Guerrillas or commandos.
Although the Arabic term fidaʾiyyun or fidaʾiyyin ("those who sacrifice themselves") is usually associated with modern military operations, it has its roots in medieval Islamic concepts. The Hashashiyyun (Assassin) sects of Ismaʿili Shiʿism, a branch of Islam, were early fighters who conducted guerrilla warfare and developed a clandestine organizational structure. More recently, various groups have referred to themselves as fidaʾiyyun. Examples include the Young Turk revolutionaries of the early twentieth century and Iranian groups such as the Feda'iyan-e Islam.
Since the 1960s, the term has come to refer to Palestinian guerrillas conducting sabotage, terrorism, and other military operations against Israeli, and sometimes Arab, targets. After the Arabs' defeat in the Arab–Israel War of 1967, the Palestinian commando groups took charge of the movement to liberate Palestine. The fidaʾiyyun first came to prominence after their participation in the defeat of Israel's troops at the battle of Karama in Jordan in 1968, despite the fact that they were vastly outnumbered. Other events, such as Jordan's civil war (1970–1971), dubbed Black September by the Palestinians, along with a series of Palestinian attacks in Israel, the Arab world, and Europe, established the fidaʾiyyun as actors on the international political stage.
Although most factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have moved away from commando activities, the term fidaʾiyyun is still used. Radical followers of Islamic groups such as the Islamic Resistance Movement, HAMAS, and Islamic Jihad, operating in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, consider themselves fidaʾiyyun. HAMAS's military components are called the Sheikh Izz alDin al-Qassam brigades, named after the man whom many Palestinians consider the first Palestinian guerrilla. Qassam was killed in 1935, during a battle with British forces in Palestine. In the 1990s and early 2000s, both groups conducted guerrilla operations and terrorism (including suicide bombings) against Israeli military targets and civilians in the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel, killing hundreds of Israelis.
See also Black September; Fedaʾiyan-e Islam; Fedaʾiyan-e Khalq; Hamas; Islamic Jihad; Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Smith, Pamela Ann. Palestine and the Palestinians, 1876–1983. London: St. Martin's Press, 1984.
Updated by Philip Mattar