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Posts Tagged ‘Salim Issawi

“Heading to Haifa: Want to see my home up close”: Who is Leila Khaled?

No, nothing is written for Leila, nothing is Maktoub for Laila: She will not die a refugee!

It is August 29, 1969.  Leila Khaled and her Palestinian comrade Salim Issawi, another refugee from Haifa, hijacked TWA 840 plane from Rome airport to Tel-Aviv as destination.  The purpose was to take Yitzhak Rabin prisoner and be tried in front of a Palestinian tribunal for crimes against humanity.  Rabin (Ambassador in the USA then) had missed the plane.

Leila and Salim are carrying hand grenades. The Captain and pilot tried several times to redirect the plane to Tripoli (Libya) where the US has a military base. Leila was trained to reading the gauges (the plane has enough autonomy for more than 5-hour flight), and she would correct the flight course.

Leila order the plane to El-Ladd airport.  The smart-ass pilot corrects Leila: “You mean Lod airport in Israel?” “No, it is al Ladd, a name known for millinea, and it is not this stupid Zionist State won’t change it”

Leila orders the pilot to descend at 12,000 feet.  The Israeli air traffic controller is summoned not to mention TWA 840 but call it PFLP, and he finally agreed to obey after the Captain warns him that there are 140 passengers on board.

The controller refuses the landing of the plane and two Israeli Mirage planes are accompanying the civilian plane to prevent it from descending below 12,000 feet.  Leila orders to resume the descent and the Mirage jets made room.

Without warning, Leila orders the pilot to head north to the city of Haifa: “I want to see my home from up close” said Leila.

The plane circled the city twice and was ordered to head to Damascus, where it landed softly. After the passengers exited safely, Leila blew up the cockpit of the plane, and surrendered to the Syrian police.

Three passengers were Israelis and were exchanged for 71 Syrian and Egyptian prisoners three months later.

Life was pleasant in Haifa before April 9, 1948, the 4th birthday of Leila Khaled.

Leila lived in a house on Stanton Street, by the Jewish quarter of Hadar Hacarmel.  On that date of 1949, the Palestinian family of Leila had to vacate the city and seek refuge in Lebanon: Israel has entered the city and 80,000 more Palestinians living in Haifa did the same trip.

The family settled in a camp in Tyre called Bourj al Chemali, where 7,000 Palestinians refugees from Haifa crowded it.  Since that date, Leila would refuse to celebrate her birthday, a day of mourning for her, the nakba for her family.

In 1958, Leila and her sister Nawal are sent to a boarding school in Saida, run by Evangelists, though a Moslem teacher made her memorize verses of the Coran, as Leila was learning to read.

In 1963, at the age of 19, Leila is attending the American University of Beirut (AUB):  Her brother Mohammad, working in Kuwait, paid her tuition.  Her father preferred to pay the tuition of her brother who failed his high school public exam.  Leila could not finish her university degree for lack of financial support and ended up in Kuwait in 1966.

Leila joins the Palestinian Resistance Movement, the main faction of Fateh.

Yasser Arafat is still not ready to train women for military exercises, and Leila tells him that the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), headed by Georges Habash, trained both genders and sent them in active duties. She said: “We’ll meet again“, and went ahead and joined the PFLP.

It is September 6, 1970.  Leila does it again and hijacked the Israel El Al plane at the airport of Schiphol (Holland).  Her comrade is Patrick Arguello, originally from Guatemalla and run by dictator Somoza at the time. Patrick had no idea who was his companion boarding as his wife Maria Sanchez.

The attempt failed. Patrick is shot dead and Leila is interrogated by the British police. Leila endures 3 hours of interrogation and kept repeating: “I am the leader of the hijack.  My name is Leila Khaled and a member of the PFLP and from the unit of Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian woman prisoner“.

She declare that she want to be considered a prisoner of war.  Scotland Yard officer said: “England is not at war with the Palestinians”. And Leila replies: “Yes, England is at war with us since the declaration of the Balfour document in 1917, promising a homeland for the Jews, in return of a handful of silver coins to prosecute the war against Germany.  England carried out this promise, and is directly responsible for the displacement of million of Palestinians, robbing us from a State and inflicting humiliation, miseries, and indignity on us for decades.” (I developed a bit on that answer).

Four hours later, the officer returns and said: “Three more planes have been successfully hijacked and landed in the Zarka in Jordan.  They want your liberation in return of the passengers.”

In April 1996, Leila is crossing the Allenby Bridge to the West Bank.

A “peace” deal was struck between Rabin and Arafat in Oslo.  The Israeli soldier is interrogating Leila before crossing the border. Leila tells him: “Yes, I belong to a Palestinian organization, I do not agree with this peace deal, and yes I want peace with the Jews. My profession was hijacking Israeli planes. No, I don’t want this peace where I cannot return home without an Israeli soldier interrogating me. Remember young man: I am Leila Khaled.”

“We are refugees, we’ll die refugees” would frequently repeat Leila’s father.  No, nothing is written for Leila: She will not die a refugee. Leila is currently living In Amman (Jordan) by the Jordanian intelligence agency and is married with two kids. She is a member of the Palestinian National Council, and of the Palestinian Women General Union.

Note 1: Article inspired by a chapter of the French book “12 women of the Orient who changed History” by Gilbert Sinoue.

Note 2:  Leila Khaled published her autobiography “My people shall live” in 1973.

Note 3:  After the successive triple hijacking to Zarkat, the Jordanian Monarch Hussein chased out the Palestinian factions into Lebanon, and Lebanon witnessed three decades of bloodshed and calamities.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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