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Fatah (or Al-Fatah) - a Palestinian radical movement founded in Kuwait informally in 1957, but officially founded about 1965. It has the declared aim of destroying Israel and replacing it with a 'secular democratic state.' 'Fatah' means victory in Arabic. The name is also a reverse acronym for Harakat Tahrir el Wataniyeha Filistiniyeh - Palestine Liberation Movement. It  represents the moderate end of the Palestinian political spectrum. Their slogan is "Revolution until Victory."

Fatah was founded by Yasser Arafat, Khalil Al Wazir (Abu Jihad) Farouq Kadumi, Mahmoud Abbas, Khalid al-Hassan and other Palestinian refugeees in Kuwait. Many, like Arafat, had a background  in Ikhwan (fedayoun) groups (a tag which stuck until ‘68) drawn from refugees in Gaza, which provided military training to Palestinian youth. Ikhwan military bodies eg Revenge Youth and  Battalion of Right (led by Khalil al Wazir); launched small sabotage attacks on Israel from late 1954 and  pulled away from disapproving Ikhwan. They also refused to get involved in Ikhwan-Egypt conflict, which resulted in Wazir's expulsion from Egypt. Wazir later  moved to Saudi Arabia, then joined Arafat in Kuwai). Yasser Arafat at this stage was working through Palestinian Students Union in Cairo; formed alliance with youth leaders (especially Khalaf) and Palestinian activists in Syria (especially ‘Adil ‘Abd al-Karim and  ‘Abdullah al-Dannan).  In 1957, after university,  activists including Yasser Arafat and  Mahmoud Abbas  formed a clandestine organization in Kuwait, taking the name Fatah in 1959 or 1960 or according to other accounts, at the foundation meeting. Fatah was to be modeled on the Algerian FLN as a "National Liberation Movement" that would win support of the Palestinian masses for armed liberation of Palestine. This was opposed to the traditional terror-only strategy that relied on Arab countries to liberate Palestine. Fatah achieved popularity through the Filastinuna magazine edited by Yasser Arafat. However, it did not have any effective military cadres until Syria began recruiting and training terrorists for Fatah in 1964. The first Fatah raids on Israel were conducted in 1965.

The organizational structures were established at a Kuwait meeting on 10.10.59.

Organization - Fatah tripartite organizational structure:

General conference, the ruling body, which is supposed to meet every 5 years, but has not met since its fifth session on 8 Aug 89: made up of members of regional congresses, military forces, mass orgaanizations and  Fatah-RC. At the last meeting, it had 1200 members. Earlier meetings: 4th General Conference (Damascus, 31 May 80);

The Fatah Revolutionary Council, decides policy when GC is not in session;

Central Committee (al-lajna al-markaziyya), which acts according to the principle of collective leadership. Members are largely elected by secret ballot from the GC, but RC can appoint 3 other members by a two-thirds majority, and  others from the occupied territories.

Prominent founders include Yasser Arafat, Salah Khalaf, Khalil al-Wazir, Muhammed Yusif al-Najjar, Kamal ‘Udwan. Joined in ‘59 by Khalid al-Hasan, a civil servant who'd been in Kuwait since 1952; and  Tawfiq al-Huri, who gave his magazine Nida’ al-Hayat-Filastinuna (The Call of Life - Our Palestine) to use as a mouthpiece: largely written by Wazir, but also ‘Arafat. Main centers were Kuwait (Arafat, Wazir, later Qaddumi) and Qatar (Najjar, ‘Udwan, ‘Abd al-Fattah Hammud). Fatah's main platform was the 'liberation' of all of Palestine for Arabs (not necessarily Palestinian Nationalist) which could be achieved only through relentless armed struggle. Fatah believed that the Arab governments were not to be trusted (had prevented victory in 1948 war since they were concerned only with their own interests; also shown in treatment of refugees) and that therefore it must remain independent of all Arab governments, including Nasserism; also stress upon own distinctiveness as a people, ‘Palestinianness’. They also disapproved of ideological debates and  party politics, which they viewed as a distraction from the sole goal of liberating Palestine, and therefore portrayed itself as a movement rather than an organization. .

The publication Filastinuna, appearing from 1959 until Nov 64, served to publicize the group, and won recruits from Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza) (eg Ahmad Quray; Muhammad Ghnaym, who opposed Ikhwan loyalty to the Hashemite throne), Ba'ths, especially after the dissolution of the UAR (especially Faruq al-Qaddumi; a West Bank resident), and  student groups (especially Mahmud ‘Abbas, then working in Qatari civil service). Acted to unify various groups formed by Palestinian refugees in Kuwait, Saudi, Qatar. Acted in Eu through Hani al-Hasan (b.1937, Haifa) who was studying in W.Germany. In 1963, extensively reorganized, with a Central Committee formed. By 1962-4, was winning support from Arab States, especially Syria, which sought a counterfoil to Egyptian designs and a means to discredit Nasser and  the PLO.

Damascus became ‘Arafat’s base; and  Algeria (through ‘Arafat’s elder brother, Jamal ‘Abd al-Ra’uf). The Palestine Office was created by Fatah in Algiers, and  through these connections met Vietnamese, Chinese and  Portuguese African leaders, and  Che Guevara. Arab states, and in particular Syria, pushed for armed attacks on Israel. Such attacks were also supported by ‘Arafat and  Wazir, to opposition of ‘Abd al-Karim and  Dannan; the former view won out, especially with formation of the Palestinian Liberation Army in September 1964 and because of the view that a military confrontation between the PLO and Israel, and in fact, involvement of Arab states, could be precipitated by Fatah actions, thus bringing about a popular struggle. Arafat and Fatah strove for al-tawrit al-wa’i (‘conscious entanglement’) of the masses in a liberation war (as opposed to conventional warfare of Arab armies invading Israel: Fatah indicated at times that this would not be able to liberate Palestine, in part due to Israel’s NWs, and  its promotion would prevent mass mobilization): believed that mass mobilization would be triggered by engaging in highly visible armed attacks, which would also propel Fatah to the leadership of PLO institutions, and therefore carried out  terror attacks with the aid of Syrian recruited commands.

Rifts started emerging in Fatah in ‘65/6, with the Higher Central Committee in Kuwait (‘Abd al-Karim, Dannan) opposing Field Command in Damascus (Wazir, ‘Arafat): former (probably also with Syrian pressure) imposed merger with Ba'thist Revulutionary Front for the Liberation of Palestine, under Yusif al-‘Urabi, and  Palestinian Liberation Front, under Ahmad Jibril, in order both to control ‘Arafat and  to bring in professional military expertise. Arafat and his allies assassinated Urabi, and the Syrians then arrested Arafat. tensions led to attempted putsch of Mar-May 66; but resolution left Fatah with strengthened links with Syrian forces (especially Asad), the removal of ‘Abd al-Karim and  Dannan from HCC, and  domination of Fatah by commando groups in Syria led to a crackdown, with mass imprisonment, especially in Jordan and  Lebanon.  Syrians released Arafat and other leaders only after they agreed to cooperate with Syria. Once released, they escaped to Lebanon and attempted to establish an organization independent of Syrian control.  Following the ‘67 war, ‘Arafat and  Wazir urged the immediate relaunching of the struggle from within the occupied territories, despite opposition of Khalid al-Hasan and  Khalaf (and  Syrian government); ‘Arafat formally became field commander and  set up clandestine HQ in Nablus from Aug 67. Fatah actions in late’67 killed approx 97 IDF, but caused mass imprisonment of West Bank supporters and therefore by ‘68 Fatah sought a base outside occupied territories, and  chose Jordan. Gained unofficial support from many Jordanian soldiers, but tensions with government, especially intelligence chief Muhammed Rasul al-Kaylani. Also sought leadership within PLO: formed a Permanent Bureau for Guerrilla Actions in Cairo, Jan’68, with 7 minor guerrilla groups, so as to form a bloc within PLO; PFLP, with similar ambitions, boycotted it.

However, Fatah gained popularity with battle of Karameh, in which they gained a partial victory over Israeli forces, bringing extensive publicity and  recruits. ‘Arafat now became the leader and  spokesperson of Fatah in April 1968, possibly  on Khalaf’s unilateral initiative. Fatah gained support from King Faysal of Saudi (financially), Hussein of Jordan, USSR (after ‘Arafat’s visit to Moscow in Feb70) and Gamal Abdel Nasser who met the Fatah leadership in 1968, following Karameh. This resulted in increased arms deliveries, military training and  intelligence facilities, which Nasser saw as a complement to diplomacy. China (after ‘Arafat and  Khalaf visited in Feb70) and  Algeria (both major weapons suppliers) both became Fatah supporters.

By late 1968, though, Israel had forced Fatah out of the Jordan valley, and  guerrilla movement into Jordan’s cities brought increased tensions and  armed conflicts (especially Nov’68). Karameh also allowed Fatah to take over PLO, taking many seats in the PNC from May 68, and  33/105 seats in Feb 69 as the largest single bloc. Thereupon  ‘Arafat was elected chairman of PLO, with 4/11 seats on Executive Committee. Fatah’s statist ambitions led it to create the organizational norms for its mass party in traditional guise, and  adopt populist political rhetoric; but tensions due to rapid expansion, with founding elite largely drawn from Islamist parties, producing a paternalistic style of leadership, using the Islami notion of consensus, whilst new recruits came up through Jordanian Ba'thist and  communist parties. Statist ambitions also led it to set up social welfare provisions, such as the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and  schooling program; as well as expansion of autonomous intelligence apparatus, the Rasd (briefly under Qaddumi, but under Khalaf from ‘68, when it became a rival power base to ‘Arafat). At first it encouraged fragmentation of Palestinian groups to ensure its own dominance; but rivalry and  the sense that Arab States, particularly Syria, were creating groups to further their own causes led to calls to impose a unified political front on Palestinian groups. This was rejected as impossible by ‘Arafat, who rejecting internal violence because of what it had done in 1936-9. He instead offered posts within PLO to other groups (including unions and  other mass organization) on a fixed quota while expanding PNC so that more seats could be allocated.

The PLO attempted to take over the Jordanian government in September of 1970, with Syrian backing. This forced a showdown with the Jordanian Legion, called "Black September. Fatah members were largely forced to flee, eventually setting up shop in Lebanon. A sense of siege overtook Fatah after Black September because of Syrian pressure, successful Israeli purges in Gaza, Israel and  Jordan attempted to cultivate an alternative leadership in occupied territories, and owing as well to a Lebanese crackdown on all guerrilla activity, there were contradictory tendencies within Fatah. On the one hand, it saw the ‘adventurism’ of PFLP as responsible for Black September, and therefore the September 1971 conference condemned ‘extremism’ within PFLP for their problems. PLO under Fatah also  sought to consolidate the movement and incorporated ‘Isam Sartawi's Active Organization for the Liberation of Palestine (AOLP) and  Ahmad Za‘rur’s Org of Arab Palestine at the July 1971 PNC session. But also strove for revenge. Thus, a breakaway faction from the Rasd, which was extensively criticized for its role in Jordan, became the ‘Black Sept Organization’ (Khalaf’s role unclear, but he supported and  promoted its activities); much sympathy in Fatah for their activities, including PFLP / Red Army strikes, and  various Fatah members took the "Black September" name in the September 1972 Munich Olympic attack. It is apparent that Yasser Arafat both authorized and organized the Munich strike, while carefully attempting to disown it, without condemning it.

Following international condemnation, loss of public support and  Israeli reprisals (especially the  death of Najjar and  ‘Udwan in Apr73 raid), Fatah condemned further hijackings and  airport attacks by Sabri al-Banna and  Haddad’s PFLP faction in 1973, and  ‘Arafat ordered the assassination of al-Banna’s sponsor, Muhammed ‘Abd al-Ghafur (12Sept 74). In October 1972,  a Fatah congress of 300 delegates elected the leadership, and a new policy formulated, viewing guerrilla warfare as only one of the means of struggle. Increasing leftward shift within Fatah after 1973 war, with ‘the Soviet Group’ ( Nimr Salh, Fatah-CC member; Majid Abu-Sharar, director of news department; Ahmad ‘Abd al-Rahman, ed-in-chief of Filastin al-Thawra) strong; though opposed by various other leftist factions, eg ‘Vietnamese line’ under Hanna Mikha’il and  ‘Maoist tendency’ under Munir Shafiq, as Soviet group was moving t/w supporting SCR242 and  which gained considerable popularity among Fatah rank-and -file, which saw interests of 1948 refugees as vital. This led to internal factionalist, and  the formation of the rejectionist front and  Abu Nidal group. These came into open conflict in South Lebanon in April of 1977 when a leftist group under Abu Daud (Muhammed Daud Awda) tried to break the ceasefire in S.Lebanon, resulting in  open clashes with Fatah mainstream forces.  ‘Arafat  sought to, gain personal control. Amidst  increasing accusations of autocracy, Arafat did not convene a general Fatah conference after Sept 1971 until pressure led to the May 1980 conference.

Fatah’s success was due to its lack of emphasis on ideology as well as to the unique personality of Yasser Arafat, leading to support from all sectors of society, and  its principle of non-interference in affairs of other Arab States resulting in support from most of them. It generally opposed violent attacks outside the Middle East, especially after 1974. Main splits in Fatah in 1983 and  Nov 1993 occurred, when half of Fatah-Revolutionary Council, including Farouk Qaddumi (as Secretary-General), boycotted the meeting to protest the Oslo accords. Fateh began to disintegrate after the death of founder Yasser Arafat. In January of 2006, it lost Palestinian Legislative Council elections to candidates representing the Hamas movement. Voters were unhappy with corruption and nepotism in the Fateh and chaos in the Palestinian authority. Mahmoud Abbas, who succeeded Arafat was not an effective leader of either Fatah or the PLO.  The Hamas promised to end chaos and corruption. In June of 2007, the Fatah were violently deposed by Hamas in Gaza, leading in effect to two separate Palestinian governments.


Synonyms and alternate spellings: Fateh

Further Information:   The Fateh Constitution

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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

Note - This encyclopedia is a work in progress. It is far from complete and is being constructed and improved all the time. If you would like to contribute articles or expansions of existing articles, please contact news (at) mideastweb.org.  Suggestions and corrections are welcome. The concise version of this dictionary is at our Middle East Glossary.

Spelling - Spelling of words in Middle-Eastern languages is often arbitrary. There may be many variants of the same name or word such as Hezbollah, Hizbolla, Hisbolla or Husayn and Hussein. There are some conventions for converting words from Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew There are numerous variant renderings of the same Arabic or Hebrew words, such as "Hizbollah," "Hisbulla" etc. It is not possible to find exact equivalents for several letters. 

Pronunciation - Arabic and Hebrew vowels are pronounced differently than in English. "o" is very short. The "a" is usually pronounced like the "a" in market, sometimes as the "a" in "Arafat."  The " 'A " is guttural.  " 'H "- the 'het ('Hirbeh, 'Hebron, 'Hisbollah') designates a sound somewhat similar to the ch in "loch" in Scots pronunciation, but made by touching the back of your tongue to the roof of your mouth. The CH should be pronounced like Loch, a more assertive consonant than 'het.

The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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