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Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians: Biography of Khalil al-Wazir (Abu Jihad)
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Posted on November 12, 2000

The below article is from Encyclopedia Of The Palestinians edited by Philip Mattar

al-Wazir, Khalil
Abu Jihad; PLO leader
1935-1988 Ramla

Khalil al- Wazir was born to a middle-class family in Ramla. He was displaced in 1948 when Zionist forces evicted Palestinians from that region. He settled in the Burayj refugee camp in the GAZA STRIP, where he completed his secondary education. He planned and executed military acts against Israeli targets and in 1954 was punished by the Egyptian authorities for such activities. Al-Wazir met YASIR ARAFAT in Cairo during his military training and remained close to him over the years. He attended classes at the University of Alexandria in 1956 but never completed college education. Al-Wazir found work in Kuwait in 1959 and remained there, working as a teacher, until 1963.
His stay in Kuwait put him in touch with his old friend Yasir Arafat, with whom he founded the FATAH movement. His wife, Umm Jihad (Intisar al-Wazir), was also involved in Fatah's political activities. Al-Wazir was one of the early full-time (mutafarrigh) members of Fatah after the Fatah Central Committee instructed him to open an office for the movement in Algeria. He was also one of the founding editors of Filastinuna, the official organ of Fatah. He was in charge of the recruitment and training of Fatah fighters, creating the nucleus of the fighting force of Fatah, later known as AL-ASIFA, The Storm.
Al-Wazir settled in Algeria in 1963 and cultivated ties with military leaders in socialist countries. He opened the first office for Fatah in an Arab country and started the first military training camp for his movement. He visited China in 1964 and later preached "a people's liberation war," although he never supported communism as an ideology .In fact, his political sympathies lay with the conservative Muslim Brotherhood, which he had encountered in Gaza. Nevertheless, he also visited North Vietnam and North Korea, although, despite the false claims of PALESTINE LIBERATION ORGANIZATION (PLO) information brochures, he never received advanced military education there.
In 1965, Abu Jihad settled in Damascus, taking advantage of the Syrian Ba'thist regime's support of the doctrine of people's liberation war. He became the major link between underground activist cells inside ISRAEL and the Palestinian national movement. The 1967 defeat propelled him into a key leadership position with the PLO, made possible by his reputation as an expert on people's liberation war, considered the only solution at the time. He assumed major responsibilities in the Central Committee of Fatah, in the command of the forces of al-Asifa, on the PALESTINE NATIONAL COUNCIL, and on the Supreme Military Council of the PLO. He was also put in charge of commando operations in the Occupied Territories and inside Israel.
Abu Jihad played an important military role in JORDAN in 1970-71 during the BLACK SEPTEMBER clashes, He also supplied the encircled Palestinian forces in Jarash and Ajlun. Then, like other PLO leaders, he relocated to Beirut, where he kept a low profile until the eruption of the Lebanese civil war. He advocated a policy of full support for the Lebanese national movement and helped build up the forces of the PLO's Lebanese allies. Meanwhile, his main interest remained with the Occupied Territories; more than any other person inside the PLO and Fatah, Abu Jihad is credited with the development of underground cells in the WEST BANK and Gaza despite Israeli attempts to eradicate all vestiges of opposition to the occupation. Abu Jihad used his contacts with communist countries to augment the military power of the PLO. The resulting arms acquisition changed the PLO's fighting forces into a conventional army, rather than the "people's liberation forces" on which he had earlier insisted. Nevertheless, Abu Jihad remained close to his fighters; avoiding the lure of Beirut, he established his headquarters in Kayfun, near Alayh in Mount Lebanon.
Unlike other PLO leaders, Abu Jihad did not allow the Lebanese environment to discredit his role within the movement; he was never tainted by the massive corruption and thuggery that swept the ranks of PLO officials. Although he was less visible than most of his comrades, he commanded the respect and loyalty of most Palestinians, including members of rival organizations. His close relationship with Yasir Arafat was greatly to Arafat's benefit, since Arafat was being constantly challenged from within over his search for a diplomatic solution to the Palestinian problem: Abu Jihad provided the "revolutionary" cover that Arafat needed to continue his diplomatic pursuits.
Unfortunately for Arafat, Abu Jihad did not distinguish himself in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in which top PLO leaders retreated in the face of massive Israeli force. The subsequent defeat of the PLO in Lebanon forced Abu Jihad, along with other PLO leaders, to relocate farther away from Palestine, this time in Tunisia. There he lived with his family in a villa, a life-style more suited to his closely knit family than his former secretive and austere way of life.
The 1982 invasion of Lebanon seemed to have changed Abu Jihad's political and military philosophy; apparently, he lost faith in the PLO's ability to deliver a solution to the Palestinians from outside the Occupied Territories. Instead, he believed in the power of the masses in the West Bank and Gaza. In 1982, he began to sponsor youth committees in the Occupied Territories, committees that became the embryonic organization that later ignited the INTIFADA. However, Abu Jihad did not live long enough to see that uprising; he was assassinated by what is now believed to have been Israeli commandos in April 1988. His Wife was with him when he died, and she quickly emerged as one of the top women within the PLO leadership. In 1996, she was appointed to a cabinet seat in Arafat's government in Gaza.
As'ad Abu Khalil

Amos, John. Palestinian Resistance. New York: pergamon Press, 1980.
Cobban, Helena. The Palestinian Liberation Oganization. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984.
Hart, Alan. Arafat. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.
Yusuf, Samir. Abu Jihad. Cairo: al-Markaz al-Misri al-Arabi, 1989.


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