Abu Jihad: A leader struck down
IN July 1948, Israeli forces aiming to widen a corridor towards Jerusalem took the Palestinian towns of Lydda and Ramle, gaining the country's main airport in the process but also finding themselves in command of a hostile population, some of whom at Lydda attacked the occupying soldiers.
According to Yitzhak Rabin, who was in command, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion remained silent at a staff conference when they discussed what to do with these 50,000 Palestinian civilians.
"We walked outside, Ben-Gurion accompanying us. Allon repeated his question: 'What is to be done with the population?' B.G. waved his hand in a gesture which said 'Drive them out!'.
"Allon and I held a consultation. I agreed that it was essential to drive the inhabitants out. We took them on foot towards the Ben Horon Road, assuming that the legion would be obliged to look after them, thereby shouldering logistic difficulties which would burden its fighting capacity, making things easier for us.
"'Driving out' is a term with a harsh ring. Psychologically, this was one of the most difficult actions we undertook. The population of Lod did not leave willingly. There was no way of avoiding the use of force and warning shots in order to make the inhabitants march the 10 to 15 miles to the point where they met up with the legion.
"The inhabitants of Ramle watched and learned the lesson. Their leaders agreed to evacuate voluntarily, on condition that the evacuation was carried out by vehicles. Buses took them to Latrun, and from there, they were evacuated by the Legion".
Among the people who accepted this offer to leave Ramle "voluntarily" rather than wait to be forced out, was a religious Muslim family with a 13-year old boy named Khalid. They went to Gaza, and six years later young Khalid al Wazir was elected president of the Gaza students union. The Egyptian authorities which controlled the Gaza Strip arrested him. After a short spell in prison young Khalid came out to lead a secret armed group he had set up to fight the State which had usurped his homeland. In a 1955 raid they dynamited a reservoir just across the frontier from Beit Hanoun. The Israeli Army responded to such pinpricks with a massive operation in Gaza, commanded by Ariel Sharon. Many Palestinians and Egyptians were killed. Nasser cut short his discreet peace feelers towards Israel, and turned to the Soviet bloc for arms and aid which the US would not provide.
Khalid al Wazir went to Egypt, registered at the University of Alexandria, and moved into Muslim Brotherhood circles. But after meeting Yasser Arafat he left his studies and moved to the Gulf, becoming editor of Falistinuna, Our Palestine. Then in 1959, together with Arafat (Abu Amar), Farouk Khaddoumi (Abu Lutf), and Salah Khalaf (Abu Iyyad), Khalid al Wazir, given the nom de guerre Abu Jihad, was a founder of Fatah. A few years later, having watched Algeria gain its independence from the French colonialists, Abu Jihad went to Algiers to open Fatah's first office in an Arab country. With President Ben Bella's agreement, a training camp was set up for Palestinian guerrillas. (Incidentally, a few years earlier there had been a plan by some Israelis to help train Algerian guerrillas, but Israeli-French intelligence services found out and squashed this. The Israeli Right on the other hand naturally linked up with the fascist settlers' OAS, notwithstanding the colons' traditional antisemitism).
Abu Jihad's next move was to China and Vietnam, seeking practical aid as well as ideas on armed guerrilla struggle. Then on January 1, 1965, Fatah launched its first raid into Israel.
Abu Jihad moved its headquarters to Damascus, and this time he was arrested by the Syrians, as were Arafat and others. Fortunately, his wife Intissar al Wazir, 'Oum Jihad' as she became known, was a Palestinian nationalist in her own right, and managed to keep up the links with the commandos and underground cells while he was in jail.
In 1968, having shown their mettle in the historic battle of Karameh against Israeli forces,
Fatah and other groups were able to take over and revitalise the Palestine Liberation Organisation,
One thing the militants had learned was that Palestinians could not entrust their hopes and aims to wider Arab nationalism, even though they had to deal with the existing regimes as best they could. The Black September conflict in Jordan, sparked by hijackings carried out by the rival Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), brought repression down on all Palestinians, and though Abu Jihad organised support for the Palestinian guerrillas, they were forced to move their bases to Lebanon.
Then in 1976 came the civil war in Lebanon pitching the Maronite Christian Falangists and allies against the Palestinians, Lebanese Left and Arab nationalists. Syrian troops invaded Lebanon, and contrary to what might have been expected, backed the Falangists. Syrian tanks joined with them in besieging Tel al Zataar camp, whose surviving defenders were massacred. Abu Jihad is credited with organising the stand at Bhamdoun which halted the Syrian advance. He also reportedly told the Saudi rulers who were bankrolling Assad's Syrian regime at this time: "We were driven from our homeland, Then we were driven from Jordan. If we are driven out of Lebanon there will be one place left to us, the Gulf." "What do you want?" asked the alarmed Saudis. "Call off the Syrians," Abu Jihad replied.
The Syrian invasion might have been approved by US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger,
but Palestinian and left-wing Lebanese resistance, unrest among the Syrian forces (including defection of Saiqa units which were Palestinians), and an Arab League summit (possibly with Abu Jihad's warning in mind) brought the Syrian assault to a halt. The Palestinians remained a force. The next invasion when it came was by Israel itself. Abu Jihad wanted the PLO to pull out of Beirut, but as Arafat and others said no, he continued to command its defence.
The Palestinian forces were forced to leave, and Ariel Sharon unleashed the Falangists on Sabra and Shatila camps. In 1983 there was a renewed Syrian-backed attack on the PLO in Tripoli, north Lebanon. Khalid al Wazir moved with his family to Tunis, where the PLO headquarters were established. Then in 1987 the first Intifada broke out in the Occupied Territories, moving from mass civil disobedience to the rising of the youth,which won worldwide attention as they pitted slingshots and stones against soldiers with tanks. Israel's Mossad intelligence became convinced that Abu Jihad's was the guiding hand.
They also blamed him for the hijack of a bus carrying workers to the Oron nuclear plant in the Negev, which ended with three passengers and three guerrillas killed. This was used to persuade Israeli prime minister Shamir and his cabinet to authorise an operation to kill Khalid al Wazir. (As an ex-Stern group leader and Mossad man Shamir probably did not take much persuading)
Around 1.00 am on April 16, 1988 about three dozen Israeli marine commandos landed by rubber dinghies on a Tunisian beach, and boarded waiting vehicles brought for them by Mossad agents who had arrived in Tunisia earlier, using stolen Lebanese passports. They were driven to Sidi Bou Said where they took up position, while a seven-man killer unit using weapons with silencers killed two guards and a messenger, then smashed their way into Abu Jihad's villa. The Palestinian leader was writing a letter to the fighters in the Occupied Territories when, hearing a commotion, he snatched up his revolver and tried to take cover behind a door, but was soon riddled with bullets. Abu Jihad was killed in front of Intisar and their fourteen year old daughter Hanan.
(The commander of the Israeli force in this operation - for which the Israeli government did not admit responsibility - was later revealed to be Ehud Barak, who went on to head the Israeli Labour Party and become prime minister. Barak's tactics at the 2000 Camp David summit, followed by Ariel Sharon's provocative march to the Temple Mount, ushered in the Second Intifada).
The first Intifada continued for another five years. You cannot kill a nation's will for freedom by eliminating one or more commanders. But the Palestinians had lost an important leader, an organiser respected by the various factions, and a possible successor to Yasser Arafat, who was being left like a lone tree by such attacks. On January 14, 1991, another of Fatah's founders, Salah Khalef (Abu Iyad) was killed in Tunis, this time by Abu Nidal's gunmen, possibly because he opposed support for Saddam Hussein.
For Israel, the habit of assassinating leaders proved dangerously contagious. On November 4, 1995, the man who had commanded the seizure of Ramleh, and went on to succeed Shamir as Prime Minister, signing the Oslo accords and winning a Nobel Peace Prize, Yitzhak Rabin, was assassinated. His killer, a right-winger accusing Rabin of "giving our country away to the Arabs", did not need a cabinet decision, believing he had a Higher Authority.