The *FREE ARAB VOICE*
February 2, 1999
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
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 Women's Union, and the
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. After that [when the Movement dissolved itself], 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 dwell 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
[To be continued]
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