The arrests in December 2019 of 50 suspected members of the sizable terrorist infrastructure of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Ramallah, which was responsible for the terror attack in which teenager Rina Shnerb was murdered and her father and brother were injured last summer (Aug. 23, 2019), exposed the significant magnitude of PFLP terror networks and their capacity to strike within Israel. Perhaps more ominously, it also exposed the self-deception under which many left activists operate in Europe and the United States.
PFLP funders see or pretend to see the delegitimization activity performed by PFLP-affiliated organizations as peaceful/nonviolent actions that are unrelated to the terrorist operations of the PFLP. This hypocrisy reached a new peak in a letter sent recently by the European Union’s representative to the Palestinian Authority, who guaranteed the Palestinian NGOs, many of which are affiliated with the PFLP, that the EU will keep funding them in spite of their affiliation with organizations that have been formally designated by the EU as terror organizations—a promise that came after the NGOs refused to commit to avoid such affiliations.
The PFLP is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States, EU, Australia, Canada, and Japan. Back when its terror unit was still called “The Red Eagles,” PFLP won world attention because of its involvement in plane hijackings (Leila Khaled, who took part in two such attacks, is a member of the PFLP politburo and of the Palestinian National Council), and the massacre it carried out in Israel’s Lod airport in 1972.
The PFLP’s current terror arm, the “Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades,” operates from a headquarters in Damascus, where it maintains operational cooperation with Iran and Hezbollah. The PFLP has active cells in many governorates of the Palestinian Authority with dozens of active members in Judea and Samaria. Through these terror arms, the PFLP perpetrated some of the most despicable terror attacks, including the murder of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze’evi (October 2001); six suicide bombing attacks during the Second Intifada that left 13 people dead including the Nov. 1, 2004, suicide bombing attack in the crowded Carmel Market in Tel Aviv that left three dead; and the attempt to murder Israel’s former Chief Rabbi Ovadya Yosef in 2005 (Salah Hamouri, who played a key role in planning the attack is a prominent activist in the PFLP-affiliated, so-called “human rights” NGO Addameer).
In November 2014, the PFLP carried out the vicious murder with axes and guns of five Jewish worshippers while they were praying at the Har-Nof synagogue in Jerusalem, as well as a policeman who tried to stop the attack. The attack was carried out by two brothers who were related to a former PFLP terrorist and the PFLP took responsibility for and praised the attack, though some sources dispute this. The PFLP performed numerous rocket attacks from Gaza during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and participates in the operation room that led the terror attacks from Gaza in the many rounds of conflict that have taken place since.
For many left-wing organizations in the West, cooperation with the PFLP comes naturally. It is a reminder of the “glorious” era when the Soviet Union was a superpower competing for global dominance against “the corrupt capitalist West” (this vocabulary is still often used by PFLP). When the Soviet bloc collapsed, these groups had to find a new cause célèbre around which to unite. The PFLP was among the first groups to understand the potential of recruiting softer anti-Israel elements into its networks and to leverage those elements in order to gain financial support from naïve international donors.
Functionally, the PFLP is an entirely hybrid organization. On the one hand, some of its members (who altogether number in the low thousands) tirelessly promote terror attacks. On the other hand, the PFLP occupies the leading position among Palestinian NGOs conducting the international campaign to slander Israel and deny its legitimacy to exist as the nation-state of the Jewish people (PFLP supports a one-state solution that would abolish Israel).
Khalida Jarrar, 57, a leading political activist of the PFLP and one of the three PFLP members of the Palestinian parliament (the last elections for which were held in 2006), is a good example of the functional integration of the PFLP’s “military” and “political” activities. Jarrar has been repeatedly arrested for her involvement in terror-related activity, and currently stands accused of filling a high-ranking role in the recently exposed PFLP terrorist infrastructure. At the same time, Jarrar has also played an integral part in the PFLP’s delegitimization campaign in the West. She and several of her terrorist infrastructure colleagues held key positions in the BDS organization Addameer, which tries to improve the conditions of Palestinian terrorists incarcerated in Israeli prisons. In the NGO universe, Jarrar and Addameer present themselves as human rights activists; in the Palestinian-Israeli sphere, they diligently promote vicious physical attacks on human life.
The PFLP was established in 1967 by Dr. George Habash, and sticks to the communist ideology and structure upon which it was built. It has a national conference that is convened every several years (the last meeting—its seventh—was held in 2013), which appointed Secretary General Ahmad Sa’adat, who is 67 years old and is currently imprisoned in Israel due to his role in the murder of minister Ze’evi.
The PFLP Central Committee has 76 members. 34 are from the West Bank and Jerusalem, 22 from the Gaza Strip, 15 are Palestinians who live abroad, and five are imprisoned by Israel. The Central Committee appoints the deputy secretary general; the current occupant of that position is 80-year-old Abu Ahmad Fouad, who was born in Silwan and is among the founding fathers of PFLP. He currently resides in Damascus. It also appoints a Politburo (made of 18 members—seven from the West Bank, six from Gaza and five from abroad) that is in charge of running the PFLP’s daily affairs on the policy level. The head of the Politburo foreign relations committee is Maher al-Taher, a veteran activist who also lives in Damascus. The PFLP leader in Gaza is Jamal Mazhar. Other key members of the Politburo are Khalida Jarrar, Omar Shahada, Husein Mansour, Maryam Abu Daqqa, Kaid al-Ghoul, Ghazi Sourani, celebrity terrorist Leila Khaled, Marwan Abd El-Al and Abu Sami Marwan al-Fahoum. (Rabah Mihna, a dominant figure in the Politburo, passed away in 2019.)
The PFLP is a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), through which it used to receive much of its budget from the Palestinian Authority, though it presents an opposition to the ruling Fatah organization. Part of its terror budget is covered by Iran. The PFLP maintains close relations with Fatah’s arch rival Hamas and refrains from participating in the leading executive bodies of the PLO and the PA. Since 2017, the rivalry between the Fatah and the PFLP has led PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to stop delivering money to the PFLP, which has reacted with fierce attacks against Abu Mazen.
The PFLP is able to maintain its terror infrastructure in spite of its disagreements with the PA mainly because in the eyes of Fatah leadership, all kinds of terror and violence against Zionism are legitimate, even if at certain times they are not recommended. This is why the PA never takes action against PFLP terror activists and pays handsome salaries to PFLP terrorists incarcerated in Israeli jails, and to the families of those who died in the context of the struggle against Zionism. As a founding organization of the post-1968 PLO, the PFLP gets a lot of respect from the PA and Fatah, even when relations between the two organizations are tense.
It should also be noted that the PA minister of foreign affairs, Riad al-Maliki, who was one of the leaders of the PA’s process of joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a state, used to hold a leading position in the PFLP. The ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, met with two PFLP-affiliated organizations disguised as human rights organizations (Al Haq and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights) during the deliberations that led to her decision to move forward with the PA’s complaint against Israel. These organizations were also a key source of information for the investigation committees of the anti-Israel U.N. Human Rights Council against Israel. In other words, the members of the PFLP did not abandon their terrorist activities for civic struggle but rather added another layer to make their activity more efficient.
The PFLP also maintains close ties and affiliation to former communist and radical parties around the globe and especially in Arab and Palestinian communities in exile; the party operates dedicated cells of supporters both in Palestinian universities and in universities abroad. At the same time, it also maintains close political and operational relationships with Hezbollah and Iran. These overlapping alliances have positioned the PFLP as a very useful axis for the “red-green” alliance against Israel in the West.
The grotesque terror-NGO hybrid that the PFLP has perfected is especially notable for its success in gaining funding from the EU and from individual European countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden (see table). These entities are entirely aware of these organizations’ affiliation with the PFLP and the roles that terror activists play in the PFLP’s network of “human rights” NGOs. Shawan Jabarin, who leads Al Haq, is a former terror activist; Moustafa Awad of Samidoun was trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon and recently spent a year in an Israeli jail for personally transferring funds for terror activities.
Nevertheless, European organizations and governments invite those activists and others such as Leila Khaled and Khaled Barakat (a member of the Central Committee of the PFLP who is involved in the activities of Samidoun, where his wife, Charlotte Kates, serves as international director) to speak and hold meetings in Europe, including in the European Parliament. Eventually, under Israeli protest, Leila Khaled was refused entry to Italy in 2017 and Barakat was refused entry to Germany in February 2020. Yet European assistance to these organizations helps the PFLP, which occasionally struggles with shortages in its budget, to pay its activists, who are helpfully registered as employees of European-funded NGOs. And while European states deny entry to PFLP activists, San Francisco State University (SFSU) is determined to host Leila Khaled for a Zoom lecture this coming Sept. 23, in spite of the fact that she is an active member of a terrorist organization and that she personally carried out terror attacks and has shown no remorse. Justifying this with the need and right to listen to a variety of opinions is of course outrageous.
Leftist activists in Europe and the United States who are mobilized for the Palestinian cause and organizations which present themselves as committed to human rights (such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and even U.N. agencies) see no problem with the PFLP’s hybrid terror-NGO identity. For example, a delegation of the American organization IFPB (Interfaith Peace Builders, now known as “Eyewitness Palestine”) was hosted in 2017 in the refugee camp Dheisheh near Bethlehem in the house of a PFLP terrorist who was also involved with an NGO. The IFPB knew that the terrorist was wanted by Israel. Members of the IFPB, who posted photos from the meeting on social media, were excited to tell that the same activist they met with was later killed in a confrontation with the IDF.
“Dream Defenders,” a relatively small Florida-based radical organization that operates within the Black Lives Matter coalition and has on its board well-known figures like Angela Davis and Linda Sarsour, cooperates with the PFLP directly. For them, no fig leaves are needed; the PFLP itself is a symbol of struggle, apparently including its commitment to stabbing, shooting, and blowing up innocent people. Dream Defenders conducts annual trips to areas controlled by the PA, especially to the Dheisheh refugee camp, where the participants meet with PFLP activists in this stronghold of the terror organization. Earlier this year, Dream Defenders co-founder Umi Selah, also known as Phillip Agnew, was hired by the Bernie Sanders campaign.
Israeli leftist NGOs also occasionally cooperate with Palestinian NGOs affiliated with the PFLP (such as Al Haq, Samidoun, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, the Union of Agricultural Work Committees, Defense of Children International—Palestine, and Addameer) as well as with organizations in which the PFLP is a key player, such as the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC) and its Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).
It should be emphasized in this context that the PFLP is a major partner in the Palestinian National and Islamic Forces (PNIF)—the umbrella organization of all Palestinian terror groups that is used to coordinate the Palestinian struggle against Israel. The PNIF was the tool with which the terror campaign known as the Second Intifada was coordinated and it played an important role in the escalation in Gaza that took place under the “March of Return” in the last two years, and is also the leading member of the Palestinian BDS National Committee. The PNIF serves as a meeting point where the PFLP may coordinate and cooperate with Hamas in spite of their ideological gaps to pursue their common interest of hurting Israel and promoting the delegitimization campaign.
Those who wish to convince themselves that cooperation with civic PFLP-affiliated organizations is a part of a peaceful fight against Israeli occupation in Judea and Samaria are similar to those who claim that a distinction should be made between the terrorist and political components of Hezbollah. The exposure of the PFLP’s terrorist infrastructure should be considered a wake-up call to Europeans and to both the American and Israeli left to disengage from the PFLP and its affiliates; otherwise, they will continue to be directly responsible for the loss of innocent human lives.
Brigadier General (Reserve) Yosef Kuperwasser led the Research and Assessment Division of Israeli Military Intelligence. He is currently a Senior Project Director at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.