Fatah Tanzim − Palestina (Striscia di Gaza e Cisgiordania)

The Tanzim is the armed wing of the Fatah, the largest faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) led by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The Tanzim acts as paramilitary counter-balance to the military wings of the Palestinian opposition groups, Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The organization also serves as an informal, unofficial “Palestinian army” which can engage Israeli security forces and Jewish civilians without officially breaking signed agreements with Israel.
Tanzim militants have played a significant military role in demonstrations and clashes with Israeli security forces. The organization has been at the forefront of the violent demonstrations which erupted in October 2000, when peace talks with Israel over a final settlement reached a dead end. Its members were also prominent in two previous cycles of violence: the Nakba riots of May 2000, and the “Tunnel Riots” of September 1996. The 1996 riots broke out after the Israeli government opened an archeological site in the Old City of Jerusalem to tourism. Tanzim members participated for the first time alongside Palestinian policemen in clashed with Israeli security forces. In the Nakba riots, Tanzim members again played an armed role, shooting at IDF outposts and border crossings.

The Tanzim have played a leading role in the activities of the "al-Aqsa Intifada," including carrying out ambushes of civilian vehicles and bombings of buses in Israeli cities.
Ideology &
Terrorist Activity
from 1988-Present


The Tanzim was set up in 1995 by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Fatah leadership, as a quasi-military force to offset the growing power of the Palestinian Islamist groups. At least part of Fatah's motivation to establish such a group came from incidents of armed confrontation with the opposition groups. In November of 1994, for example, a showdown between PA security forces and Hamas in Gaza resulted in the death of 13 civilians.
Since its founding, the popularity and influence of the Tanzim on the Palestinian political scene has steadily grown. The organization is seen as a popular, grass-roots movement, separate from, but subordinate to, the Palestinian Authority. It serves as a counterweight to the Islamists, channeling and focusing the passions of the Palestinian street on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. It can thus contest the power of the Islamist groups for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian populace.

However, the Tanzim acts as a counterweight not only to the military might of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, but also to that of the Palestinian security forces. In contrast to the PA security forces, which is the domain of PLO officials who returned from exile in Arab countries, the Tanzim is the stronghold of the “insiders.” While, the “outsiders" are seen as corrupt, interested more in personnel wealth than in the Palestinian cause, the “insiders” represent the common Palestinian in the street. The Tanzim is very much a popular, grassroots organization, whose power is based on its leadership at a community--rather than a national--level. The vast majority of its leaders are “graduates of the Intifada,” many of whom spent time in Israeli prisons for their activities. Marwan Barghouti, who heads the Tanzim in the West Bank made his reputation during the Intifada, finally getting expelled by the Israelis for his activities.

The Tanzim thus serves a dual function within the Palestinian power structure. On the one hand, it is essentially loyal to Arafat, and providing Arafat with a tool for violent confrontation without risking international condemnation for violating signed agreements. The organization also serves Arafat as an unofficial Fatah militia to rival the armed wings of the Islamist groups--a kind of “armed statement of intent” should the Islamists seek to usurp Arafat’s leadership. The Tanzim is thus one of several tools in Arafat’s “divide and conquer” strategy against various rival Palestinian power groups. In particular, this can be seen in the attempts to establish a security mechanism to compete with Jibril Rajoub’s Preventive Security apparatus. On the other hand, The Tanzim also acts as a safety valve for popular grievances against the corrupt, nepotistic and, sometimes, brutal elites that Arafat has encouraged to sprout around his leadership.


Ideology & Strategy
As part of Fatah, the Tanzim adheres to the Palestinian nationalist ideology of the larger movement, holding its founder Arafat in great esteem and believing him to embody the Palestinian struggle. However, the Tanzim is very much a grass-roots organization, setting the insider leadership of the Intifada generation against what many Palestinians see as the corrupt leadership of the “exiles,” who returned with Arafat in 1994.
The Tanzim members see themselves as being in the vanguard of the future Palestinian state. One of the lessons born of Fatah’s long experience with the governments of the Arab world is the need for self-sufficiency. The other Arabs were seen as untrustworthy with regard to any real contribution to the Palestinian cause. This ideology of self-sufficiency has been vigorously inculcated in the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza. One of Fatah’s goals is the indoctrination, through the activities of the Tanzim, of young people into nationalistic frameworks. The organization works to motivate them to take an active role in nationalistic and political activities of the Fatah organization, as well as in demonstrations and military operations. As part of this indoctrination to self-sufficiency, the organization operates summer camps, which include weaponry instruction and military training, as well as regular self-defense, first aid and civil defense courses. The organization’s leadership claims to have provided military training to thousands of youth people.

Ideologically, the Tanzim can be seen as the heir to the Fatah Hawks--Arafat’s armed enforcers during the later days of the Intifada--which was dismantled through a security agreement with Israel in 1995-1996. The Tanzim maintains a no-compromise position on the peace process, in contrast to the, at least outwardly, more moderate Palestinian Authority position. Barghouti and the Tanzim have also been among the leading proponents of a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood. Thus, the organization deflects popular criticism of what many Palestinians see as Arafat’s willingness to make concessions to Israel. By taking part in demonstrations and protests against the Israelis, the organization acts as a popular counterweight to the Islamists, who have always maintained that there can be no peace as long as Israel exists.


Organizational Structure
The Tanzim organizational structure is divided into geographical sectors and subdivided into cells. The Tanzim has branches in every neighborhood, village, refugee camp and high school. In Ramallah, for example, the Tanzim has ten neighborhood branches, as well as its main headquarters. The organization’s strongest branches operate within the universities--Bir Zeit, Bethlehem and An-Najar, in Nablus.
The organization is actively involved in all central Fatah functions within the Palestinian population, including political and educational activities. In addition, the Tanzim conducts military training for Palestinian young people of all ages, under the leadership of officers of the Palestinian security apparatus.

Most of the Tanzim membership is made up of adult Palestinian men, aged 20-35. The Tanzim claims to have tens of thousands of members, most of them residents of the Palestinian autonomous territories, and the vast majority “graduates of the intifada.” According to local sources, virtually every Fatah member ever imprisoned in Israel belongs to the Tanzim. However, the organization’s greatest strength is in the Universities, and the majority of Tanzim members are either university students or recent graduates. A number of the Tanzim’s leading members also serve in the Palestinian security services--many of them in the framework of Jibril Rajoub's security apparatus, where they serve as field commanders.

Financial and military resources
The Tanzim is financially supported in its day-to-day activities by the Palestinian Authority. According to the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, the annual budget of the organization is $2.4 million, allocated directly from the PA coffers by Yasser Arafat.

It is unclear how much individual fighters are paid, and how the organization’s budget is divided up. At the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada, in October, the Palestinian Authority was offering large sums to people--particularly children--willing to risk injury or death to participate in attacks on Israeli positions. Their families were offered $300 per injury and $2,000 for anyone killed. This money is believed to have come from Tanzim allocations.

The Tanzim is in possession of a considerable arsenal of weaponry--from pistols and assault rifles to machine guns and anti-tank missiles. Some of these weapons have been given to the Tanzim by the Palestinian Authority, while others have been purchased from various sources, including from the Israeli underworld. Israel intelligence sources say that the organization has been stockpiling expensive hi-tech German MP-5 submachine guns smuggled in to the Autonomy from Jordan and Egypt.


Arafat is personally involved in the selection of senior leaders in the organization. However, the individual members of the Tanzim receive their orders from the local commanders, rather than from Arafat or Palestinian Authority officials. Although Arafat maintains ongoing links with the Tanzim commanders, finances the organization and uses its members as a militia in confrontations with Israel, he can maintain that the activities of the organization are beyond his control.
Leaders of the Tanzim are mostly “Intifada graduates,” many of whom spent years in Israeli prisons. These “insiders” are frequently at odds with the traditional leadership of the Fatah, comprised mostly of “outsiders,” who arrived from abroad following the Oslo Agreement, and who today represent the majority among the leaders of the various mechanisms and the senior positions in the PA. The insiders are of a generation largely excluded by the Fatah leadership from the top level of Fatah administration. As such, the Tanzim represents a far more popular, representational leadership than does the Fatah Revolutionary Council itself. Of the top Tanzim leaders, only one--Marwan Barghouti--also serves on the Revolutionary Council.

Barghouti is the secretary general of Fatah in the West Bank and the acknowledged head of the Tanzim. Born in 1959 to one of the leading families of Ramallah, Barghouti served as student council president at Bir Zeit University for four years. As a student leader he was one of the organizers of the Intifada in 1987. He was arrested and spent two years in an Israeli prison, and was then expelled from the West Bank by Israel. In exile he served at the PLO headquarters in Tunisia, close to Chairman Arafat, and in 1989 he was elected to the Fatah Revolutionary Council, becoming its youngest member. Barghouti returned to the West Bank after the Oslo agreement in 1994. In the first election for the Palestinian Legislative Council, in 1996, he was elected as a representative of the Ramallah region and was involved in the foundation of the Tanzim paramilitary forces.

Barghouti is seen as a leader of the people, for the people. He has been extremely critical of the corruption in the PA executive authority. In June 1998, for example, Barghouti publicly criticized Arafat’s decision to re-appoint six ministers to his cabinet after they were named by a Palestinian Legislative Council report on corruption. He has also been critical of the abuses of power in the PA security apparatus. In a 1998 power-play, units of the PA Military Intelligence raided the Tanzim offices in Ramallah. In the ensuing demonstration protesting the break-in, Military Intelligence forces shot at Fatah and Tanzim members, killing one boy, Wissam Tarifi. The Tanzim responded by demanding the resignation of Military Intelligence head Musa Arafat, a nephew of Yasser Arafat. Barghouti’s criticism of the security apparatus was seen by many as veiled criticism of Arafat.

Barghouti’s rising star has been watched by Arafat’s circles with some trepidation, and Arafat has made some attempts to “take him down a peg” by encouraging rivalries. However, Barghouti’s popularity is high, particularly with the popular constituency of the Tanzim, and as long as he professes loyalty to Arafat, his value to Arafat still continues to outweigh any potential threat to his authority.

But all has not been clear sailing for Barghouti. In the last election for the position for General Secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, Barghouti lost to his opponent, Hussein Al-Sheikh. Yasser Arafat canceled the results of the elections. Hussein Al-Sheikh, also a resident of Ramallah, is a political opponent of Barghouti and competes with him for the leadership of the Tanzim in the West Bank. Al-Sheikh is supported by Hachem Balawy, who was appointed by Arafat to reduce the power of Barghouti.

In the Gaza Strip, the Tanzim is led by Ahmad Chiles, who was a minor activist in the organization until he was recently appointed Fatah secretary in Gaza. Chiles is a seasoned veteran from the Intifada period, who has a history of extreme views and incitement to violence. His brother, a senior officer in the Palestinian security forces, controls the Fatah apparatus in the Gaza Strip. He is reportedly close to Palestinian security chief, Mohammed Dachlan and works in close coordination with him.


Terrorist Activities
The Tanzim are active in initiating and organizing demonstrations and confrontations against Israel, and in “showcase” demonstrations orchestrated for the benefit of the media. Many of these actions are carried out according to a well-planned and executed routine. Large numbers of civilians--including children whose schools were closed to allow their participation--are brought to IDF positions in chartered buses. The civilian demonstrators advance on the IDF positions in mass, hurling stones and petrol bombs. Meanwhile, armed Tanzim members take up positions within the crowd and begin firing on the army personnel. The soldiers are often forced to return fire at the attackers, who are well hidden behind their voluntary “human shields.” The Fatah leadership maintains that the international support for the Palestinian cause gained in this way far outweighs the loss of life incurred.
In addition to orchestrating the more “photogenic” popular activities, Tanzim members have also been at the forefront of the tactical shooting attacks against IDF guard posts and border crossings, as well as bombings of IDF positions and patrols. This guerilla activity is augmented by terrorist attacks--actions directed specifically against civilians. Tanzim members have been involved in the majority of shooting attacks against Israeli vehicles in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as in several bombings of civilian buses within Israeli cities. More recently, Tanzim members have participated in “cocktail” cells, together with members of Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. These mixed cells have been involved in a variety of terrorist actions against Israeli civilians, including road ambushes and bombings.

Many Tanzim members also operate in the framework of various Palestinian security apparatuses. The Tanzim thus provides Arafat with a very useful tool in the confrontation with Israel—a deniable para-military force, which can attack Israel without the risk of a political backlash. The nebulous links between the Tanzim and the Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, have led some observers to the erroneous conclusion that Arafat has only limited control over the organization, if indeed he controls it at all. By fostering such a misconception, Arafat can maintain a policy of “talking and shooting” at the same time, while blaming “uncontrolled elements on both sides” for the ongoing violence.
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