Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

In late 1964, the newly formed Fatah group led its first attack on Israel in order to provoke the Arab states to initiate a war on Israel and permit the Palestinians to form an independent state.

Summary of Event

In the late 1950’s, members of the Palestinian diaspora, Palestinian diaspora which had been building especially since the beginning of the state of Israel in 1947, founded an organization named Fatah. The group was composed of largely Palestinian refugees who had been working in the Gulf states or had been students in Cairo. Among them was Yasir Arafat, head of the Palestinian student movement in Cairo. The purpose of Fatah was to support and mount armed struggle for the creation of a Palestinian state. Fatah Nationalis m;Palestinians Terrorist organizations [kw]Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel (Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965) [kw]Terrorist Strike on Israel, Fatah Launches Its First (Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965) [kw]Israel, Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on (Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965) Fatah Nationalism;Palestinians Terrori st organizations [g]Middle East;Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965: Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel[08300] [g]Israel;Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965: Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel[08300] [g]Palestine;Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965: Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel[08300] [c]Terrorism;Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965: Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel[08300] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Dec. 31, 1964-Jan. 7, 1965: Fatah Launches Its First Terrorist Strike on Israel[08300] Arafat, Yasir Habash, George Wazir, Khalil al- Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;Arab nationalism Nasser, Gamal Abdel [p]Nasser, Gamal Abdel;and Fatah[Fatah] Shuqayri, Ahmad

On December 31, 1964, a small band of Fatah members attempted to enter the West Bank of Israel in order to blow up a pumping station. When this mission failed, another Fatah group, on January 2, 1965, planted a bomb at the station; the bomb failed to explode. Jordanian border guards killed one of the group, making him the first martyr for the liberation of Palestine. The status of Fatah was raised as a result of this bold attack on Israel.

Fatah’s first attack in Israel in 1965 had the result of influencing the course of the Palestinian national movement and the strategy adopted to achieve an independent state. There were two earlier developments, however—during the period between 1949 and 1956—that paved the road to Fatah. First, growing tension between Egypt and Israel made Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser more inclined to support the Palestinian cause, at least in words. Nasser forbade the Israelis to use the Suez Canal and permitted fedayeen raids from Gaza. To counter the U.S.-supported Baghdad Pact (1955)—originally signed by Iraq and Turkey on February 24, 1955, to provide for mutual defense aimed mainly at containing Soviet expansion and later joined by Britain, Iran, and Pakistan—Nasser turned to the Communist bloc for weapons. He searched for an “Arab” cause to establish his credentials as the leader of the Arab League Arab League (founded in 1945). In time, the Palestinians would provide this pretext.

Second, the formation of Fatah would help determine the direction of the Palestinian national movement. In 1951, Arafat and Salah Khalaf (also known as Abu Iyad), Arafat’s second in Fatah, reorganized the Palestinian Students’ Union Palestinian Students’ Union in Cairo, which was based on the principle of “Palestine first.” They reasoned that the liberation of Palestine would come about by the efforts of Palestinians, with minimal help from the Arab states. When Arafat and Khalaf went to Kuwait, they teamed with Khaled al-Hassan (Abu Said) and Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad), the founders of Fatah in Kuwait in 1957-1959 (although accounts differ regarding the exact date the organization was founded). Fatah is a reverse acronym for the Arabic name Harakat al-Tahrir al-Filastiniyya (HATAF, or “sudden death,” the Palestinian Liberation Movement). The group founded a magazine, Our Palestine, to disseminate its summons for armed struggle. For Nasser, however, the primary goal was “Arab” unity, Pan-Arabism[PanArabism] the precondition for the destruction of the “racist, colonialist, imperialist” Zionist Zionism entity, Israel. For Fatah, the creation of the state of Palestine had to precede the realization of the Arab nation. Nasser eventually concluded that these irregulars would drag Egypt into a war with Israel.

The Suez-Sinai War of 1956 Suez Canal crisis (1956);and Arab nationalism[Arab nationalism] was the jolt that assured the Palestinian question a place on the all-Arab agenda. Although he lost the war, Nasser emerged the political victor: He had faced down the Western imperialist powers, Great Britain and France, and had forced the Zionists to retreat. In 1959 he called for a “Palestinian entity,” which he said would eventually be accomplished once his pan-Arab objectives were met. King Hussein of Jordan, Hussein I in particular, tried to restrain these raids, because he had the most to lose: the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and indeed his own throne. Baՙthist Syria and even some Jordanian Palestinians called for the overthrow of the “imperialist” Hashemite monarchy Hashemite Dynasty (the monarchy of Hussein).

With these conflicts swirling about him, Nasser incessantly denigrated the Zionists for depriving the Palestinians of their birthright. The Palestinian issue served to unite the Arabs and conveniently masked the political divisions and economic shortcomings of the various Arab states. Although Nasser blamed Israel for the suffering occurring in the refugee camps, no Arab state, save Jordan, in fact made any serious attempt to integrate the Palestinians into their populations. Refugees;Palestinians Increasingly militant Palestinians turned away from Nasser’s Arab-first approach to resolve their plight.

Nasser essayed to juggle Egyptian nationalism, pan-Arabism, and Palestinian restlessness by calling a summit of thirteen Arab states in Cairo in January, 1964, to consider the water-carrier system in Israel. Nasser seized the opportunity to help create the Palestine Liberation Organization Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was to be under the auspices of Egypt. The president of the First Palestinian National Council was Ahmad Shuqayri, a veteran diplomat known for his bombastic speeches. Nasser authorized the PLO to sabotage Israeli water installations while effectively ignoring Palestinian aspirations for independence. Predicably, Fatah and other organizations were suspicious of the PLO and its ties to Egypt. Shuqayri barnstormed around the diaspora, seeking support for the first PLO conference in May, 1964. Speaking for the Arab Higher Committee, the former Nazi collaborator and former grand mufti of Jerusalem Mohammad Amin al-Husayni Husayni, Mohammad Amin al- denounced the PLO, while George Habash’s Arab Nationalist Movement Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) supported it. Shuqayri even announced that the East Bank was part of historic Palestine. The PLO charter declared the state of Israel illegal and asserted the natural right of the Palestinian people to determine their own fate. Significantly, the charter did not mention armed struggle.

Thus, the first terrorist strike of Fatah should be seen in the context of the stepped-up rhetoric against Israel, the creation of the PLO, inter-Arab wrangling, disputes over water diversions, and Egyptian and Jordanian inaction. Political shifts in Israel after 1963, moreover, produced governments in Jerusalem that favored retaliation for assaults on Israeli territory. As Egypt, the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Army Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) and the ANM tried to rein in groups like Fatah, the latter struggled to set its own course; Arafat looked to national liberation movements in Algeria and Vietnam as his models, and not to pan-Arabism. His hero was Latin American revolutionary Che Guevara, not Nasser. Fatah decided it was time to act on its own. The first terror operation was scheduled for December 31, 1964, in the name of al-Asifa Asifa, al- (the storm), a cover in case things went wrong. The mission was to blow up a pumping station in the Beit Netopha canal. Arafat put up posters in Beirut announcing that the liberation of Palestine had begun. The squad, however, was intercepted by Lebanese guards. On January 2, 1965, Fatah issued Military Communiqué No. 1, announcing the second attempt. This time the team made it to the pump and planted an explosive with a timer, but the Israelis discovered and defused the bomb. After the saboteurs crossed into Jordan, a patrol fired at them, killing their leader, Ahmed Musa, Musa, Ahmed who thus became Fatah’s first martyr. Nasser, embarrassed by this challenge to his authority, condemned the operation. Shuqayri characteristically chimed in. The effect, however, was to raise the credibility of Fatah among Arabs everywhere. Nasser talked; Fatah acted.


The results of the January, 1965, Fatah terrorist strike in Israel were to undermine the PLO and increase the stature of Fatah. Syria became Fatah’s chief supporter, as Fatah’s incursions escalated during 1965-1967. These actions gave credibility to the idea of a mass uprising of the Palestinians, a “people’s war.” Nasser quickly lost control of Fatah and the PLO. Fatah indirectly influenced the parameters of the Israeli-Arab conflict until 1988, when Arafat agreed to a two-state solution.

In hindsight, the PLO’s commitment to a single state and the destruction of Zionism effectively closed avenues for diplomatic solutions after 1967. Moderate Arab governments were often forced to pursue peace through private means, for fear of radicalizing the populace, with its vivid memories of Fatah martyrs. The PLO’s reliance on terror—the legacy of the Fatah raids—complicated efforts by the United Nations, the superpowers, and the Arab states to deliver on the creation of an independent state of Palestine. Fatah Nation alism;Palestinians Terrorist organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Becker, Jillian. The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. Good description of the internal development of Fatah and the PLO, but somewhat weak on the period after 1980 and the wider political context.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Cobban, Helena. The Palestinian Liberation Organization. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984. A Beirut correspondent makes a detailed comparison of Fatah and the various factions within the PLO, with much documentation and personal interviews (including the opinions of Arabs of Fatah).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hart, Alan. Arafat: A Political Biography. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1984. An uncritical eulogy, based on extensive interviews with many of the early members of Fatah and the PLO.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Iyad, Abu [Salah Khalaf], with E. Rouleau. My Home, My Land: A Narrative of the Palestinian Struggle. Translated by L. B. Koseoglu. New York: Times Books, 1981. An insider’s view.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Nassar, Jamal R. The Palestine Liberation Organization: From Armed Struggle to Declaration of Independence. New York: Praeger, 1991. Good on international relations of the PLO, with an emphasis on Cold War tensions and interstate debates among the Arab countries.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rubin, Barry. Revolution Until Victory? The Political History of the PLO. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1994. Solid analysis, with interpretations. Perhaps the best introduction for the period 1964-1993, but very opinionated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sāyigh, Yazīd. Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement, 1949-1993. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Excellent on internal structure of the PLO and other organizations. Highly technical and detailed, but useful as a reference on the many organizations related to the PLO and Fatah.

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Categories: History