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Palestinian Terror Groups: Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)

 Founder: George Habash
 Founded: 1967
 Location: Gaza/West Bank

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) was founded on December 11, 1967, with the union of two left-wing Palestinian organizations. Its leaders were Wadi’ Haddad (who later became responsible for terrorist operations) and George Habash, the general secretary. The group was originally backed by Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser.

The PFLP is guided by Marxism-Leninism and, together with other left-wing Palestinian organizations, claims to be struggling to build a working-class party. Habash viewed the “liberation” of Palestine as an integral part of the world Communist revolution.

The PFLP charter lists six main sections and ideologies: (1) Revolutionary War is People’s War; (2) Guerrilla War to Pressure for the "Peaceful Solution"; (3) No Revolutionary War Without a Revolutionary Theory; (4) The War of Liberation Is a Class War Guided by a Revolutionary Ideology; (5) The Main Field of Our Revolution Struggle is Palestine; and, (6) Revolution in Both Regions of Jordan.

The PFLP advocates armed insurrection and perpetrates media-oriented attacks, particularly the hijacking of planes, to bring the Palestinian cause to public attention. The PFLP hijacked Israeli aircraft in 1968. It abducted and threatened four American journalists in Beirut in 1981 (two from the New York Times, one from the Washington Post and one from Newsweek). PFLP members have continued to perpetrate terrorist acts through the years.

In 1971, under the leadership of Habash, the organization took a more pragmatic line. Nevertheless, the PFLP never agreed to recognize Israel and left the PLO after the acceptance of the “Stage Strategy” (June 1974) as adopted in Cairo by the Palestinian National Council. The PFLP opposed the Oslo accords and is critical of the Palestinian Authority, despite the fact that it made its peace with Arafat and returned to the ranks of the PLO.

In May 2000, George Habash resigned as general secretary because of failing health and was replaced by Abu Ali Mustafa. Mustafa directed the organization to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel. He was killed in a targeted attack on August 21, 2001, in Ramallah and replaced by Ahmad Sadat. Sadat directed the assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi, Israeli Minister of Tourism (October 17, 2001). In the wake of Israeli and international pressure, Sa’adat was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and is today in “custody” in Jericho.

The PFLP’s political leadership resides in the PA-administered territories and a small operational-terrorist wing is based in the PA-administered territories (the Shaheed Abu ‘Ali Mustafa Battalions). PFLP officials and operatives were also living in Syria prior to the civil war,

The PFLP’s operational-terrorist wing is smaller than those of the other Palestinian terrorist organizations. It is party to the inter-organizational dialogues but refused to participate in the hudna when Abu Mazen was prime minister.

“The PFLP aims to mobilize and lead the struggle of the Palestinian masses for the return to Palestine, self-determination, and the establishment of a Palestinian state. These, in turn, are steps along the path of defeating the Zionist entity, liberating all of Palestine, and establishing a democratic Palestinian state where all citizens enjoy equal rights, free from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, or religious belief. Beyond this, the PFLP aims at the establishment of a democratic socialist society.”

Some of its more prominent attacks include:

  • The hijacking of an El Al plane (July 23, 1968); 16 prisoners were released.
  • Hijacking of five commercial airliners belonging to Western countries in September 1970. 
  • The assassination of Rehavam Ze’evi (October 17, 2001).
  • A suicide bombing attack at the West Bank village of Karnei Shomrom (February 16, 2002); 3 Israeli civilians murdered, 25 wounded.
  • A suicide bombing attack at a bus station at the Geha junction in Tel Aviv (December 25, 2003); 3 Israelis murdered.
  • The murder of Rina Shnerb while hiking with her father by a roadside bomb planted by the PFLP (August 23, 2019).

The PFLP is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the EU, the United States, and other countries.

On October 22, 2021, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz designated six Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations because of their links to the PFLP. The decision was an outgrowth of investigations before and after the 2019 publication of a report by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs which found:

Hamas and PFLP operatives have infiltrated and adopted seemingly benign NGOs in the Palestinian Authority, Europe, North America and South Africa, for the purpose of advancing their ideological goal: the elimination of the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Moreover, it appears that terrorist organizations view NGOs in the West as a convenient means for raising funds which they could not otherwise obtain.

One employee of the Union of Health Work Committees (UHWC) told police that “the PFLP-affiliated institutions are inter-connected and serve as the organization’s lifeline financially and organizationally, i.e., money laundering and financing PFLP activity.” According to Matthew Levitt, “In the arrangement, one NGO would learn how to conduct various types of fraud and money laundering, then pass this knowledge on to the others.” One way NGOs raise money for the PFLP is to forge documents and receipts they present to their donors with inflated costs. The difference between the amount they receive and the real cost is forwarded to the PFLP.

Sources: Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S).
“Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine,” Democratic Palestine.
Jerusalem Post, (October 4, 2001).
“Terrorists in Suits,” Ministry of Strategic Affairs, (February 2019).
Elisha Ben Kimon, “Israel arrests terrorists behind murder of Israeli teen Rina Shnerb,” Ynet, (September 28, 2019).
Matthew Levitt, “A Blurred Line Between Civil Society and Terrorism,” Policy Notes, No. 112, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, (November 2021).