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Template:Infobox military conflict September 1970 is known as the Black September (Template:Lang-ar) in Arab history and sometimes is referred to as the "era of regrettable events." It was a month when Hashemite King Hussein of Jordan moved to quash the militancy of Palestinian organizations and restore his monarchy's rule over the country.[1] The violence resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, the vast majority Palestinian.[2] Armed conflict lasted until July 1971 with the expulsion of the PLO and thousands of Palestinian fighters to Lebanon.


The United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in late 1947 led to civil war; the end of the British Mandate of Palestine and the unilateral Israeli Declaration of Independence in May 1948 - immediately endorsed by the major powers - led to the invasion of the former borders of Palestine by neighboring Arab states and the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The fighting between the Arab states and Israel was halted with the UN-mediated 1949 Armistice Agreements, but the remaining Palestinian territories came under the control of Egypt and Trans-Jordan. In 1949, Trans-Jordan officially changed its name to Jordan; in 1950, it annexed the West Bank of the Jordan River, and brought Palestinian representation into the government.

At the time, the population east of the Jordan River contained over 400,000 Palestinian refugees who made up one-third of the population; another third of the population was Palestinians on the West Bank. Only one third of the population consisted of the original inhabitants of Trans-Jordan, which meant that the Jordanians had become a ruling minority over a Palestinian majority. This proved to be a mercurial element in internal Jordanian politics and played a critical role in the political opposition. Since the 1950s, the West Bank had become the center of the national and territorial aspects of the Palestinian problem that was the key issue of Jordan's domestic and foreign policy. According to King Hussein, the Palestinian problem spelled "life or death" for Jordan and would remain the country's overriding national security issue.[3]

King Hussein feared an independent West Bank under PLO administration would threaten the autonomy of his Hashemite kingdom.[4][5] The Palestinian factions were supported variously by many Arab regimes, most notably Egypt's President Nasser, who gave political support; and Saudi Arabia, which gave financial support.[citation needed] The Palestinian nationalist organization Fatah started organizing attacks against Israel in January 1965, and Israel was also subject to repeated cross-border attacks by Palestinian fedayeen; these often drew reprisals that killed and injured Jordanians.[6] The Samu Incident was one such reprisal. Jordan had long maintained secret contacts with Israel concerning peace and security along their border. Due to internal splits within the Jordanian government and population however, many of King Hussein's orders to stop these raids were not obeyed, and some Jordanian commanders along the Israeli-Jordanian border began giving the Palestinian raids passive assistance.[7]

Battle of Karameh

The Israel Defense Forces entered the village of Karameh on March 21, 1968.[8] The Israelis, who aimed to destroy Fatah in their assault, were not successful in destroying the Fatah headquarters. King Hussein gave orders to the Jordanian forces to not intervene, but the Jordanian General Mash'hor Haditha ignored the king's orders. The arrival of Jordanian troops in full-force shifted the tide of the battle and managed to cause a stalemate with the IDF. According to the Israelis, IDF casualties from the battle were 28 soldiers killed and 69 wounded, with other losses including the destruction of four tanks, three half tracks, two armoured cars, and an airplane shot down by Jordanian forces. According to the Jordanians, Israeli casualties were 250 soldiers killed and 50 wounded, 27 tanks, 24 armored cars, 37 camions. About 100 Palestinian fedayeen were killed in the battle, with another 100 wounded and 120–150 captured. The Jordanians sustained 61 fatalities, 108 wounded, and the destruction of thirteen tanks. The Karameh battle boosted Jordanian morale and gave the PLO additional prestige within the Arab community. [9] karameh in Arabic means "dignity". Masses of young Arabs joined the ranks of Fatah. Under pressure, Ahmad Shukeiri resigned from the PLO leadership in behalf of Arafat and in July 1969, Fatah joined and soon controlled the PLO.

Seven-point agreement

In Palestinian enclaves and refugee camps in Jordan, the Jordanian Police and army were losing their authority. Uniformed PLO militants openly carried weapons, set up checkpoints and attempted to extort "taxes." During the November 1968 negotiations, a seven-point agreement was reached between King Hussein and Palestinian organizations:

  • Members of these organizations were forbidden from walking around cities armed and in uniform
  • They were forbidden to stop and search civilian vehicles
  • They were forbidden from competing with the Jordanian Army for recruits
  • They were required to carry Jordanian identity papers
  • Their vehicles were required to bear Jordanian license plates
  • Crimes committed by members of the Palestinian organizations would be investigated by the Jordanian authorities
  • Disputes between the Palestinian organizations and the government would be settled by a joint council of representatives of the king and of the PLO.

The PLO did not live up to the agreement, and instead came to be seen more and more as a state within a state in Jordan. Discipline within the Palestinian militias was often poor, and there was no central power to control the different groups. Many of them were recently formed, and new groups sprang up spontaneously after the Karameh battle, or were set up by foreign governments such as Syria and Iraq. This created a bewildering scene of groups spawning, merging and splintering rapidly, often trying to outdo each other in radicalism to attract recruits. Some left-wing Palestininan movements, such as the PFLP and the DFLP, began openly questioning the Jordanian monarchy and raising slogans calling for the "resistance" to seize power, while also stirring up conservative and religious feelings by provocative anti-religious statements and actions. In other cases, illustrating the lack of discipline on the fringes of the movement, fedayeen activity became a cover for gangsterism, with theft of vehicles or extortion from local merchants, by claiming that the goods were confiscated for the battle effort or were a donation to "the cause". By far the largest Palestinian faction, Arafat's Fatah, preached non-involvement in Jordanian affairs, but all members did not necessarily live up to this slogan. Fatah also protected smaller movements from being singled out for retaliation from the government, by threatening to stand by them in any armed clashes. Palestinians also claimed that there were numerous agents provocateurs from Jordanian or other security services present among the fedayeen, deliberately trying to upset political relations and provoke justifications for a crackdown.

Between mid-1968 and the end of 1969, no fewer than five hundred violent clashes occurred between the Palestinian guerrillas and Jordanian security forces.[citation needed] Acts of violence against civilians and kidnappings frequently took place. Chief of the Jordanian royal court (and subsequently a Prime Minister) Zaid al-Rifai claimed that in one extreme instance, "the fedayeen killed a soldier, beheaded him, and played soccer with his head in the area where he used to live." [10] Jordanian security forces would typically respond to fedayeen provocations and transgressions by rounding them up and sending them to the front. Outbreaks of violence were continuously on the rise. It was believed that as long as both parties maintained the condition that they would not enter or remain in the capital a large scale clash could have been avoided.

On the military side of things, the PLO also continued attacking Israel from Jordanian territory with little regard to Jordanian authority or security. Heavy Israeli reprisals resulted in both Palestinian and Jordanian civilian and military casualties, and the threat of larger-scale Israeli invasion loomed large.

Ten-point edict

King Hussein visited U.S. President Richard Nixon, and the Egyptian President Nasser in February 1970. Upon his return, King Hussein published a ten-point edict, restricting activities of the Palestinian organizations. On February 11, fighting broke out between Jordanian security forces and the Palestinian groups in the streets of Amman, resulting in about 300 deaths. Trying to prevent the violence spinning out of control, King Hussein announced "We are all fedayeen" and fired the interior minister who was hostile towards the Palestinians.

Armed Palestinians set up a parallel system of visa controls, customs checks and checkpoints in Jordanian cities and added more tensions to already polarized Jordanian society and the army.

In July, Egypt and Jordan accepted the U.S.-backed Rogers Plan that called for a cease fire in the War of Attrition between Egypt and Israel and for Israel's negotiated withdrawal from territories occupied in 1967, according to the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, but the plan mentioned the West Bank to be under King Hussein's authority and that was unacceptable for the more radical organizations; the PLO, George Habash's Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and Naif Hawatmeh's Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) opposed the plan, criticized and scandalized Nasser. Thus, the PLO lost the good relations with Nasser and his protection. Reportedly, the plan was a trap conceived to destroy PLO's relations with Nasser, and it had never been implemented.[1] As a result, King Hussein started his military campaign against the PLO. Between February and June 1970, about a thousand lives were lost in Jordan alone due to the conflict. The more radical organizations in the PLO decided to undermine Hussein's pro-Western regime.

Events of September 1970

Template:Jordan Series

Aircraft hijackings

On September 1, 1970, several attempts to assassinate the king failed. On September 7, in the series of Dawson's Field hijackings, three planes were hijacked by PFLP: a SwissAir and a TWA that were landed in Azraq area and a Pan Am that was landed in Cairo. Then on September 9, a BOAC flight from Bahrain was also hijacked to Zarqa. The PFLP announced that the hijackings were intended "to pay special attention to the Palestinian problem". After all hostages were removed, the planes were dramatically blown up in front of TV cameras. Directly confronting and angering the King[citation needed], the rebels declared the Irbid area a "liberated region."[citation needed]

Jordanian army attacks

On September 15, King Hussein declared martial law. The next day, Jordanian tanks (the 60th Armored Brigade of the Jordanian Army) attacked the headquarters of Palestinian organizations in Amman; the army also attacked camps in Irbid, Salt, Sweileh, Baq'aa, Wehdat and Zarqa. Then the head of Pakistani training mission to Jordan, Brigadier Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (later Chief of Army Staff and President of Pakistan), took command of the 2nd division.[11][12] However the Jordanians could not devote all their attention to the Palestinians. The 3rd Armoured Division of the Iraqi Army had remained in Jordan after the 1967 war. The Iraqi regime sympathised with the Palestinians, and it was unclear whether the division would intervene on the part of the Palestinians. Thus the 99th Brigade of the Jordanian 3rd Armoured Division had to be retained to watch the Iraqi division.[13]

Arafat later claimed that the Jordanian army killed between 10,000 and 25,000 Palestinians, although more conservative estimates put the number between 1000 and 2000.[14][15]

Hostage David Raab described the initial military actions in Black September this way:

"We were in the middle of the shelling since Ashrafiyeh was among the Jordanian Army's primary targets. Electricity was cut off, and again we had little food or water. Friday afternoon, we heard the metal tracks of a tank clanking on the pavement. We were quickly herded into one room, and the guerrillas threw open the doors to make the building appear abandoned so it wouldn't attract fire. Suddenly, the shelling stopped."

The armored troops were inefficient in narrow city streets and thus the Jordanian army conducted house to house sweeps for Palestinian fighters and got immersed in heavy urban warfare with the Palestinian fighters.

Amman experienced the heaviest fighting in the Black September uprising. Syrian tanks rolled across the Yarmouk River into northern Jordan and began shelling Amman and other northern urban areas. Outdated missiles fired by the PLO struck Amman for more than a week. Jordanian infantry pushed the Palestinian Fedayeen out of Amman after weeks of bitter fighting.

Syrian intervention attempt

On September 18, Syria tried to intervene on behalf of the Palestinian guerrillas. President Hafez al-Assad told his biographer, Patrick Seale, that Syria's intervention was only to protect the Palestinians from a massacre. The Syrians sent in armored forces equivalent to a brigade, with tanks, some of them allegedly hastily rebranded from the regular Syrian army for the purpose. Other Syrian units were the 5th Infantry Division (with the 88th and 91st Tank Brigades and the 67th Mechanised Brigade with over 200 T-55 tanks) and Commandos. They were under the command of the Palestine Liberation Army's (PLA) Syrian branch, whose headquarters were located in Damascus, and which was controlled by the government. They were met by the 40th Armored Brigade of the Jordanian Army. The Syrian Air Force, under orders of Assad, never entered the battle. This has been variously attributed to power struggles within the Syrian Baathist government (pitting Assad against Salah Jadid), and to the threat of Israeli military intervention.

As King Hussein dealt with threats by both Palestinian refugees in his country and invading Syrian forces, the king asked "the United States and Great Britain to intervene in the war in Jordan, asking the United States, in fact, to attack Syria, and some transcripts of diplomatic communiques show that Hussein requested Israeli intervention against Syria." Timothy Naftali said. "Syria had invaded Jordan and the Jordanian king, facing what he felt was a military rout, said please help us in any way possible."[16]

A telegram indicates that Hussein himself called a U.S. official at 3 a.m. to ask for American or British help. "Situation deteriorating dangerously following Syrian massive invasion...", the document said. "I request immediate physical intervention both land and air... to safeguard sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Jordan. Immediate air strikes on invading forces from any quarter plus air cover are imperative."[16]

On 21 September the Syrian 5th Division broke through the defenses of the Jordanian 40th Armoured Brigade, and pushed it back off the ar-Ramtha crossroads. King Hussein was thrown into a near panic. On 22 September the Royal Jordanian Air Force began attacking Syrian forces, which were badly battered as a result. The constant airstrikes broke the will of the Syrian force, and on the late afternoon of 22 September the 5th Division began to retreat.[17]

Whatever the case, the swift Syrian withdrawal was a severe blow to Palestinian hopes. Jordanian armored forces steadily pounded their headquarters in Amman, and threatened to break them in other regions of the kingdom as well. The Palestinians agreed to a cease-fire. Hussein and Arafat attended the meeting of leaders of Arab countries in Cairo, where Arafat won a diplomatic victory. On September 27, Hussein was forced to sign an agreement which preserved the right of the Palestinian organizations to operate in Jordan. For Jordan, it was humiliating that the agreement treated both sides to the conflict as equals.

U.S. and U.S.S.R. involvement

The U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet positioned off the coast of Israel, near Jordan. At the beginning of September, U.S. President Richard Nixon sent an additional carrier task force and the Marine assault ship USS Guam to supplement the 6th Fleet. Two Royal Navy aircraft carriers arrived in the area of Malta as well. By 19–20 September, U.S. Navy concentrated a powerful force in the Eastern Mediterranean. According to the official U.S. version the goal was to protect American interests in the region and to respond to the capture of about 50 German, British, and U.S. citizens in Jordan by Palestinian forces.

However, the Soviets claim that the goal of U.S. shock grouping was taking control of the West Bank of the Jordan river to support the upcoming Israel invasion into the neighboring territories of Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. To protect Soviet interests in the area and to assist Syria, the 5th Mediterranean Squadron of the Soviet Navy was increased to about twenty surface warships and six submarines. By mutual agreement with Syria, Soviet landing troops were ordered to respond to the expected U.S. landing and assist in demarcation of the Syria national boundaries with Israel.

On 19–20 September, a particularly busy time of confrontation, U.S. landing ships entered the Haifa outer harbour and prepared for disembarking: U.S. Marines stood on the deck in full gear ready for landing in helicopters. However, after the Soviet landing ships ran for Tartus, the preparations for disembarking were rolled back.

The 82nd Airborne had been alerted on the Sept.15. On the 19th they were loaded on C-141s. They were to drop in to the Amman Airport, secure and hold for the slower units to have a place for insertion by air. Within minutes after the first C-141s became airborne the mission was aborted and all returned to Pope AFB/Fort Bragg.

U.S. Forces remained on alert in the area throughout September and October. However, the tensions gradually decreased starting from 23–24 September.[18]

Hussein-Arafat Cairo agreement

Meanwhile, both Hussein and Arafat attended the meeting of leaders of Arab countries in Cairo and on September 27. Hussein signed an agreement that treated both sides as equals and acknowledged the right of the Palestinian organizations to operate in Jordan, but which required them to leave the cities and stay in the fronts.

On September 28, Egypt's Nasser died of a sudden heart attack. As a result the PLO lost its protection, and King Hussein continued the attack.


Estimates of the number of the people killed in the ten days of Black September range from three thousand to more than five thousand, although exact numbers are unknown. The Palestinian death toll in 11 days of fighting was estimated by Jordan at 3,400, while Palestinian sources often cite the number 10,000, mainly civilians, killed. Arafat at some point claimed that 20,000 had been killed.[19] The Western reporters were concentrated at the Intercontinental Hotel, away from the action.[citation needed] Nasser's state-controlled Voice of the Arabs from Cairo reported genocide.

After September 1970

On October 31, 1970, Yasser Arafat signed a five-point agreement, which was similar to that signed in November 1968, and was designed to return control of the country exclusively to King Hussein. The agreement stated that members of the Palestinian organizations were expected to honor Jordanian laws, instructed them to dismantle their bases, and forbade them to walk around armed and in uniform in the cities and villages.

Had the Palestinians honored that agreement, Hussein would have had difficulties in continuing to act against them. But the PFLP and the DFLP – the two organizations to the left of Arafat – refused to accept its conditions. They called on their members to ignore the Jordanian government, and at a meeting of the Palestinian National Council, they were responsible for prompting the acceptance of the proposal that Transjordan would be part of the Palestinian state to be established in the future.

The open defiance caused renewed conflict between the Palestinians and the Jordanian army, whose commanders were in any case eager to finish the work they had begun in September. At the beginning of November 1970, incidents of fighting erupted between members of the PFLP and DFLP and the Jordanian security forces. On November 9, Jordanian prime minister Wasfi al-Tal, the sworn enemy of the Palestinians, announced that in accordance with the agreement signed a month earlier, the authorities would no longer allow the Palestinians to walk around with weapons or to store explosives. The announcement was not honored, and the security forces received instructions to confiscate the Palestinians' weapons.

Until January 1971, the Jordanian army heightened its control in all the central cities. At the beginning of that month, the Jordanian army began an attack against the Palestinian bases along the highway between Amman and Jerash to cut them off from the other cities and to take over the roads linking their strongholds. In response to the operation, the Palestinians agreed to hand over their weapons to the Jordanians. This agreement was not honored either.

Toward the end of March, after a Palestinian arms warehouse was discovered in Irbid, the Jordanian army placed a curfew on the city, arrested some of the Palestinian activists, and expelled others. The takeover of Irbid was completed at the beginning of April. Afterward, many senior members of the Palestinian organizations, who were aware of their weakness, began to withdraw from Amman as well.

Yet, despite the series of defeats, the Palestinian organizations did not give in. On June 5, the senior Palestinian organizations, including Yasser Arafat's Fatah, came out with a declaration on Radio Baghdad in which they called for the deposition of King Hussein. The reason they gave for this was that deposing him was the only way to prevent the signing of "a peace agreement between Israel and Jordan."

In mid-June 1971, after three tense months during which the sides made efforts to fortify their positions by political means, Jordan embarked on the final campaign against the Palestinians. The Jordanian army, which for almost 10 months had been pushing the Palestinian organizations out of the major cities, used large forces to expel them from the mountainous regions of the cities of Jerash and Ajloun, in the north of the kingdom, where about 3,000 armed Palestinians were located.

The members of Fatah declared that they preferred to die in battle rather than surrender to the Jordanian dictates. After four days of battle, the Jordanian army overcame the last pockets of resistance. King Hussein held a press conference and declared that there was now "absolute quiet" in the kingdom. Seventy-two Palestinians fled to the West Bank and surrendered to IDF soldiers.[citation needed]

The Palestinian rout was complete. King Hussein had removed the threat to his throne[citation needed], and had strengthened his control over the kingdom.

Aftermath and regional consequences

Palestinians: The group Black September was established by Fatah members in 1971 to serve as a front organization for revenge operations and international strikes after the September events. On November 28, 1971, in Cairo, four of its members assassinated Wasfi al-Tal.[20] The group would go on to perform other strikes against Jordan, and against Israeli and Western interests outside of the Middle East, such as the Munich massacre in 1972. The Black September Organization was later disbanded in 1973–1974 as the PLO sought to exploit the October War of 1973 and pursue a diplomatic strategy. Fatah has always publicly denied its responsibility for Black September operations, but by the 2000s, numerous high-ranking Fatah and Black September activists openly acknowledge the relationship.

Lebanon: In the September fighting, the PLO lost its main base of operations. Fighters were driven to Southern Lebanon to regroup. The enlarged PLO presence in Lebanon and the intensification of fighting on the Israeli-Lebanese border stirred up internal unrest in Lebanon, where the PLO fighters added dramatically to the weight of the Lebanese National Movement, a coalition of Muslims, Arab nationalists and leftists who opposed the rightist, Maronite-dominated government. These developments helped precipitate the Lebanon Civil War, in which the PLO would be engrossed from 1975 until well after the mid-1980s.

Jordan: King Hussein of Jordan was maligned throughout the Arab world for having attacked the Palestinian resistance, and although he had now averted the physical threat to his throne, his legitimacy had suffered a crippling blow among Palestinians (who made up the majority of the kingdom's inhabitants) and on the regional Arab scene. Only a few years later, in 1974, the Arab League (and then the UN) would recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, denying Jordan's long-held claim to ownership of East Jerusalem and sovereignty over the Palestinian West Bank population.

Syria: The September events set alight the smouldering conflict between Hafez al-Assad and Salah Jadid in Syria. This culminated in Assad's Corrective Movement of November 1970, in which he deposed Jadid and seized power, after Jadid had tried to fire him over the Black September debacle and other issues.


  1. Shlaim, Avi (2007) Lion of Jordan; The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace ISBN 978-0-7139-9777-4 pp. 301–302.
  2. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Massad
  3. Moshe Shemesh, The IDF raid on Samu': the turning-point in Jordan's relations with Israel and the West Bank Palestinians Israel Studies, March 22, 2002
  4. Kissinger, Henry (1999) Years of Renewal Phoenix press ISBN 1-84212-042-5 p 1028
  5. 2006: The World Fact Book: Jordan (CIA)
  6. 1970: Civil war breaks out in Jordan, BBC Online "On This Day"
  7. Shlaim, Avi (2007) Lion of Jordan; The Life of King Hussein in War and Peace ISBN 978-0-7139-9777-4 p 276
  8. 1968: Karameh and the Palestinian revolt (Telegraph)
  9. Al
  10. Arafat's War by Efraim Karsh, p.28
  13. Kenneth Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948–1991, University of Nebraska Press, 2002, p.343
  15. Miller, Judith (November 12, 2004). "Yasir Arafat, Palestinian Leader and Mideast Provocateur, Is Dead at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  16. 16.0 16.1 "Nixon Papers". CNN. November 28, 2007. Retrieved April 26, 2010.
  17. Pollack, Arabs at War, 2002, p. 339–340
  18. Советский десант готовился к высадке в Сирию. Template:Ru icon
  19. Bailey, p.59, The Making of a War, John Bulloch, p.67
  20. Becker, Jillian. (1984) The PLO: The Rise and Fall of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Weidenfeld and Nicolson


See also

External links

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