Few can manage being a sex symbol and a resistance fighter all in the same, but Leila Khaled is truly a rare bread.
Bron in 1944 Haifa, Palestine, Ms. Khaled’s family fled their homes out of fear when Israel was violently established in their homeland. But Ms. Khaled was not one to forget. Palestinian resistance was something that started early in her. At the age of 15 she become one of the original members of the pan-Arab “Arab Nationalist Movement,” which was started in the late 1940’s by fellow Palestinian, and who later became her long-time friend, George Habash. The Palestinian branch of this movement eventually become one of the most prominent pan-Arab organizations ever: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Leila made her claim to fame through her hijackings of flights in order to release the thousands, they are always in the thousands, of Palestinians prisoners held without trial in Israel.
Her first team hijacking was on August 29, 1969. Leila’s team hijacked a TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Athens, diverting it to Damascus. She ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birthplace, which she could not visit due to Israel’s objections. No one was injured, this was the case with all Palestinian hijackings for the goal was to trade hostages for Palestinian prisoners not injure them. Though such a compassionate tactic never moderated Israeli violence against the Palestinians. After this hijacking, she underwent the first of several plastic surgeries intended to conceal her identity.
Leila undertook many more successful hijackings, but one ended up in her detention. On September 6, 1970, Leila attempted to hijack El Al Flight 219. The attack was foiled when Israeli overpowered her. The pilot then diverted the aircraft to Heathrow, London, where Leila was arrested. On October 1, the British government released her as part of a prisoner exchange. The year after, the PFLP abandoned the tactic of hijacking.
Today, Leila is ever elegant but no longer the same revolutionary she once was. She has since rejected hijackings are proper forms of resistance. But she is not an un-critical endorser of the so-called peace process between Israel and Palestine. “It’s not a peace process. It’s a political process where the balance of forces is for the Israelis and not for us. They have all the cards to play with and the Palestinians have nothing to depend on, especially when the PLO is not united.”
A member of the Palestinian National Council, Leila is married to the physician Fayez Rashid Hilal, they have two sons Bader and Bashar, and live in Amman, Jordan.
Although more soft spoken, Leila has not forgotten the historic injustice her people have been dealt by Israel. She reminded people as much by her simple presence recently at George Habash’s funeral.
Leila has authored an autobiography (My People Shall Live) and a documentary (Leila Khaled: Hijacker) has been made about her.
“What language should I use with an occupier? As long as the enemy occupies our country, there’s nothing to discuss.” – Leila Khaled