Review of “Fedayeen: the story of the Palestinian Guerrillas”

People who read history always want the newest released documentation, most recent interpretation, or newest insight into any historical situation. The logic being newly published evidence makes any account more relevant than previous works. All this is true and I agree with it.

It is sometimes forgotten however, reading older history gives you advantages of which newer publications are incapable. One, the interpretation many times is sharper and more distinct because it is written in the same time period. Two, if the work is old enough it can be considered  history in itself relating to how the history was presented. And three, it can sometimes teach us lessons for our own time.

This is the case with “Fedayeen: The Story of the Palestinian Guerrillas,” by Zeev Schiff and Raphael Rothstein,

London: Valentine, Mitchell & Co., 1972. The authors offer an informative insight into the workings of organized Fedayeen operational and political intrigue during the first two decades of Israel’s existence.

The history here doesn’t go beyond 1972. In fact you get the impression, that the Munich massacre at the ’72 Olympic games was hurried in before publication, so as to give its release the most recent historical analysis, to satisfy those talked about in the first paragraph of this review.  The two authors do an excellent job outlining the beginnings of the movement, the rise of the PLO, the ascendancy of Arafat and other notorious names in that period.

The only real criticism I have about “Fedayeen” is that it begins in the late ‘50s leaving out the crucial years 1950-1955 when Fedayeen activity, governed mostly by Egypt was largely left out of the story. I wish the authors had added another fifty pages to the book to gave us that significant part of the Arab Israeli conflict.

But, the information they did provide is excellent. “Fedayeen” can be a very educational tool to understand how and why modern Muslim terror acts the way it does.

Operationally, the Fedayeen employed terror as a methodology. Politically, it was embodied in a combination of both the far left and the far right, with virtually no existence in the middle. Jihadist tendencies did not appear to be one of the factors that drove the violence at that time. Rather, it was left wing Marxism spread out over good old fashion dictatorial authoritarianism.

As one works through the pages of this book, it’s clear that the Jihadist element creeping into the Palestinian movement is a later incarnation. But, considering the historical context that might not be so unusual. The Iranian revolution didn’t take place until 1979 and historians consider that event to be the kickoff of modern Jihad.

You would probably have to go to the late 1980s and the first intifada to recognize any evidence of the world wide Jihad movement, which has now in 2015 widened its scope to include all of the Judeo-Christian democratic world.  Today the west is under siege, but during the era of Viet Nam, Franz Fanon and the Beatles, it was only Israel that endured under the suffering challenge of Muslim terror.

The one continuous inescapable Palestinian bridge between then and now, is the debased, Draconian, almost sardonic  hatred encouraging the vengeful desire for Zionist extinction.  While all other motivations and personalities seem to grow with the decades, the hatred Palestinians hold for Jews remains a constant.

Consider this quote Schiff and Rothstein include from Nasir al-Din al-Nashashibi’s 1962 book, “Return Ticket.” With this level of vengeance it is not hard to see how and why the Palestinians have rejected peace with the Jews.

“I shall see the hatred in the eyes of my son and your sons. I shall see how they take revenge. If they do not know how to take revenge, I shall teach them. And, if they agree to a truce or peace, I shall fight against them as I fight against my enemy and theirs. I want them to be callous, to be ruthless, to take revenge. I want them to wash away the disaster of 1948 with the blood of those who prevent them from entering their land. Their homeland is dear to them. But revenge is dearer. We’ll enter their lairs in Tel Aviv. We’ll smash Tel Aviv with axes, guns, hands, fingernails and teeth, while singing the songs of Kibya  Dir Yassin and Nasir ad-Din. We shall sing the hymns of the triumphant avenging return.” (P. 6-7)

It’s clear from Nahashishibi’s chilling words that just “taking back their land” is not enough. He wants “revenge.” The authors return to this theme time and time again.  If hatred is the politics that drives the Fedayeen movement, “Revenge” becomes the strategy by which all operational methodology employ. The Jews not only need to be defeated, they need to be punished for putting us, their superiors, through our pain and suffering of defeat. It is no secret that Palestinians have never taken responsibility for their own condition and have chosen to blame the Jews instead. It does not hold well for those in Israel who still believe peace is possible with Palestine during our own lifetimes.

This is the common sentiment of the 1960s, and there is no Palestinian literature of the time that takes a more moderate view.  For example, Sami Hadawi’s “Bitter Harvest” first published right after the 1967 war and a contemporary of Nahashishibi, followed these same lines of “revenge.” the bitterness of defeat, and showing Israel’s crimes while not once looking inward and how they can bring this conflict to an end. The only “end” for these writers expressing the hatred of the Palestinians is the annihilation of Israel.

One of the oddities of this story, which might have been an oversight,  I am not sure but there is a scene described in

Arafat with cronies in Jordan probably 1968. to the right of Arafat is Naif Hawatmeh head of the Maoist Popular front for the LIberation of Palestine. Arafat was not a leftist but a right wing dictator. They both had similar agenda's as noted.

Arafat with cronies in Jordan probably 1968. To the right of Arafat is Naif Hawatmeh head of the Maoist Popular front for the LIberation of Palestine. Arafat was not a leftist but a right wing dictator. They both had similar agenda’s as noted.

very clear detail of the first PLO sanctioned terrorist attack inside Israel in January 1965. See “Fifty years of Fatah terror” here  Schiff and Rothstein describe the leader of the three man infiltration team as “a short balding man,” (p. 15) a cryptic description of Arafat, but never mentioning him by name for this operation. Of course,  Arafat is discussed in much detail later since his historic presence in this movement was evident after 1967. But, it was never explained why they just didn’t name him in that operation.

Toward the end of the book, the authors conclude in 1972 that the Fedayeen was winding down as another failure of Palestinian resistance. Mentioned only in passing is Palestinian efforts in the early ‘70s to take their fight against Israel outside of the Jewish state. How could the authors have known that skyjackings, shootings in Paris, killing Israelis on the Mediterranean  and hijacking plane loads of Jews to Uganda would once again breathe life into a murderous movement.

To keep with my argument at the beginning of this review that old history offers something that new history can’t, in closing I submit the following: West Germany, the scene of the Munich massacre describes the Arab community in Germany which gives us an historic look at the seeds of the Jihad that we face today.

As a result of the Munich games the “…authorities keep a careful watch over colonies of Arab workers and students numbering over 35,000  living in key cities. Among the Arabs are some 3000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are believed to have entered Germany illegally…in West Germany—Fatah alone is believed to have twenty-three branches which carry on clandestine recruiting. Organized on a cell basis, these branches demand the members swear unconditional allegiance and absolute secrecy. “ (p. 245)

Lest there be any doubt, the echo of modern day Jihad has its roots in these cells, which were maintained all over Europe. As we all know those numbers are no longer in the thousands but the millions.

How will we ever make peace with the Palestinians under these conditions? The answer is we won’t. We can’t. We will have to defend ourselves, our homes, our loved ones, until we beat the hatred out of them someday. And, that I am afraid will take a long, long time.

 Photo above is a picture of Fedayeen terrorists circa late ’60s or early ’70s. Courtesy of

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