Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency

The Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency refers to the armed cross-border conflict, which peaked between 1949 and 1956, involving Israel and Palestinian militants, mainly based in the Gaza Strip, under the nominal control, of the All-Palestine Protectorate – a Palestinian client-state of Egypt declared in October 1948, which became the focal point of the Palestinian fedayeen activity.[1] The conflict was parallel to the Palestinian infiltration phenomenon. Hundreds were killed in the course of the conflict, which declined after the 1956 Suez War.

Palestinian Fedayeen insurgency
Part of Israeli–Palestinian conflict
Fedayeen 1956.jpg
Israeli policemen inspecting the bodies of 5 fedayeen killed near Nir Galim, 1956
 Israel Palestinian Fedayeen
Supported by:
All-Palestine Protectorate

Emerging from among the Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from their villages as a result of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War,[2] in the mid-1950s the fedayeen began mounting cross-border operations into Israel from Syria, Egypt and Jordan. The earliest infiltrations were often made in order to access the lands and agricultural products, which Palestinians had lost as a result of the war, later shifting to attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets. Fedayeen attacks were directed on Gaza and Sinai borders with Israel, and as a result Israel undertook retaliatory actions, targeting the fedayeen that also often targeted the citizens of their host countries, which in turn provoked more attacks.


Palestinian infiltration refers to numerous border-crossings by Palestinians, considered illegal by the Israeli authorities, during the first years of Israeli statehood. Most of the people in question were refugees attempting to return to their homes, take back possessions that had been left behind during the war and to gather crops from their former fields and orchards inside the new Israeli state.[3] Between 30,000 and 90,000 Palestinian refugees returned to Israel as a result. Meron Benivasti states that the fact that the "infiltrators" were for the most part former inhabitants of the land returning for personal, economic and sentimental reasons was suppressed in Israel as it was feared that this may lead to an understanding of their motives and to the justification of their actions.[3]


Early attacksEdit

According to Yeshoshfat Harkabi (former head of Israeli military intelligence), early infiltrations were limited "incursions", initially motivated by economic reasons, such as Palestinians crossing the border into Israel to harvest crops in their former villages.[4] Gradually, they developed into violent robbery and deliberate 'terrorist' attacks as fedayeen replaced the civilians.

The first struggle by Palestinian fedayeen may have been launched from Syrian territory in 1951, though most attacks between 1951 and 1953 were launched from Jordanian territory.[4]

Retribution operationsEdit

In 1953, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion tasked Ariel Sharon, then security chief of the Northern Region, with setting up of a new commando unit, Unit 101, designed to respond to fedayeen infiltrations.[5] After one month of training, "a patrol of the unit that infiltrated into the Gaza Strip as an exercise, encountered Palestinians in al-Bureij refugee camp, opened fire to rescue itself and left behind about 30 killed Arabs and dozens of wounded."[6] In its five-month existence, Unit 101 was also responsible for carrying out the Qibya massacre on the night of 14–15 October 1953, in the Palestinian village of the same name.[5] Cross-border operations by Israel were conducted in both Egypt and Jordan "to 'teach' the Arab leaders that the Israeli government saw them as responsible for these activities, even if they had not directly conducted them."[4] Moshe Dayan felt that retaliatory action by Israel was the only way to convince Arab countries that, for the safety of their own citizens, they should work to stop fedayeen infiltrations. Dayan stated, "We are not able to protect every man, but we can prove that the price for Jewish blood is high."[4]

United Nations reports indicate that between 1949 and 1956, Israel launched more than seventeen raids on Egyptian territory and 31 attacks on Arab towns or military forces.[7]

Egypt-sponsored insurgencyEdit

The terms of the Armistice Agreement restricted Egypt’s use and deployment of regular armed forces in the Gaza strip. In keeping with this restriction, the Egyptian Government’s solution was to form a Palestinian para-military police force. The Palestinian Border police was created in December 1952. The Border police were placed under the command of ‘Abd-al-Man’imi ‘Abd-al-Ra’uf, a former Egyptian air brigade commander, member of the Muslim Brotherhood and member of the Revolutionary Council. 250 Palestinian volunteers started training in March 1953, with further volunteers coming forward for training in May and December 1953. Some Border police personnel were attached to the Military Governor’s office, under ‘Abd-al-‘Azim al-Saharti, to guard public installations in the Gaza strip.[8]

From late 1954 onwards, larger scale Fedayeen operations were mounted from Egyptian territory.[4] The Egyptian government supervised the establishment of formal fedayeen groups in Gaza and the northeastern Sinai.[9] General Mustafa Hafez, commander of Egyptian army intelligence, is said to have founded Palestinian fedayeen units "to launch terrorist raids across Israel's southern border,"[10] nearly always against civilians.[11] In a speech on 31 August 1955, Egyptian President Nasser said:

Egypt has decided to dispatch her heroes, the disciples of Pharaoh and the sons of Islam and they will cleanse the land of Palestine....There will be no peace on Israel's border because we demand vengeance, and vengeance is Israel's death.[12][better source needed]

After an Israeli raid on an Egyptian military outpost in Gaza in February 1955, during which 37 Egyptian soldiers were killed, the Egyptian government began to actively sponsor fedayeen raids into Israel.[13]

In 1956, Israeli troops entered Khan Yunis in the Egyptian controlled Gaza Strip, conducting house-to-house searches for Palestinian fedayeen and weaponry.[14] During this operation, 275 Palestinians were killed, with an additional 111 killed in Israeli raids on the Rafah refugee camp.[14][15] Israel claimed these killings resulted from "refugee resistance", a claim denied by refugees;[15] there were no Israeli casualties.[15]

Aftermath: Suez WarEdit

Some believe fedayeen attacks contributed to the outbreak of the Suez Crisis;[16] they were cited by Israel as the reason for undertaking the 1956 Sinai Campaign.[17] Others argue that Israel "engineered eve-of-war lies and deceptions.... to give Israel the excuse needed to launch its strike", such as presenting a group of "captured fedayeen" to journalists, who were in fact Israeli soldiers.[18]

Narrative of the insurgencyEdit

Dozens of these attacks are today cited by the Israeli government as "Major Arab Terrorist Attacks against Israelis prior to the 1967 Six-Day War".[19][20] According to the Jewish Virtual Library, while the attacks violated the 1949 Armistice Agreements prohibiting hostilities by paramilitary forces, it was Israel that was condemned by the United Nations Security Council for its counterattacks.[12]


According to Martin Gilbert, between 1951 and 1955, 967 Israelis were killed in what he claims as "Arab terrorist attacks",[21] a figure Benny Morris characterizes as "pure nonsense".[22] Morris explains that Gilbert's fatality figures are "3-5 times higher than the figures given in contemporary Israeli reports" and that they seem to be based on a 1956 speech by David Ben-Gurion in which he uses the word nifga'im to refer to "casualties" in the broad sense of the term (i.e. both dead and wounded).[22]

According to the Jewish Agency for Israel between 1951 and 1956, 400 Israelis were killed and 900 wounded in fedayeen attacks.[23]


  1. ^ Facts On File, Incorporated. Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East.
  2. ^ Almog, 2003, p. 20.
  3. ^ a b Benvenisti, Meron (2000): Sacred Landscape: Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948. Chapter 5: Uprooted and Planted Archived 2006-09-04 at the Wayback Machine. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-21154-5
  4. ^ a b c d e Orna Almog (2003). Britain, Israel, and the United States, 1955-1958: Beyond Suez. Routledge. p. 20. ISBN 0-7146-5246-6.
  5. ^ a b Alain Gresh; Dominique Vidal (2004). The New A-Z of the Middle East. I.B. Tauris. pp. 282–283. ISBN 1-86064-326-4.
  6. ^ "Yoav Gelber, 2006, "Sharon's Inheritance"" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on June 5, 2013.
  7. ^ Thomas G. Mitchell (2000). Native Vs. Settler: Ethnic Conflict in Israel/Palestine, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. p. 133. ISBN 0-313-31357-1.
  8. ^ Yezid Sayigh (1999) Armed Struggle and the Search for State: The Palestinian National Movement 1949-1993. Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-829643-6 p. 61
  9. ^ Martin Gilbert (2005). The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Routledge. ISBN 0-415-35901-5.
  10. ^ Lela Gilbert (2007-10-23). "An 'infidel' in Israel". The Jerusalem Post. Archived from the original on 2013-07-06.
  11. ^ Kameel B. Nasr (1 December 1996). Arab and Israeli Terrorism: The Causes and Effects of Political Violence, 1936-1993. McFarland. pp. 40–. ISBN 978-0-7864-3105-2. Fedayeen to attack...almost always against civilians
  12. ^ a b "Fedayeen". Jewish Virtual Library.
  13. ^ "Records show that until the Gaza raid, the Egyptian military authorities had a consistent and firm policy of curbing infiltration...into Israel...and that it was only following the raid that a new policy was put in place, that of organizing the fedayeen units and turning them into an official instrument of warfare against Israel." – Shlaim, pp. 128–129. However, official policy and actual actions were not always consistent – whether due to incompetence or deliberately turning a blind eye to Palestinian actions, both in Jordan and in Egypt. In fact, during this period there were some 7,850 infiltrations and border incidents on the Jordanian border (including incidents in which Jordanian troops sniped into Israeli areas, conducted intelligence forays or, in one case tried to block the Israeli road leading to the southern Israeli town of Eilat) – how many of these actions by Jordanian troops were local initiatives and how many were officially sanctioned is not clear. On the Egyptian border there were in this period approximately 3,000 infiltrations and incidents, the vast majority along the Gaza section of that border. These too were virtually all Palestinian in origin, but also included an undetermined number of shooting incidents initiated by Egyptian troops – usually against Israeli border patrols. Carta's Atlas of Israel, the First Years 1948–1961 (Hebrew)
  14. ^ a b Baylis Thomas (1999). How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Lexington Books. p. 107. ISBN 0-7391-0064-5.
  15. ^ a b c Noam Chomsky (1999). The Fateful Triangle:The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians. South End Press. p. 102. ISBN 0-89608-601-1.
  16. ^ Meron Benvenisti. Sacred Landscape, The Buried History of the Holy Land since 1948: Ghosts and Infiltrators. University of California Press. Archived from the original on 2006-09-04. Retrieved 2017-05-14.
  17. ^ Benny Morris (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956: Arab Infiltration, Israeli Retaliation, and. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 0-19-829262-7.
  18. ^ Ian Lustick (2003). Traditions and Transitions in Israel Studies. Association for Israel Studies:SUNY Press. p. 23. ISBN 0-7914-5585-8.
  19. ^ "Major terror attacks". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  20. ^ "Palestinian Terror". Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  21. ^ Martin Gilbert (2005). The Routledge Atlas of the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Routledge. p. 58. ISBN 0-415-35901-5.
  22. ^ a b Benny Morris (1993). Israel's Border Wars, 1949-1956. Oxford University Press. p. 101. ISBN 0-19-829262-7.
  23. ^ "Map". Jewish Agency for Israel. Archived from the original on 2009-06-23.