The name Palestine historically refers to region lying between the Mediterranean sea and the River Jordan. It also refers to the British Mandate of Palestine, established by the League of Nations in 1922, which became the State of Israel in 1948, and sparked a decades-long struggle between Jews and Palestinians (as well as neighboring Arab states) for control of the region. Although Israel has managed to maintain absolute authority, the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (السلطة الوطنية الفلسطينية) in 1994 to administer the Palestinian territories within Israel, is considered a positive step towards addressing Palestinian rights of self-determination.
The Arabic term fedayeen (فِدائيّين), meaning "men of sacrifice" or "redeemers," was first applied to Palestinian fighters by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who began arming and organizing small units for his own purposes beginning in 1955.
Founded in 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (منظمة التحرير الفلسطينية) was established as a political and paramilitary orgnization with the stated goal of the "liberation of Palestine." Since 1974 it has considered the establishment of an independent Palestinian state of the highest priority. Paramilitary factions of the PLO have employed guerilla warfare tactics from bases in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and within Israel to attack Israeli military and civilian targets, and some ultra-militant groups are responsible for terrorist practices, including kidnappings, assassinations, bombings and the like.
Although a Charter exists, there is no governing mechanism within the PLO, and a number of factions claiming membership have been established, many of them with incongruent goals and methods. The following list identifies some of the former and current member factions of the PLO:
- Al-Fatah (فتح) - the name means "conquest," although the full name is Ha'arakat al-Tahrir al-Watani Filastini (حركة التحرير الوطني الفلسطين) or Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine. A left wing/nationalist party founded in 1954 by Yasser Arafat. Its military arm is Al-'Asifa (العاصفة), meaning "the storm"
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)(الجبهة الشعبية لتحرير فلسطين) - militant communist (founded 1967)
- Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, General Command (PFLP-GC) - Syrian-backed splinter group (founded 1968)
- Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP)(الجبهة الديموقراطية لتحرير فلسطين) - Marxist/Leninist (founded 1969)
- Palestinian People's Party (PPP)(حزب الشعب الفلسطيني) - socalist (founded 1982)
- Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF)(جبهة التحرير الفلسطينية) - founded 1961
- Arab Liberation Front (AFL)(جبهة التحرير العربية) - allied to Iraqi Ba'ath Party (founded 1969)
- As-Sa'iqa or al-Saika (الصاعقة) or "lightning bolt" - Syrian-controlled Ba'athist faction (founded 1968)
- Al-Fatah Revolutionary Council (فتح المجلس الثوري), aka the "Abu Nidal Organization" - a militant splinter group founded in 1973 that rejected any possibility of peace with Israel. Distinctly terrorist in nature, the faction is responsible for the assassinations of many Palestinian "corroborators"
- Palestinian Popular Struggle Front (PPSF) - founded 1967
- Palestine Democratic Union (Fida)(الاتحاد الديمقراطي الفلسطيني) - founded 1990
- Palestinian Arab Front (PAF)(الجبهة العربية الفلسطينية) - founded 1993
Created in 1964 and initially envisioned as the military wing of the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) was formed in 1964 by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. The PLA rarely if ever deployed in support of the PLO itself, instead operating as a proxy fighting force of its host governments, first the Egyptian Army and later the Syrian Army, until around 1993. Following the signing of the Oslo Accords, a substantial number of PLA soldiers formed the core of the Palestinian Authority's National Security Forces. A Syrian wing of the PLA continues to operate, and has some degree of cooperation with certain PLO factions such as As-Sa'iqa.
Palestinian guerrilla units have always naturally operated with whatever uniforms and equipment were available and best suited to the environment, although it is worthy of note that, according to author Samuel Katz, the PLO as a whole was one of the best-financed guerrilla organizations in history. Although vast numbers of Palestinian combatants have simply worn regular civilian clothing in order to better blend in with their local environments, some factions and individual units have adopted military camouflage clothing for operational and impressionistic purposes. Students of the conflicts in Israel and Lebanon as well as the PLO itself have attempted to document the usage of insignia and uniforms whenever possible. Nevertheless, the tremendous variety of supplies and war materiel available over more than 40 years of fighting make a complete inventory impossible.
Camouflage Patterns of Palestinian Military Forces
- Early units of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) as well as early PLO (PLFP) units wore Egyptian-made reversible rocks/sand camouflage pattern uniforms from the 1960s to 1970s.
- Copies of the French lizard pattern were also worn by the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA) during the 1970s. Although at least one source claims these were made in East Germany it seems more likely they were procured through sources in Syria or Iraq.
- Another lizard variant worn by the PLA and As-Sa'iqa commandos features purplish-brown and olive green horizontal stripes on a greyish-green background, thus earning the nickname "purple lizard." As with the brighter versions, these uniforms appear to have been sourced in Syria and may even be surplus stocks from Syrian military supplies.
- El-Fatah guerillas of the PLO were repeatedly documented wearing vertical stripe or vertical lizard pattern camouflage uniforms, made in both Syria or Egypt. Several variations have been documented, including one that is typically associated with Lebanon (and curiously nicknamed "Lebanese blue").
- Many uniforms worn by Palestinian forces were sourced from South Korean companies during the 1970s. Among these, the "waves" or "swirl" pattern worn by the ROK Special Forces is documented in use by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Although the pattern is the same, the uniform design is different from the Korean model. These may have been sourced through Iraq, which also wore the pattern.
- The camouflage design seen in this photograph has been associated with Palestinian forces in several sources from the 1970s era. It appears to be a kind of Brushstroke variation incorporating very dark olive and purplish-brown strokes with very long and thin brush trails on a sandy-colored background. Some photographs illustrate the pattern oriented horizontally, as this one, while others indicate a vertical alignment. Most likely of local origin, the design may have been produced in one of the nearby nations such as Syria or Egypt.
- The PFLP also wore a four-color "blotch" type pattern during this period, having dark green, dark brown and light brown blotch or woodland shapes on a khaki or tan background. Early versions of this design were reputedly locally-manufactured.
- A leaf pattern camouflage in use by the Iraqi Popular Army was also worn by the Arab Liberation Front (ALF) during the 1980s. Probably sourced through Iraq, the uniforms were made in Romania and South Korea.
- Another South Korean camouflage pattern encountered among Palestinian forces is that of the ROK Marines. The so-called "turtle shell" design was worn by As-Sa'iqa commandos during the 1980s, although the uniform design is completely different from that of the Korean Marines.
- Originally seen during the "Black September" crisis in Jordan, the Czech-made mlok (salamander) camouflage pattern was frequently found among various PLO combatants well into the 1990s.
- The design seen below is of undetermined origin, but may have been produced in Cyprus. A brushstroke-derivative, the pattern incorporates reddish-brown and olive green shapes on a yellow-tan background, and is very crudely printed. Camouflage uniforms of the same or very similar designs to this were also worn by the Progressive Socialist Party in Lebanon, a paramilitary unit closely allied with Palestinian causes.
Camouflage Patterns of the Palestinian National Authority
- With the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), several units were created to assist with law enforcement and border security. Within the Security Forces, some units (such as the Presidential Guard) often wear a copy of the US m81 woodland pattern camouflage.
- Other units of the PA, particularly Special Police units, are frequently seen wearing a blue or purple "urban" DPM camouflage design, similar to that worn by Jordan and Kuwait.
- Some Palestinian Police units also wear either a blue or a purple leaf camouflage design.
- The PNA Presidential Guard have also been documented wearing the French CE woodland camouflage pattern on some occasions, in a BDU style uniform. By 2012, the uniforms had been obtained through several different sources.
- The PNA Presidential Guard have also been documented on a few occasions wearing a version of the French CE woodland pattern with a very darkened color palette. The effect is similar to that of the fabric being dyed black, and yet this is not the case.
- Additionally, some special units of the PNA Security Forces have used a copy of the US six-color "chocolate chip" desert pattern recently.
- Other units of the PNA Security Forces wear the Jordanian Army's KA2 desert digital camouflage pattern.
- Samuel M. Katz, Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars (2) (Osprey Publishing Ltd, London, 198), p 22
- Samuel M. Katz, Armies in Lebanon 1982-84 (Osprey Publishing Ltd, London, 1985), p 10
- John Laffin: Arab Armies of the Middle East Wars (Osprey Pub, London, 1982) p 37