major difference in Zurich attack. One of the guerillas was a woman.
Until the night of February 18, women had always remained in the background of the guerrilla warfare. They had taught in refugee schools, they had run medical centres for refugees, and they had cared for the injured and tended the families of dead El Fatah members. With the Zurich attack it became plain that not only men and children were taking an active part in the guerilla warfare, but women, too, were starting to play a major role.
One Arab was reported as summing up his view of the current situation thus:
"The side which is prepared to suffer most will win. We have suffered already, now the Israelis are beginning to suffer as well. It's very simple what is happening in Israel today. The chickens are coming home to roost".