Karama, Battle of (1968)

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Battle (also known as Karameh) in the Jordan valley in which Yasir Arafat and his Fatah faction successfully resisted Israeli forces.

After the ArabIsrael War of 1967, although repeated artillery shelling by Israel had driven Palestinian refugees from the Jordan valley to the Biqa and Marka refugee camps outside Amman, there were still 25,000 to 35,000 refugees in Karama. In early March 1968, information on an impending attack by Israel had come from Arafat's agents in the occupied territories and Jordan's intelligence services under the command of Colonel Ghazi Arabiyyat. The Palestinians and Jordan's army decided to take a stand. President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt offered to send air power, but Jordan's King Hussein refused because he feared another disaster like that of 1967.

On 21 March about 15,000 troops began the assault from Israel in three armored brigade formations using M-48 Patton tanks. Their main columns hit the ShunaKarama area near the King Abdullah Bridge, north of the Dead Sea and Ghawr Safi. A smaller attack took place in neighboring alHimma, but Jordan's army command believed that the main thrust was taking place in Karama. Jordan's artillery stopped Israel's tank column at the Allenby Bridge, near the crossroads of the main road from Shuna to Karama. Palestinian commandos (fidaʾiyyun) were able to destroy several of Israel's tanks and armored cars, and engaged Israel's airborne troops entering the town of Karama. The town was destroyed after fierce fighting between Israel's troops and approximately 200 to 300 Palestinian commandos. Israel admitted losing 21 soldiers, but the Palestinians claimed the real figure was over 200.

The significance of the battle lay in the fact that, for the first time, Palestinian fighters had successfully engaged Israel's army, scoring a major symbolic victory. Although Jordan's military sources indicated that Jordan's troops did the bulk of the fighting, King Hussein allowed Arafat and al-Fatah to take credit for the victory, thus boosting the prestige of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). After Karama, thousands of young Palestinians flocked to the PLO's guerrilla wings and began paramilitary training.

see also arabisrael war (1967); arafat, yasir; fatah, al-; hussein ibn talal; nasser, gamal abdel; palestine liberation organization (plo).


Cooley, John K. Green March, Black September: The Story of the Palestinian Arabs. London: Cass, 1973.

lawrence tal