Friday, February 16, 2007

" I'm Leila Khaled. "

Aged four, Leila and her parents were forced to flee her hometown of Haifa during the chaos of 1948. Years later, her sister was killed in a botched assassination by Mossad, who mistook her for Leila. And her own group’s responses will come in kind, she says, vowing terrible vengeance.

"We are against assassination, but when it is time to act, we will act, because they have assassinated us constantly for 54 years. Do you expect us to say ‘OK, we accept it’? By violence they have occupied the country, by violence we were driven out, and by violence they have established their state. As long as there is occupation there will be resistance. The Israeli government is violating international law. As long as Sharon, Netanyahu and this gang of war criminals are in control in Tel Aviv, the struggle will escalate. The bloody history of Sharon is wellknown. But his future will be bloody also. Palestinians know how to deal with such bloody people."

Out in the street we hail a taxi to the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, where Leila is delivering a lecture. We climb in and, as the tape rolls, she recounts details of her hijacks.

"I had my pistol and my hand grenade," she recalls. "My comrade and I had successfully boarded the plane."

The cabby bristles visibly.

"When Patrick was killed it was terrifying. Twelve people sprung up shooting. I felt bad, very bad. I still remember him as an international martyr for freedom. He fought for a just cause."

She attempts to defend the morality of the operation: "We hijacked planes because the whole world was deaf when we were screaming from our tents, and nobody heard our suffering. Until the beginning of the revolution in 1967, Palestinians were only dealt with as people needing humanitarian aid, not as people with a cause. We had to use tactics to attract international attention.

"And afterward, the world asked ‘who are the Palestinians? Why are they doing this? How could a woman do such a thing?’ So it worked, just posing the question."

Leila’s group, the PFLP, has recently backed sending bombers on bloody resistance "operations."

"If someone chooses to explode his body among his enemies, we must ask why?" she says. "We are struggling to live peacefully in our homeland. A poor woman embroidering clothing is part of our struggle. A woman bringing up a child to live in Palestine, suffering at the checkpoints is part of our struggle. A doctor treating the wounded is part of our struggle.

"This has been a gradual massacre. They are killing and killing and killing, detaining people, destroying our homes, carving up the land, cutting down olive groves, besieging the sacred places. Pregnant women are held at checkpoints and refused access to hospitals. Children are prevented from going to school and searched as if they were suicide bombers.

"The Israelis have made life so miserable that the distance between life and death is minimized. People are dying everywhere in Palestine. If this injustice continues, then the bombings will increase."

Despite her participation in hijacks, Leila rejects the charge that she has, however unwittingly, helped inspire the kind of thinking behind the 9/11 suicide hijacks, three decades after her own "operations."

"That was an act of terror ( inside job) and did not serve a humanitarian cause," she says. "What we did was a means of struggle. We said why we were doing the operation. Those who killed themselves and others in New York had no cause.

"We didn’t kill anybody. On the contrary, two of our colleagues were killed. One man was even killed by Israeli security after he was caught by British police."

After 50 years of struggle, her people have little to show for their suffering.

"Where is our security?" Leila demands. "I’m now 58, and since 1944, the year I was born, I have never felt secure, even when I’m surrounded by supporters. My birthday falls on the anniversary of the 1948 Deir Yasin massacre. That is why I could never celebrate. Every month there are events that remind us of the years of bloody occupation."

And she sees little prospect that even their children will live any better. "I am a mother of two. My children have the right to dream, but what hope do they have? They are threatened because they are Palestinian. My child doesn’t have the right to live, let alone continue his studies. I would dearly love to have a university qualification.

"Do you expect my child to accept this life? Do you expect our children to speak of gardens and flowers and sunshine, when they see only Apache helicopters and F16s? I ask Bush and Blair, what do they call these tanks and bulldozers; what do they call these massacres in their language? Do you want us to answer such crimes with roses, or bury our heads?

"We do not glorify death, we are the victims of those who want to prevent us from living. We do not ask for miracles. We are not fighting for death, we are struggling for our dignity. We want to live."

Leila Khaled — hijacked by destiny By Timur Moon,%202002%20op%20eds.htm


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