Leila Khaled was born on April 9, 1944 in Haifa, a coastal city in Occupied Palestine. Leila’s family fled to Tyre in Lebanon after al-Nakba, also known as the Catastrophe, which resulted in the displacement of around 750,000 Palestinian refugees and the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948.
Leila fled Palestine with her mother and her siblings leaving her father behind to take care of the house and their family business, and thinking that they would return home after the bloodshed. However, he joined them a year later, after both the house and the shop were confiscated by Israeli forces.
Leila followed the footsteps of her father and sibling, and joined the Palestinian resistance movement. From the age of ten she joined demonstrations in Lebanon with other Palestinian children, and as she got older she became a full member of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM) led by George Habbash.
However, her involvement with the ANM did not come without implications, and because of her gender she experienced multiple oppressions. Liela’s mother used to discourage her from going to meetings with her fellow comrades despite her father’s encouragement. She faced condescension and objectification by her male comrades. She states “I was terribly disturbed by my comrades’ male chauvinism and self-righteousness” (cited in Irving, 2012:20).
Despite the restrictions she faced by her mother and the patronising behaviour of her male comrades, she insisted on engaging in different political activities in addition to pursuing her higher education. She joined the ANM’s first round of military training despite the objection of many of her fellow activists.
Leila became a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which was formed after the six-day war (Al-Naksa) in 1967. PFLP is a Palestinian Marxist-Leninist and revolutionary leftist organization, which calls for a one state solution and is well known for its armed struggle against the Israeli occupation.
Leila underwent military training with the PFLP and her dream was to become a fighter. Leila’s first mission was to hijack a TWA Boeing 707 on the Rome-Athens-Tel Aviv route; she hijacked the plane in August 1969 with a fellow Palestinian, Salim Issawi. In September 1970, she hijacked another plane on route from to Amsterdam with a Nicaraguan man called Patrick Arguello; the hijack resulted in the murder of Arguello and the incarceration of Leila. Leila participated in those operations because she wanted to bring the world’s attention to the Palestinians’ struggle for rights and freedom. She perceived it as means to raise people’s awareness around the Palestinian question.
Leila Khaled is currently a member of the Palestinian National Council. She still gives talks and conference papers in different parts of the world about the military Israeli Occupation in Palestine. Leila Khaled has always been an inspiration to all Palestinians through different generations.
Written by Dr Nof Nasser Eddin, Director, Centre for Transnational Development and Collaboration (CTDC)