Knowledge Session: Who is Leila Khaled?

Leila Khaled ; born April 9, 1944 is a mem­ber of the Pop­ular Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Palestine (PFLP) and a con­victed air­line hijack­er who was later released in a pris­on­er exchange for civil­ian host­ages kid­napped by her fel­low PFLP mem­bers. She is cur­rently a mem­ber of the Palestini­an Nation­al Coun­cil. She has been called the “poster girl of Palestini­an mil­it­ancy.
Khaled came to pub­lic atten­tion for her role in a 1969 hijack­ing and one of four sim­ul­tan­eous hijack­ings the fol­low­ing year as part of the Black Septem­ber timeline.

Khaled was born in Haifa, then part of the Brit­ish Man­date for Palestine. Khaled’s fam­ily fled to Leban­on dur­ing the 1948 Palestini­an exodus, leav­ing her father behind. At the age of 15, fol­low­ing in the foot­steps of her brother, she joined the rad­ic­al pan-Arab Arab Nation­al­ist Move­ment, ori­gin­ally star­ted in the late 1940s by George Habash, then a med­ic­al stu­dent at the Amer­ic­an Uni­ver­sity of Beirut.The Palestini­an branch of this move­ment became the Pop­ular Front for the Lib­er­a­tion of Palestine after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Khaled also spent some time teach­ing in Kuwait, and in her auto­bi­o­graphy recoun­ted cry­ing the day she heard that John F. Kennedy had been assas­sin­ated.

On August 29, 1969, Khaled was part of a team that hijacked TWA Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Athens, divert­ing the Boe­ing 707 to Dam­as­cus. She claims she ordered the pilot to fly over Haifa, so she could see her birth­place, which she could not vis­it. No one was injured, but the air­craft was blown up after host­ages had dis­em­barked. Accord­ing to some media sources, the PFLP lead­er­ship thought that Yitzhak Rabin, then Israeli ambas­sad­or to the United States, would be on board. This was, how­ever, denied by Khaled and oth­ers. After this hijack­ing, and after a now fam­ous pic­ture of her (taken by Eddie Adams) hold­ing an AK-47 rifle and wear­ing a kaf­fi­yeh was widely pub­lished, she under­went six plastic sur­ger­ies on her nose and chin to con­ceal her iden­tity and allow her to take part in a future hijack­ing, and because she did not want to wear the face of an icon.

On Septem­ber 6, 1970, Khaled and Patrick Argüel­lo, a Nicara­guan, attemp­ted the hijack of El Al Flight 219 from Ams­ter­dam to New York City as part of the Dawson’s Field hijack­ings, a series of almost sim­ul­tan­eous hijack­ings car­ried out by the PFLP. The attack was foiled, when Israeli sky­mar­shals killed Arguel­lo before even­tu­ally over­power­ing Khaled. Although she was car­ry­ing two hand gren­ades at the time, Khaled said she had received very strict instruc­tions not to threaten pas­sen­gers on the civil­ian flight. (Patrick Argüel­lo, the co-hijack­er, shot a mem­ber of the flight crew)

The pilot diver­ted the air­craft to Heath­row air­port in Lon­don, where Khaled was delivered to Eal­ing police sta­tion. On Octo­ber 1, the Brit­ish gov­ern­ment released her as part of a pris­on­er exchange. The next year, the PFLP aban­doned the tac­tic of hijack­ing, although splin­ter move­ments would con­tin­ue to hijack air­planes.

Khaled has said in inter­views that she developed a fond­ness for the United King­dom when her first vis­it­or in jail, an immig­ra­tion officer, wanted to know why she had arrived in the coun­try without a val­id visa. She also developed a rela­tion­ship with the two police­wo­men assigned to guard her in Eal­ing and later cor­res­pon­ded with them. Khaled con­tin­ued to return to Bri­tain for speak­ing engage­ments until as late as 2002, although she was refused a visa by the Brit­ish embassy in 2005 to address a meet­ing at the Féile an Phobail in Bel­fast, where she was invited as a speak­er. Even­tu­ally she man­aged to speak to people at the Bel­fast Féile through a video link.

Khaled is wary of the Arab-Israeli peace pro­cess. Accord­ing to her, “It’s not a peace pro­cess. It’s a polit­ic­al pro­cess where the bal­ance of forces is for the Israel­is and not for us. They have all the cards to play with and the Palestini­ans have noth­ing to depend on, espe­cially when the PLO is not united.” She has become involved in polit­ics, becom­ing a mem­ber of the Palestini­an Nation­al Coun­cil and appear­ing reg­u­larly at the World Social For­um.
Wit­nesses say that in the late 1970s she stud­ied his­tory at Rostov Uni­ver­sity (USSR), but nev­er gradu­ated. She simply van­ished in the early 1980s. There were rumours that she left for Leban­on to fight again­st the Israeli army invad­ing Leban­on at that time.

She is mar­ried to the phys­i­cian Fayez Rashid Hilal, and today lives with their two sons Bader and Bashar in Amman, Jord­an.
She was the sub­ject of a film entitled Leila Khaled, Hijacker.The doc­u­ment­ary film “Hijack­er – The Life of Leila Khaled,” dir­ec­ted by Palestini­an film­maker, Lina Mak­boul, premiered in Novem­ber, 2005, at the Inter­na­tion­al Doc­u­ment­ary Film Fest­ival in Ams­ter­dam.

The fol­low­ing two tabs change con­tent below.
Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal

Edit­or / PR Con­sult­ant at No Bounds
Rish­ma Dhali­wal has extens­ive exper­i­ence study­ing and work­ing in the music and media industry. Hav­ing writ­ten a thes­is on how Hip Hop acts as a social move­ment, she has spent years research­ing and con­nect­ing with artists who use the art form as a tool for bring­ing a voice to the voice­less. Cur­rently work­ing in TV, Rish­ma brings her PR and media know­ledge to I am Hip Hop and oth­er pro­jects by No Bounds.

About Rishma Dhaliwal

Rishma Dhaliwal
Rishma Dhaliwal has extensive experience studying and working in the music and media industry. Having written a thesis on how Hip Hop acts as a social movement, she has spent years researching and connecting with artists who use the art form as a tool for bringing a voice to the voiceless. Currently working in TV, Rishma brings her PR and media knowledge to I am Hip Hop and other projects by No Bounds.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *