Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Leila Khaled

Palestinian hijacker, feminist, and activist. Leila Khaled (also Layla Khalid), long-time activist and Central Committee member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), was born on 9 April 1944 in Haifa, Palestine. Her family left Haifa as refugees to Lebanon on 13 April 1948, just before the State of Israel was established. Khaled joined a Lebanese cell of the Arab Nationalists Movement (ANM) in 1958. She was a student and activist at the American University of Beirut (AUB) in 1962 to 1963, but left because of financial difficulties and was employed as a teacher in Kuwait for a number of years. In Kuwait she became active with al-Fatah, which did not grant her request to join its military wing. In 1968 Khaled made contacts with PFLP cadres in Kuwait, and in 1969 she was accepted for military training in its Special Operations Squad. She left Kuwait for Amman, Jordan in 1969 in order to undertake resistance activities. Khaled became infamous when she and a male colleague hijacked a TWA airplane headed for Tel Aviv on 29 August 1969, forcing the flight to land in Damascus, where they blew it up after emptying it of passengers. Khaled underwent a number of clandestine plastic-surgery operations in Lebanon to transform her world-renowned face. In 1970 she commandeered another flight with a male colleague (who was killed in the operation) on behalf of the PFLP. This hijacking, of an Israeli El Al airplane, was thwarted, and the plane was forced to land in England, where Khaled was held by the British government and eventually released in a prisoner exchange. Khaled repeatedly stated that the aim of the hijackings was to gain international recognition of the plight of Palestinians as an issue of national dislocation and desire for self-determination rather than a refugee problem to be resolved through charity. Her well-known biography, My People Shall Live (1971), demonstrates a combined feminist and nationalist orientation, and provides a leftist analysis of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Khaled survived a number of assassination attempts - in one, Israeli forces killed her sister. She attended university in the Soviet Union in the early 1980s, married her second husband in 1982, and worked with the PFLP-affiliated Palestinian Popular Women's Committees in Damascus following its establishment in the mid-1980s. She is a member of the Palestine National Council and a high-ranking leader in the General Union of Palestinian Women. Khaled's stances have not softened with age. In the 1990s she denounced the Oslo Accords, calling them fundamentally flawed because they did not address the status of Jerusalem, the ending of the Israeli occupation of territories occupied in June 1967, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, or Palestinian sovereignty. Although her actions are considered terrorism by many in the West, she has achieved the status of political icon throughout much of the Arab world.

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