Abu Musa

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Abu Musa

Abu Musa (born about ca. 1930) left the Jordanian army in 1970 to join the Palestine Liberation Army (PLO). In 1983 he emerged as a leader of the hardline PLO opposition to Yasser Arafat.

Abu Musa was born Said Musa Maragha in the West Bank area of what was then Palestine in the early 1930s. During the Arab-Jewish fighting of 1948 the Jordanian army entered the West Bank, ostensibly to help the Palestinian Arabs defend themselves. After the Palestinian Arabs were defeated, however, the Jordanians stayed on, and later annexed the West bank to their own kingdom.

When he reached adulthood, Abu Musa joined the Jordanian army. His unit participated in the Arab-Israeli War (Six Day War) of 1967, which resulted in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, along with other Arab territories.

Three years later Abu Musa found himself in the middle of the fighting between the Jordanian army and the guerrillas from the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) who had set up base camps in Jordan to support their fight against Israel. Like many others of the West Bankers in the Jordanian army, Abu Musa found his first allegiance was to his Palestinian roots. He became one of the highest-ranking officers in the PLO's Yarmouk Brigade, which was made up of defectors from the Jordanian army.

Despite these defections, the Jordanian forces soundly defeated the PLO, which then moved most of its military bases to South Lebanon. The Palestinians became deeply entangled in the civil war which wracked Lebanon from 1975 onwards: PLO fighters combined with the Lebanese leftist militias in the "Joint Forces." In 1976 Abu Musa was the commander of the Joint Forces in South Lebanon at a time when the Syrians were trying to suppress them. In the course of one of the many battles against the Syrians, in the Lebanese town of Nabatiyeh, Abu Musa was wounded in the leg and had to leave active duty.

Returning to action, Abu Musa became deputy chief of operations for all the PLO forces. When Israel invaded Lebanon in 1982 he was one of the chief strategists in the PLO's defense of the capital, Beirut. After the PLO was finally evacuated from Beirut, Abu Musa joined a convoy to the Syrian-occupied parts of eastern Lebanon.

A few weeks later Abu Musa was one of the most prominent of a group of Palestinian fighters who publicly accused PLO leader Yasser Arafat of authoritarianism, favoritism, and other shortcomings. Their opposition to Arafat was soon backed by the Syrians who were critical of Arafat's move toward favoring negotiations with Israel. In December 1983 Abu Musa led those Palestinians (this breakaway group was sometimes referred to as the "Fatah Uprising") who, with help from the Syrian army, moved against the remaining positions of Arafat loyalists in northern Lebanon. Soon after, this group became known as the Palestinian National Liberation Organization and remained pro-Syria.

In 1984 Abu Musa was one of the leaders of the National Salvation Alliance, which from its headquarters in the Syrian capital, Damascus, contested Arafat's leadership of the Palestinian movement. The alliance was unable to command a majority of Palestinian support during its first year's existence. Slowly it increased its influence. In 1989 Abu Musa stated that if given the chance, his group would try Arafat for treason. As peace talks flowed and ebbed throughout the Middle East in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Abu Musa and his followers became more and more vocal about their support for King Hussein of Jordan. As reported in the New York Times in 1994, Musa summed up this support by stating, "In essence, the Palestinians of Jordan trust the King. I know we are not getting a good deal. I know that it may be that we are not all going to have the chance to go back to Palestine. But I also know he has done his best and will continue to do so." Impeding peace negotiations, Musa's Palestinian National Liberation Organization sometimes claimed responsibility for terrorist attacks, as when it took responsibility for killing three Israeli soldiers on Israel's frontier with Jordan in 1996.

Little is known about Abu Musa's personal history. Generally admired in Arab circles for his military capability, he retained some affectations from his days as a regular army officer, including his habit of usually carrying a cane.

Further Reading

There are no works in English which say much about Abu Musa in person. However the general political background to his emergence can be understood from a reading of Quandt, Jabber, and Lesch, The Politics of Palestinian Nationalism (1973), or from Helena Cobban, The Palestinian Liberation Organization: People, Power and Politics (1984). Three worthwhile newspaper articles can be found in the New York Times, November 12, 1989; July 24, 1994; and July 3, 1996. □

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Abu Musa

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