Jordanian History: Black September--Fighting (September 1970)


Figure 1.--Different terms have been used to describe PLO fighters, including commandos, freedom fighters, guerilla, killers, terorists, and others, depending on one's political point of view and the operation involved. The press caption here was, "An Arab Commando boy guards the entrance of Commando headquaters in Amman." It was probably written by the photographer. Notice the caption writer describes him as an 'Arab' rather than a Palestinian. We are not sure what was meant by Commando headquarters, perhaps PLO headquarters. The photograph was dated September 21, 1970. One can not help but feel sympathy for boys like this caught up in military action. The question is who is responsible and to what degree is the Palestnian and wider Arab leadership or the Israelis responsible. Photographer: Mohamed Amin. Click on the image for a fuller discussion.

King Hussein accepted a cease-fire with Israel and indicated an interest in the Roger's Plan (August 1970). This further infuriated the Palestinians who wanted war, not peace with Israel. Fatah moved to overthrow King Hussein who they saw as too moderate and seize control of Jordan, the country which had harbored them. The ensuing fighting is known as Black September. The PLO launched unsuccessful efforts to assassinate King Hussein (September 1). The PFLP carried out a series of airline hijackings and landed the hijacked planes at Dawson's Field. This was a remote desert airstrip near Zarka, Jordan, that had been used as a British Royal Air Force base. The hijackings included: a SwissAir and a TWA flight that were in the Azraq area and a Pan Am flight that had landed in Cairo (September 7). Next, the Palestinians hijacked a BOAC flight from Bahrain to Zarqa (September 9). The PFLP announced that the hijackings were meant 'to pay special attention to the Palestinian problem'. After deboarding, but not releasing the passengers, the planes were blown up in a spectacular staged event in front of TV cameras. This directly confronted King Hussein. The Palestinians declared the Irbid area a 'liberated region'. The King declared martial law (September 15). He moved to restore his rule over the country. The Palestinians then attacked the Jordanian Army in an effort to unseat the King. A bitterly fought 10-day struggle ensued. He ordered his tanks (the 60th Armored Brigade) to attack the headquarters of Palestinian organizations in Amman. The Jordanian Army also attacked the Palestinian camps at Irbid, Salt, Sweileh, Baq'aa, Wehdat and Zarqa. The Palestinians had turned these refugee camps into military bases. The the head of Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (later Chief of Pakistani Army Staff and President of Pakistan) was given command of the 2nd division in these operations. [Ali] King Hussein could not commit the full force of the Jordanian Army to fighting the Palestinians. The 3rd Armored Division of the Iraqi Army had remained in Jordan after the Six Days War. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein supported the Palestinians. It was thus unclear whether the division would intervene in the fighting and attack the Jordanian forces. Thus the 99th Brigade of the Jordanian 3rd Armored Division had to be positioned to block possible Iraqi intervention and be retained to watch the Iraqi division. There were also concerns about possible Syrian intervention. [Mobley] Syria did attempt to intervene to support the Palestinians, but were blocked by the Israelis. There were thousands of casualties, mostly Palestinians. The actual number of deaths is disputed. Most sources reports some 1,000-2,000 deaths during Black September and subsequent fighting. [Bailey] PLO leader Yassir Arafat charged that the Jordanian army killed 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians, but it is standard for the Palestinians to inflate such estimates for propaganda purposes. The Jordanians finally succeeded in expelling the PLO and thousands of their fighters.

Diplomatic Moves (August 1970)

King Hussein accepted a cease-fire with Israel and indicated an interest in the Roger's Plan (August 1970). This further infuriated the Palestinians who wanted war, not peace with Israel. Fatah moved to overthrow King Hussein who they saw as too moderate and seize control of Jordan, the country which had harbored them. The ensuing fighting is known as Black September.

Assasination Attempts (Seoptember 1)

The PLO launched unsuccessful efforts to assassinate King Hussein (September 1).

Airline Hijackings

The PFLP carried out a series of airline hijackings and landed the hijacked planes at Dawson's Field. This was a remote desert airstrip near Zarka, Jordan, that had been used as a British Royal Air Force base. The hijackings included: a SwissAir and a TWA flight that were in the Azraq area and a Pan Am flight that had landed in Cairo (September 7). Next, the Palestinians hijacked a BOAC flight from Bahrain to Zarqa (September 9). The PFLP announced that the hijackings were meant 'to pay special attention to the Palestinian problem'. After deboarding, but not releasing the passengers, the planes were blown up in a spectacular staged event in front of TV cameras. This directly confronted King Hussein. The Palestinians declared the Irbid area a 'liberated region'.

Martial Law and Fighting

King Hussein declared martial law (September 15). He moved to restore his rule over the country. The Palestinians then attacked the Jordanian Army in an effort to unseat the King. A bitterly fought 10-day struggle ensued. The King ordered his tanks (the 60th Armored Brigade) to attack the headquarters of Palestinian organizations in Amman. The Jordanian Army also attacked the Palestinian camps at Irbid, Salt, Sweileh, Baq'aa, Wehdat and Zarqa. The Palestinians had turned these refugee camps into military bases. The the head of Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (later Chief of Pakistani Army Staff and President of Pakistan) was given command of the 2nd division in these operations. [Ali]

Iraq and Syria

King Hussein could not commit the full force of the Jordanian Army to fighting the Palestinians becayuse of Iraqi and Syrian support for the OPalestinians. The 3rd Armored Division of the Iraqi Army had remained in Jordan after the Six Days War. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein supported the Palestinians. It was thus unclear whether the division would intervene in the fighting and attack the Jordanian forces. Thus the 99th Brigade of the Jordanian 3rd Armored Division had to be positioned to block possible Iraqi intervention and be retained to watch the Iraqi division. There were also concerns about possible Syrian intervention. [Mobley] Syria did attempt to intervene to support the Palestinians, but were blocked by the Israelis.

Casualties

There were thousands of casualties, mostly Palestinians. The actual number of deaths is disputed. Most sources reports some 1,000-2,000 deaths during Black September and subsequent fighting. [Bailey] PLO leader Yassir Arafat charged that the Jordanian army killed 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians, but it is standard for the Palestinians to inflate such estimates for propaganda purposes. We have encountered this repeatedly in discussiions with Palestinians and other Muslims (especially Pakistanis) contacting HBC. They repeatedly escalate Muslim casualties to absurd figures. And they ignore the many ways that the West has benefitted not only Palestinians, but Muslims around the world. Just Western medical advances alone have saved millions of Muslim lives. And it never seems to dawn on the Muslim world that they have made virtually no contribution to that research. Very few ask the basic question as to why Muslim countries have made virtually no contribution in medical or other scientific fields. It all comes from the West.

Expelling the Palestinians

The Jordanians finally succeeded in expelling the PLO and thousands of their fighters.

Sources

Ali, Tariq. The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002).

Bailey, Clinton. Jordan's Palestinian Challenge, 1948–1983: A Political History.

Mobley, Richard. Syria's 1970 Invasion of Jordan (2009).








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