(ISRAEL and the MIDDLE EAST to 1979 – continued)

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ISRAEL and the MIDDLE EAST to 1979 (2 of 7)

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Continuing Hostilities, 1967-70

The 1967 war left the Suez Canal closed to all shipping, including oil. The demand for oil from Libya, conveniently located on the Mediterranean Sea, rose. Libya increased its price for oil, and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Producers (OPEC) raised their prices. OPEC would now be more of a news item in the West.

Egypt continued its hostilities against Israel, Nasser hoping that Israel would be unable to withstand the economic burden of defending against periodic attacks. On 1 July 1967, Egypt began shelling positions that Israel occupied near the Suez Canal. On 21 October, Egypt sank the Israeli destroyer Eilat, killing 47. The Israeli death toll between 15 June and 8 August had risen to 1,424 soldiers and more than 100 civilians. Meanwhile, the Suez Canal was damaged, and it would remained closed until 1975.

Muslims across the Middle East remained humiliated by Israel's victory in June. Arab nationalism and socialism had been popular in Muslim societies, represented by Nasser in Egypt and secular regimes in Sudan, Libya, Syria and Iraq. With this there was criticism of Saudi Arabia and other gulf state monarchies as feudal. But the popularity of secular regimes had faded with the defeat of their armies in the Six-Day War. Now, more hope was focused on Islam. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood became more influential and replaced leftists as leaders on university campuses.

The defeat had left members of the PLO organization, al-Fatah, discouraged, but not Yasser Arafat. At a meeting of about twenty in Damascus, Arafat listened to what he considered defeatist talk, including the complaint by one with fundamentalist leanings that resuming guerrilla activity would merely provoke Israel and destroy their movement. Arafat said that the performance of Arab armies vindicated what he had said about the need of Palestinians to help themselves. The defeat of 1967, he said, was "prelude to a great victory." Arafat was ready with a plan to organize Palestinians now living under Israeli occupation. In August 1967 Arafat was describing the West Bank as a tinder-box awaiting al-Fatah's spark.

Arafat had no success inspiring revolt in the West Bank – still officially Jordanian territory. Palestinians outside of the occupied territories emerged from the war eager for confrontation with Israel. In the summer of 1967, four hundred Palestinians, students and workers, left their job or studies in Germany for combat training in Algeria. Soon they were in Syria, and from there they were sent on raids into the West Bank. There some of them were arrested and some of them died.

Palestinian guerrillas crossed from Jordan and attacked Israeli kibbutzim. In March 1968, the Israelis retaliated at what was said to be the guerrilla capital in Jordan, near the Jordan River border at Karameh. There were several hundred civilians and about 900 Palestinian guerrillas, most of them associated with Fatah. Yasser Arafat's headquarters had been there, but he had abandoned Karameh the night before the Israelis arrived. In what is called the Battle of Karameh, the Israelis were driven back and suffered substantial losses. It was Israel's first battle engagement with the PLO. The PLO acquired a new prestige within the Arab community, and Palestinians gave Arafat a new prestige – despite his having fled before the battle.

In July, Jordan's King Hussein decided to end his nominal rule over the West Bank. About 40 percent of his subjects in Jordan were Palestinian, and while some were loyal to him, many were a source of trouble and insecurity. Jordan would no longer represent the Palestinians in the West Bank in talks involving Israelis. Hussein declared the PLO the sole legitimate representative of the people in the West Bank. West Bank Palestinians would now be considered foreigners in Jordan and allowed to stay for only limited periods. Ties were cut between West Bank Palestinians and more than 200 charitable societies and civic organizations, like chapters of the Red Crescent and professional organizations. Educational opportunities for Palestinians from the West Bank residents were curtailed at Jordan's universities.

Jews living on the West Bank under Jordanian authority had been murdered and driven out as recently as two decades before, and now some were returning as settlers. Israel had been negotiating with Palestinian leaders on the West Bank who were asking for self-rule without a withdrawal of Israel's military. But there were many Palestinians ready to fight to replace Israel's authority with some kind of independence.

More Attacks against Israelis, to 1970

n 1968, working with the PLO was a Marxist-Leninist group called the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The leader of the PFLP, George Habash, was of Greek descent, from a merchant family expelled from Palestine by the Israelis in 1948 when Habash was twenty-two. The family had gone to Egypt. George Habash began working out of Beirut, Lebanon, where he had earned a university degree and had become a pediatrician. Habash was opposed to any accommodation with Israel – anything that could be called a peace process – and he hoped to provoke the Arab states into crushing Israel. On 28 July 1968, PFLP guerrillas seized an Israeli airliner in Zurich Switzerland. They released 25 Israelis on board in exchange for 16 Arab fighters imprisoned in Israel.

On 22 November 1968, a car bomb exploded in the Jewish sector of Jerusalem, killing twelve. On 26 February 1969, Israel's prime minister, Levi Eshkol died, and Arafat's al-Fatah took credit, claiming that it had killed Eshkol with a surface-to-surface missile. Arafat declared, "our primary goal now is the liberation of Palestine through armed force, even if the struggle continues for tens of years." note37

On 17 April a Beirut newspaper, Al Moharrer. It called  Barbra Streisand a Zionist and demanded that her films be banned in the Arab world. In the 1968 film Funny Girl, the actor Omar Sharif had kissed Streisand, and there was talk of Sharif's relationship with Streisand off-screen. Sharif had become too liberal for a lot of Muslims, too cosmopolitan, too friendly with Jews. And films he played in were banned in his native Egypt.

Back to the world of violence, on 22 May 1969 in Copenhagen an attempted assassination of David Ben-Gurion failed. Three would be assassins were arrested and then released by Danish authorities because "intent to kill" was insufficient grounds for an indictment.

On 18 July, Palestinians bombed a Jewish owned department store in London. On 29 July, two members of the PFLP took over an El Al airliner and diverted it to Damascus. There they let the passengers debark. Then they blew up the plane. Syria took control of the plane's 16 Israeli passengers and exchanged them for 13 Syrians and 58 Egyptians held in Israeli prisons

On 29 August, PFLP members diverted a US, TWA, passenger airliner to Damascus, evacuated the passengers and blew up the aircraft. In February 1970, a Swiss airliner blew up shortly after its takeoff from Geneva, and a PFLP group under Ahmed Jabril claimed responsibility. On 22 July, five members of a group that called itself the Popular Struggle Front hijacked a Greek airliner flying from Lebanon to Athens. And they won the release of seven Palestinians imprisoned in Greece.


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