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Also see Fatah

Source: International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Tanzim: Fatah's Fighters on the Ground

(Article by Ronni Shaked, "Yediot Ahronot", Oct 3, 2000, p. B8)

"The main foci of violence over the weekend were along the separation lines, mainly near IDF positions. Most of the activity was led by the men of the Tanzim, the Fatah organization's military wing."

The Tanzim ("organization" in Arabic) is Fatah's field activity wing. It is a kind of quasi-military militia, whose members see themselves as being in the vanguard, mainly in initiating and organizing demonstrations and confrontations against Israel. Additional goals are: organizing young people in nationalistic frameworks and prime their hearts for nationalist activities in the framework of the Fatah organization.

The Tanzim have tens of thousands of members, most of them residents of the [Palestinian Authority] territories, "graduates of the intifada". Every Fatah member who was imprisoned in Israel belongs to the Tanzim. The organization is led by former intifada commanders, who serve on the Tanzim's supreme committee. Marwan Bargouti from Ramallah, who is also a member of the Legislative Council, is considered the Tanzim's commander.

Members of the Tanzim are under the control of the organization's commanders, from whom - and not from Arafat or Palestinian Authority officials - they receive their orders. Arafat maintains ongoing links with the Tanzim's commanders, finances the organization and uses its members as a militia in confrontations with Israel, including armed confrontations. This is why Arafat, to Israel's disdain, does not disarm the Tanzim. Many Tanzim members operate in the framework of Jibril Rajoub's security apparatus, mainly as field commanders.

The Tanzim has tens of thousands of weapons of all kinds - from pistols to machine guns. Some of the weapons have been given to the Tanzim by the Palestinian Authority, some has been gathered over the years and some has been purchased from various sources, including from the Israeli underworld. "When the state is established, the Tanzim will become a political party and it will hand over its weapons to the state's legal authorities," Marwan Bargouti has said on numerous occasions.

The Tanzim has branches in every neighborhood, village, refugee camp and high school. Most of the Tanzim's force are adult Palestinian men, aged 20-35, in the [Palestinian Authority] territories. The organization's strongest branches operate within the universities. Therefore, Bethlehem, Bir Zeit and An-Najah (in Nablus) University students have been at the forefront of the demonstrations and confrontations. During summer holidays, the organization operates summer camps, which include weaponry instruction and military training. The Tanzim also holds self-defense, first aid and civil defense courses on a regular basis.

Source: Palestine Facts


On October 10, 1959, a group of about twenty Palestinians met in Kuwait and secretly formed Fatah (or al-Fatah, which is an acronym standing for Harakat Al-Tahrir Al-Watani Al-Filastini - the Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine), an organization that became the principle component of the Palestine Liberation Organization under the leadership of Yasser Arafat. The Tanzim ("organization" in Arabic) was established in 1983 as part of Fatah. While the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has yielded to the Palestinian Authority (PA), Yasser Arafat's Fatah contingent remains the dominant player.

Note that when Fatah was formed in 1959 and when the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was formed in 1964, the only territory to liberate was the State of Israel. After Israel's 1948-49 War of Independence, until the Six Day War of 1967, the territories of the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively.


The Tanzim is a body divided into sectors and cells and is involved in all central Fatah functions within the Palestinian population i.e., political and educational activities and military training at all levels, including youth camps from a very young age. These military courses are run by officers from the Palestinian security apparatus. The organization has many weapons, some of which are known to have been illegally supplied by the PA under orders from Arafat.

The PA financially supports day-to-day activities of the Tanzim, and Arafat is personally involved in the selection of senior leaders in the organization. Tanzim operates as an armed militia for enforcing order on the Palestinian street. Arafat uses the Tanzim to inflame the situation in the field to achieve goals that he has been unsuccessful in achieving via diplomatic means. Arafat also uses the Tanzim to incite Israeli Arabs, with whom they associate and mix. In this way, he can always claim that the violent outbursts are a result of popular sentiment venting itself on the street. Tanzim's operations were the spearhead of Fatah activities against Israel during the period of the Intifada.

The senior commanders of the Tanzim enjoy high-ranking status in the PA. As a result of their seniority and position, together with the recommendation of the appropriate authorities in the PA, some of them are members and active in the ruling central bodies and institutions.

There are often tensions and power struggles between the Tanzim and another faction in the PA, known as the "outsider" leadership. These are the people who arrived from Tunisia following the Oslo Agreements and who today represent the majority among the leaders of the various mechanisms and senior positions in the PA. The Tanzim face an identity problem: on the one hand, Tanzim is part of the general organization, while on the other, it reflects the feelings of the population, not necessarily in line with the official position of the PA leaders. Often this is reflected in more extreme positions coming from Tanzim.

History of Violence

Tanzim activists have been responsible for numerous recent riots, under the direction of Arafat. This has been an acknowledged pattern of operation since the Oslo Agreements, such as the Western Wall Tunnel riots in September 1996, the Nakba day riots in May 2000 and during Summer, 2001.

During October 2000, Fatah created a special unit for armed operations against Israel: the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Tanzim commanders, like Atef Abiyat in Bethlehem, doubled as the local commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades.

Israel has requested incessantly, after every violent outburst, that the Tanzim be disarmed. According to the Oslo Agreements, the PA weapons were supplied for use by the Palestinian police only, and the quantities of guns were specified and supposed to be known. The Tanzim are not part of these agreements, and it is a persistent violation of the Oslo Agreements that they have weapons. Although the Palestinian Authority promised to disarm the Tanzim and curtail their activities, exactly the opposite occurred in reality.

  • The Tanzim has distributed weapons to their supporters and organized militias that have open fire on IDF troops during demonstrations, forcing the soldiers to open fire in the direction of the demonstrators;

  • The Tanzim organizes demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza with armed people among the demonstrators who regularly open fire on IDF troops;

  • The Tanzim has distributed inciting flyers against Israel among the population of the West Bank and Gaza;

  • Tanzim officials have held regular meetings with Hamas leaders, encouraging them to act against Israel;

  • The Tanzim has pressured the PA to release jailed extremists and Hamas activists who committed acts of terror against Israel.

Tanzim Leaders

In the West Bank, the Tanzim have had two main leaders. Marwan Barghouti, was one of the founders of the Shabiba, the Fatah youth organization. Expelled by Israel in the late 1980s, Barghouti served in PLO headquarters in Tunis. He returned to the West Bank in 1994, and in 1996 was elected to the PA's Legislative body, representing the Ramallah district. In the last elections, he lost to his opponent, Hussein Al-Sheikh for the position of General Secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, but Arafat cancelled the results of the elections. Barghouti was head of the Fatah supreme committee in the West Bank and leader of the military wing of the Al-Aqsa Brigades. During the al-Aqsa Intifada Barghouti's Tanzim were the main force organizing and carrying out thousands of terror attacks against Israel, including suicide bombings.

On April 14, 2002 an IDF force in Ramallah captured Barghouti, and Israel put him on public trial in Tel Aviv in Summer, 2002, which Barghouti used as a forum to challenge Israeli policies against the Palestinians. Barghouti's nephew, Ahmed Taleb Mustapha Barghouti, alias "The Frenchman", was arrested on April 15, and on June 23, 2002, was charged with a 52-count indictment for terrorist acts.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, also a Ramallah resident, is a political opponent of Bargouti. He is a central figure in Ramallah-based activities, and recently had been competing with Bargouti for extremist viewpoints. Al-Sheikh is supported by Hachem Balawy, who was appointed by Arafat to reduce the power of Bargouti.

In the Gaza Strip, Ahmad Chiles was a minor activist in the organization until he was recently appointed as the Fatah secretary in Gaza. Chiles is a seasoned veteran from the Intifada period. He is an extremist and serious inciter of violence. His brother, Dachlan, a senior officer in the Palestinian security forces, controls the Fatah apparatus in the Gaza Strip.

Tanzim in Bethlehem

Since Fall, 2001, Tanzim in the Bethlehem area purposely shot from churches and holy sites on several occasions, in an attempt to provoke an Israeli response that would result in harsh criticism of Israel from the international and Christian communities. After the 38 day occupation of the Church of the Nativity in Bethleham during Spring, 2002, the terrorists involved were released into European exile. Two of them, Tanzim members Ibrahim Mussa Abayat and Jihad Yusef Halil Ja'ara had murdered an American citizen in Israel before fleeing to the Church of the Nativity. Under US law, individuals who commit acts of terrorism against American nationals may be prosecuted for such acts in the United States, regardless of where the acts took place. The US Congress has prodded the Executive Branch to enforce the law by extraditing the terrorists.

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