Posted on March 8, 2011 by Marivel Guzman
from original posted by Thee *FREE ARAB VOICE* February 2, 1999
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 April 9, 1944 in Haifa, Palestine. Her family left Haifa as refugees to Lebanon on April 13 1948, just before the State of Israel was established
In this issue of the Free Arab Voice we interview Laila Khaled.
Laila Khaled is a Palestinian Arab woman, an activist, fighter, and a leader that has become now a familiar part of the Palestinian psyche. She turned almost overnight from another refugee in Lebanon into an unfurled Palestinian flag. Unlike others who folded their flags though, she remains as true to the faith today as when she was fifteen, only smarter. Understanding what she has to say is tantamount to understanding what many Palestinians have to say.
We will not rain on her parade. She will introduce herself by herself.
[This interview was conducted for the Free Arab Voice (FAV) by Ibrahim Alloush ].
FAV: Welcome Laila Khaled. Would you like in the beginning to introduce us briefly to yourself: your position in the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), the Palestinian Woman’s Union, and the Palestinian revolution? Laila: I’m a Palestinian woman of Lebanese origin, my belonging is Arab, and hence my belonging is Palestinian. I joined the Arab Nationalist Movement early, early with respect to me, cause I was barely 15 years old then.
I moved to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine since its inception in 1967, and continue to be with them until today.
I was a member of the Union of Palestinian students, in the Administrative Committee, when I was still a student in the American University of Beirut in 1963. In 1974, I became a member in the General Secretariat of the Palestinian women’s Union. Also I’ve been a delegate in the Palestinian National Council [parliament] since 1979. FAV: What’s your official position in the PFLP? Laila: I’m a member in the Leadership Council of the PFLP. “Who Are the Palestinians?”:
FAV: We’re not going to well long on that military operation you partook in, and which drew fame and glory. We have surpassed that stage in a sense. We’re in a different stage now, perhaps even at your own personal level. Would you give us a quick glimpse though about that operation so our younger readers may get an idea about what happened then? When exactly, and what was your role in it?
Laila: It was one of the operations undertaken by the PFLP to hijack airplanes. I was the first woman to participate in one, but the PFLP had done a few before. One of those was the hijacking of an El Al flight from Rome to Algeria. The PFLP took this path under the motto of “Going after the Enemy Everywhere”, as one of the tactics or phases of the armed struggle. The main goal behind these operations was to pose a big question to the world: who are the Palestinians? At the time Palestinians were being treated merely as refugees who may need humanitarian aid. So we got showered with tents, UNRWA programs, and so forth!
The other goal behind these operations was to release our political prisoners from “Israeli” jails. From 1968 until 1970, the PFLP performed operations abroad to achieve those two goals. But having posed the question of who are the Palestinians, the answer was not in the final analysis to be answered by the operations themselves but by the Palestinian revolution. There was now a big commotion. People all over the world were asking who those were who were hijacking airplanes and what they wanted.
Regarding the second objective of releasing prisoners, we succeeded in that respect partially. Had we had a liberated base from whence we could have held planes and passengers, and from whence we could have exchanged and negotiated, we could have succeeded much more. The Arab regimes had a clear position of not supporting us, and of compromising us as needed to white wash any affiliation with us.
I participated in two of these operations. One was the hijacking a TWA that Isaac Rabin was scheduled to be on. At the time he was the “Israeli” Ambassador in the U.S. That flight was supposed to go through Rome. We boarded the plane there, and re-directed the plane to Damascus, Syria. Unfortunately however, Rabin was not on board!
FAV: When was this?
Laila: This was in August 1969.
FAV: What happened after you came to Damascus?
Laila: When we came to Damascus, the airport we landed in was still not in use so we inaugurated it. We blew up the cockpit.
FAV: None of the passengers were hurt though!
Laila: No, no, not at all! That was made very clear throughout. We had strict directives not to hurt any passengers or members of the crew at all. Only in the case of clear self-defense, we were told, will you repel anyone who attacks you.
FAV: So you released the passengers upon arrival to Damascus?
Laila: Immediately. We told them to get off calmly, and showed them how to do it safely. Then we handed ourselves over to the authorities. We said we admit having done this, and would like to tell you why we did what we did.
FAV: The second operation you took part in?
Laila: The second one was an El Al plane. Now that’s a different story because it’s an El Al! An “Israeli” thing per se! That flight was carrying Ahron Yarev, the head of “Israeli” Military Intelligence at the time. We boarded that flight in Amesterdam. It was supposed to be headed to New York, but we were going to turn it back east. We had just inaugurated an airport near Amman, Jordan, that became known as the Airport of the Revolution where we had held three planes there already, and we were going to bring our El Al plane there too. But the pilot took us to London instead, and our comrade from Nicaragua, Patrick Aurguillo, was killed there.
FAV: What went wrong?
Laila: What went wrong was that we were to be four doing this, but only two of us, Patrick and me, managed to get on board. Because Yarev had bodyguards too we simply got outnumbered and outgunned. The route the plane took was not the one we thought they would. Landing in London was totally unexpected. We bet that they won’t come near us. I was in charge of the operation and had two hand grenades. I didn’t think they would ever dare to come near me, but it seems that “Israelis” think lightly of dying as well.
They attacked the two of us, and managed to kill Patrick savagely. I wasn’t shot, but tackled and beaten. Media reports later indicated that the body of the plane was riddled with eighty bullet holes. Patrick had one handgun and I had two grenades, so guess who was doing most of the shooting?
Laila: The Brits took me. The very following day however a Palestinian guy from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, hijacked a BOAC plane to Beirut because he couldn’t handle the thought of me getting arrested. He requested to talk to the PFLP when he got to Beirut International Airport, and asked them where he should go with the plane. The pilot didn’t know how to get to the Airport of the Revolution because it wasn’t in the official charts. So, he was given directions. Then I was released in exchange, along with a couple of other comrades, after 28 days in custody. All this also raised the political question worldwide of who we were and what we sought.
A Critical Evaluation:
FAV: How do you respond to those who say that this particular type of operations did not help out very much, but had in fact hurt the Palestinian cause? Sure we got the attention of the world, but it was perhaps negative attention, the kind that’s not very good for us?
Laila: There’s an intrinsic difference between armed struggle as one of the main strategies to overcome the enemy, and these transient tactics which we employed only during a very brief period. On the internal Palestinian level, other groups condemned our earlier tactics only to end up adopting them after we abandoned them totally in 1970, as Fatah did with the “Black September” organization! So these were short-run tactical measures that can and should easily be given up if needed.
Anyway, hijacking planes was not the only type of overseas operations we engaged in. In 1972 for example, the PFLP hit the oil tanker Coral Sea which was clandestinely carrying Arab oil & gas (butane), from one of the Gulf states, to “Israel”. It took about a year of careful surveillance and planning to ascertain the route and method by which Arab oil went to “Israel”. But nobody likes to talk about this.
FAV: Where did this happen?
Laila: The Red Sea. Let me also add here that this operation cost “Israel” a great deal in terms of maintaining tight security. From that point on, every tanker that went out to sea had to have military escort, by planes sometimes. Protecting their energy supplies became a real pain.
FAV: So do you call now for resuming this type of operations?
Laila: Now circumstances are different. Every act has to serve a political end. Hijacking airplanes is NOT in our best interest today. Anyway, we in the PFLP totally quit that after the Central Committee took a resolution to that effect in 1970. In this regard I would like to mention, with great admiration and respect, the contributions of the martyr Wadi3 Haddad, who is also one of the founders of the Arab Nationalist Movement. I owe this man most for having taught me how to love Palestine.
FAV: But you continue to be today for the continuation of the armed struggle to liberate Palestine?
Laila: There is a simple and clear formula that I follow which doesn’t require much theorizing. Since there is still today an enemy that raped and cast us out of our land, there is no language to communicate with him but that which he understands best. He talks the language of terror, so we have a legitimate right to resist. History, reality, and the whole world concede the people’s right to resist occupation. That’s all there’s to it.
The Calculus of War and Peace:
FAV: Some say Arafat obtained more for the Palestinian people, with his readiness to condemn and cooperate against Palestinian “terrorism”, than what we have obtained from decades of operations which cost us tens of thousands of martyrs, injured, prisoners, not to mention international public opinion. How would you respond to that?
Laila: Arafat lost and made us lose with him.
FAV: How come? Some say he obtained a small piece that could later become the nucleus of a Palestinian state? Can’t this become a foothold from whence we may liberate the rest? Didn’t he bring back about forty thousand Palestinians with him from Tunisia?
Laila: Arafat as the epitome of a stratum of leaders of the Palestinian movement that embraces the same way of thinking, has chosen to favor its personal interests over those of the people. Consequently they deemed their own return to Palestine, under humiliating conditions, synonymous with the “right of return”.
We have in Palestine today about three million Palestinians. These have conducted one of the greatest uprisings in the world. Their problem was never the right of return for Arafat and a small group with him. Our problem has always been that we are a people that have had its land occupied and that was forcibly evicted from that land.
The Zionists built their state on our land. Our problem can be summarized in two points:
1) sovereignty over the land,
2) the return of refugees.
This is the essence of the Palestinian problem. Now let’s see what Arafat did. Arafat got the legitimacy to speak for Palestinians from the blood of our martyrs, and from our suffering. He got legitimacy because he adopted initially the strategy of armed struggle. Then he stopped halfway. When this stratum got some perks and privileges, they balked on the notion of resistance. Our leadership was spoiled into submission, among other things. They liked hotels, travel, official receptions at their honor and what have you too much. But at the same time they were selling their own selves out.
Those selling themselves out can’t be said to be “obtaining” anything for their people, can they now? It’s true that “Israel” re-deployed its forces in this alleged solution. But even before that was done, Arafat had to sign on to the enemy’s right to exist on our land. That is a negation of the all the precepts of Palestinian struggle.
The PFLP’s Stand on the Existence of “Israel”:
FAV: But some claim that the PFLP has shifted, and is no longer totally opposed to the principle of “Israel’s” right to exist if that meant a sovereign Palestinian mini-state on the side. Is that true?
Laila: Let’s judge the PFLP on the basis of its documents, and I’m part of the PFLP. When we say that we agreed to the program of Palestinian national consensus:
1) the right of return,
2) self-determination, and 3)
The Palestinian state. That means a Palestinian state on the land occupied in 1967, not Haifa. But here are our documents, and our strategy, and here’s the Palestinian National Charter that Arafat compromised. They all talk of liberating Palestine from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
FAV: So this is what the PFLP remains formally committed to today?
Laila: Of course. We haven’t changed. We believe in liberation in stages, but we believe in our historical right to all of Palestine as well.
Laila Khaled Prevented from Flying in December to the Palestinian Conference in Damascus:
FAV: With respect to the Palestinian National Charter, there were reports that you were on a plane headed from Amman to Damascus earlier in December 1998, when you were asked to get off the plane right before take-off by Jordanian authorities.
What happened there?
Did they get nightmares from the mere thought of Laila Khaled on a plane?
Was it a matter of flashbacks from the sixties or is it more complicated than that?
Laila: I still travel by airplane by the way : ) : ) I don’t frighten anyone there. I was actually headed for Beirut, not Damascus, to participate in the Second Arab meeting for the post-Peking Women’s conference. No body told me why I was not allowed to fly that day, but I think they expected me to be going to the Palestinian opposition meeting in Damascus that convened on the 12th of December to re-endorse the Palestinian National Charter.
But in fact the real reason is Wye River, and the security deals that took place behind the scenes between the security apparatuses in Jordan and “Israel”. Laila Khaled is a Palestinian activist, and for her to travel and express her views here and there just doesn’t fly very well with the authorities. So they harass me as a member in the Palestinian opposition, not as an individual. But eventually, I traveled again later on, and nobody stopped me
FAV: So what if they thought you were going to participate in the opposition conference in Damascus? What’s their beef?
Laila: I wasn’t the only one prevented from going to Damascus last December. All the delegates headed to that opposition Conference from Jordan were intercepted and turned back. Specifically, 53 delegates were turned back. I left several days before the conference date because I was going to attend another in Beirut, then go to the conference in Damascus.
FAV: But why? What’s the point of preventing you and those people from attending the conference in Damascus?
Laila: The point as expressed rather comically by the Jordanian Minister of the Interior, Nayef al Qadi, was that those 53 delegates were going to Syria to say stuff that was “contrary to the security of Jordan”.
The response to that is straight forward:
The Palestinian opposition was simply going there to discuss its position and options after Arafat went ahead with the annulment of the Palestinian National Charter. That’s all. But let’s not forget I live in a state that has signed an agreement with “Israel” in Wadi Arabah. This agreement, or maybe one of its secret appendices, entailed that the opposition be oppressed, as long as that is done with all the “democratic means” available to the system!
[We will later go back and discuss in depth with Laila Khaled’s the Peking women’s conference and her position on the question of women’s liberation. There’s about 30 minutes of tape here that FAV will reproduce separately due to the extreme importance and the independent nature of that subject- FAV]. Future Strategies for Palestinian Action:
FAV: The position you occupy now Laila Khaled in the Palestinian memory and the Palestinian conscience forces us to pose all the hardest questions to you. The Palestinian activism has reached a predicament at this point as is evident. Can we say that the old forms of struggle have fallen? Is there a need for new forms to replace them? If so, what are some of the features of these new forms? In short what is a good strategy for Palestinian action for the coming period? What is to be done? Whence do we begin?
Laila: You posed the question of whence do we begin, so let me say here that we’re not starting out from zero. Every time a new leadership arrives at the scene, it doesn’t study the phase preceding it, and assumes that history began with it. Since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, we’ve had a series of uprisings and leaders in Palestine, culminating in a major armed revolt under the leadership of the Qassam in 1936.
Then there was Abdul-Qader al Husseini in 1948, then el Hajj Amin, and in the sixties the present PLO leadership emerged. We need to study therefore our history and draw hard lessons as much as we need to thoroughly evaluate the previous phase of the Palestinian struggle.
We may have entered a new phase though, characterized by a political settlement in favor of the enemy. The cornerstones of Palestinian activism have been upturned. The precept that the Zionist enemy is occupying our land has been clouded with false rhetoric about peace. The notion of armed struggle has been distorted as well by those who signed shameful agreements, like Arafat and his group.
We have to study thus the previous phase in a comprehensive and careful manner. We have to examine where we hit and where we missed. The great achievement the Palestinian people has perhaps been the Palestinian national identity. We learned how to resist, but the strategies of action now will have to be different from the ones we adopted before. The notion of armed struggle itself though remains necessarily constant because this enemy has not changed its nature.
This enemy does not seek peace. It is still racist, expansionist, and violent.
FAV: What is it that should change then?
Laila: Only the mechanisms have to change, not the objectives. The strategy of armed struggle has to carry on from one generation to the next. It has to remain a historical struggle on all fronts. The military front is not currently open, while the usual measures like demolishing homes, confiscating land, arresting activists, air raiding south Lebanon, and killing civilians continue. We still have Palestinian and Lebanese funerals daily. This means the enemy does not understand any other language.
FAV: This is regarding the objectives of the Palestinian action. How do we get there?
Laila: The objectives of the PLO have not been achieved, including the right of return, self-determination, and the Palestinian state. Some say we still have to uphold those betrayed objectives, and I’m one of those. The problem now is that this [Palestinian] opposition, which is made up of Islamic, nationalist, and leftist components IS NOT UNITED IN ONE PROGRAM OF ACTION.
We don’t have to unite them ideologically. They do have to find a way however to deal jointly with the two most important current issues of Palestinian struggle:
First, how to confront and escalate the fight against the occupation, and second how to tackle the contradiction with the limited self-rule authority of Arafat whose main task is to provide security for the occupation, and to oppress Palestinians. We can’t adopt the same approach in dealing with the two. I don’t think twice about the legitimacy of resisting the occupation by all means necessary.
FAV: How do you respond to people like Edward Said and Azmi Bshara who insinuate sometimes that we need new approaches to Palestinian activism, for example by opening up Palestinian organizations to “Israelis” who recognize “Israel’s” right to exist, yet support Palestinian rights!
Laila: We have to look at the tasks of every concentration of Palestinians in the light of its own circumstances. We have a goal that unites us all, which is to liberate Palestine. But there’s about a million Palestinians right now living in the land occupied in 1948. Those will have tasks that are different from the ones to be addressed by the Palestinians of Lebanon.
In the former, the Palestinian struggle focuses on removing the discrimination they suffer under “Israel”. But in Rou7ah and Um Es-sa7ali when “Israelis” tried to confiscate more land and to demolish homes a while back, the reaction of the Palestinians of 1948 made the Shin Bet report to the “Israeli” government that after fifty years of “Israeli” rule, nationalist feelings among the Arabs of “Israel”, as they call them, are on the rise.
It’s true there are a couple there that call themselves “Israelis”, but the Palestinians of 1948 have overall preserved their Palestinian Arab national identity. Within the framework of the overall objective, these people have the local objective of achieving equality before the law in “Israel”…
FAV: But we can’t generalize the tasks of the Palestinians of 1948 to other Palestinians?
Laila: Yes, that part of our people will have different local objectives because it has different local circumstances. We are a dispersed people you know. Those in the West Bank and Gaza will have different tasks as well.
FAV: So the idea of including “Israelis” in our struggle applies only to the Palestinians of 1948, right?
Laila: No, no, no! Neither including nor excluding, no! I’m talking about something totally different. I’m talking about a relevant Palestinian program for action. I said there are general Palestinian objectives for all Palestinians, and then there are particular Palestinian objectives specific to the local circumstances for each concentration of Palestinians. For example, what is right now the main concern of a Palestinian in Lebanon who is not allowed to work? S/He wants to make a living. But even s/he is trying to observe the general objective of preserving his Palestinian national identity.
He remains steadfast in the refugee camp as a Palestinian under very harsh conditions. His tasks however will have to be different from those of a Palestinian in Gaza, who has to deal with persecution by Arafat’s PNA, and the Zionist occupation. Local strategies have to be decided locally, not imposed from without. There has to be coordination though between the local parts so each complements the other.
FAV: But where do the “Israelis” who allegedly support our rights fit into all this? Some say that our main task on the general level now should be to intensify our efforts amongst Americans and “Israelis”. How do you respond to that?
Laila: Look, there are hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in North America. The main task of that group is to publicize the Palestinian cause and win support. They also have the additional task of not forgetting, and letting their kids forget who they are and where they came from.
They should think about coming back in the long-run. It’s high-time we learned from our enemies, isn’t it? But let’s also not forget here that this is part of the overall struggle. The children of the West and Gaza didn’t peddle theories about winning over the West in the uprising. They peddled stones. And they won the support of the world nevertheless. The essential thing is to not forget that the things that created the conflict with Zionists are still there. They’re not gone. The land is still occupied and the people are still dispersed.
That’s why we revolted. These agreements are like some ash over the coals. Pour a little gasoline and we revolt again. The gasoline is how to make our local tasks complement each other. The axis of the combined work should be to hit the enemy on the head through and through. They only withdrew from south Lebanon because they were shipping back too many coffins. So coffins is what they understand. And we should make no apologies here because our own graveyards are full. Before preachers try to teach you about the humanity of our enemy, teach them about how we have been dehumanized. They said: “The Palestinians don’t exist”! We have been subjugated to a process of extinction here. Now they’re even talking about making genes-smart bombs that kill only Arabs. These people are not about coexistence.
They still have their kids sing in Kindergarden: this bank of the Jordan River is ours, and the other one too! Why are you asking us to change?
FAV: ..and the “Israelis” that support our struggle!
Laila: This is something that concerns the Palestinians of 1948. It is not a task on the national level, except insofar as it contributes to flaming differences within “Israeli” society, and weakens the occupation. Full stop. But I don’t tell our Palestinian masses there to go to the booth to vote for Labor or Meretz. These still say our land is theirs.
I CHALLENGE ANY OF THE PARTIES THAT CLAIM TO SUPPORT PALESTINIAN RIGHTS IN ‘ISRAEL’ TO SAY THAT JERUSALEM IS OURS. None of them do. So what the heck? We don’t need more empty slogans from “Israelis” who claim to be supporting us. The United Nations resolution that recognized “Israel” tied that recognition to the return of refugees. But that was not observed because in this jungle the strong imposes its code. Let those “Israelis” who say they support us call for our return. Look, if you want to note with appreciation a large demonstration by “Peace Now”, fine. But don’t fantasize.
FAV: Are you willing to share Jerusalem?
Laila: No way and never. I want to go back to Haifa where I was born. What are you talking about?
We can not negate that the PLO headed by Yasef Arafat put Palestine in the Map again, if it was not for him the Palestinian Plight could have been ignored all their live. Even if we did not like the methods used by the PLO was the only way that Israel and her supporters were going to negotiate with him. And even if we disagree with the agreements Yassef Arafat was forced to accept we need to understand the circumstances of those agreements.
Not everything was done because personal preferences of Yassef Arafat, most of the documents that he signed were the less of the evils. I do not doubt for one moment that when Yassef enter the United Nations conference he have in his mind to sell Palestinian Identity. For the contrary that was a triumph of Palestine being recognized as a body.
Even thought after the years the light shed on Palestine will diminish again, the Resistance took form, because the PLO brought energy to the old struggle. We can not deny the power that Yasser Arafat had and have in the young Palestinians. He never wanted divisions, he always spoke as Palestine as one nation.
Our woman hero Laila Khaled fought along with Yasser Arafat and she knew the situation, and the agreements in its time, she speaks of her disapproval in some of the issues, I wonder if she have had the power of the pen, if another Palestine have resulted.
We can never underestimate the power of woman intuition. That is another story.