"We are an opposition to both authorities"

Leila Khaled visits „Sumud“ in Ein-Elhiweh
Mohammad Aburous
The brigade had a long day filming and interviewing the reality in the camp, as in the late afternoon the news arrived: Leila Khaled is surely coming this evening. Delegation participants were excited to meet what they saw as a Palestinian living legend, who performed two aircraft hijacks within less than two years (1969 and 1970), attrackting the world attention to the Palestinian cause and becoming an icon who personified Palestine in the minds of two leftiest generations.


The Sumud centre was cleaned and enough chairs were prepared. Visitors from inside the camp were expected, who were also excited to meet the historical figure again. Thirty minutes before the scheduled arrival the electricity was cut. Ironic comments were heard in the dark place ‘Well, this shouldn’t be a surprise’; ‘Let’s get some candles, the meeting will be romantic’; ‘You think we should move to the PFLP office?’…. More interesting was the scene outside, as Nashet activists and two old PFLP guards neighbouring the building:

- Comrade, you have an electricity generator. Can you lend us some electricity?
- Our generator is too small. It barely runs the refrigerator and two lamps!
- Please comrade, it is Leila Khaled coming!
- And even if it was Arafat himself! The generator is too weak.
- ….
- Anyhow, Leila was a fighter. She was in prison and is used to the dark!
The second guard:
- Better this way. Let her see with her eyes our miserable conditions!

The discussion was ended by the lucky fact that electricity returned in a timing adapted to the delay of Leila Khaled herself. The ventilator running and making the heat bearable, the center full of Nashet international and Palestinian activists including the PFLP political representatives in the camp, and now she arrives. Among the Palestinians, the welcome was as warm as a meeting of old comrades. For the internationals, it was the curious silence of watching a long-awaited star entering.

All in their places, Leila facing the guests from the improvised stage, sitting between the representatives of Nashet and of the Sumud delegation, the meeting begins. Enrico, representative of the Sumud delegation, opened the talk welcoming Leila and presenting the Sumud delegation. In his speech he stressed the special character of Sumud which is different from the typical NGO activities, who separate the actual work from politics and often corrupt the political culture by financial funding. He explained the approach of Sumud in terms of ‘voluntary work’ and ‘resistance’, taking the necessary distance from both clerical and institutional charity. He considered the second to be an infiltration of the world movements to corrupt their culture and identity, and another face of what should be called by its real name: Imperialism…

But it is Leila Khaled on whom we want to report now..

Then it was Leila’s turn. Cameras and recording devices running, tired activists gathering their energies to concentrate and follow, translator sharpening his ears… and there she is..

Although mainly meeting the international activists who are visiting the camp, the presence of many Palestinians whose limited knowledge of English had to be considered, Leila’s speech was hence in Arabic and translated to English.
After words welcoming the delegation, recognising the importance of political solidarity, and mentioning that 50 years ago they were not used to see any ‘white faces’ or hear foreign languages in the camp, she immediately switched to the main issue of the Palestinians living in refugee camps for 62 years and being considered by the world community only as humanitarian cases. Stating that the Palestinians were a witness of one of the crimes of this age, she also stressed that the Palestinians finally had to take their issue in their own hands.
She reminded that the Palestinians had been waiting for twenty years, from their expulsion in 1948 until the war in 1967, for the application of the right of return following the UN resolution 194. Following the 1948 war, this resolution had actually been one of the conditions of the acceptance of the state of Israel by the world community. Instead of granting any kind of right of return, in 1967 the remainings of Palestine were occupied.

‘The world started listening to us as we applied tactics, which themselves became a major issue of debate rather than the Palestinian cause itself’, said Leila Khaled before she mentioned her actions. The silence of the curiously listening audience was finally broken by laughter, as she corrected the translator who used the term ‘kidnapping’ instead of ‘hijacking’. At this moment, many photos were shot to catch her face expression.

Her face regained soon a serious expression, while telling why the planes were hijacked and the impact of these actions on the Palestinian issue and its relationships to the world liberation movement. ‘As the world asked, the answer didn’t come from a plane hijack, but from the revolution. That’s why freedom fighters from the whole world came to join our fight’. She provided the activists with the arguments against terror accusations. ‘Who implanted terror in our land? It was Zionism and the West with it. It was their colonial project’. Leila Khaled considered the Palestinians as being in the first frontlines of a world confrontation between the peoples of the world and imperialism.

Afterwards, she explained her position on the manipulations made by the Zionist media which accuse any critics against Israel to be ‘anti-semitic’. She cited Jewish and Israeli thinkers and academics such as Ilan Pappe, whose life in the ‘promised land’ was made hard and who was forced to leave the country. Another name she mentioned was Noam Chomsky, who was not allowed to enter.
‘It was because of my Anti-Zionist discourses in Europe that they decided to decline me the visa to enter, not because I had hijacked a plane’, said Leila Khaled to demonstrate the vulnerability of Zionism towards humanistic critics.

Leila Khaled denounced the European economic and academic cooperation with Israel, in particular underlining the new agreements between EU and Israel which she considered as a result of the Zionist infiltration of the European institutions. She stressed the importance of an international coordination between Anti-imperialist forces and of using the modern communication technologies. She reminded of the meetings of the Anti-imperialist Camp in Assisi, Italy, where activists from the whole world met. Mentioning Palestinian attendance of the Assisi camp, she considered solidarity to be mutual, since ‘a one-side love can not sustain for long. We love you much and we know you love us. That’s why we have no fear, and that’s why we will win’.

Originating from occupied Haifa, she ended her discourse inviting the participants to visit her city. Again, a smile ran over the participants’ faces when they noticed the glance in Leila’s eyes, talking about the beauty of the city, mentioned that she only ‘saw it from the air’.

Resistance is not only by carrying guns

The following discussion with the audience mainly focused on the characteristics of the conflict over Palestine and the characteristics of the Palestinian resistance after 40 years since its birth. As for the Palestinian mode of action, Leila Khaled described three main stages: the armed struggle, the popular uprising and the popular armed uprising.
Defining Israel as a part of the colonial and capitalist system, she defined the wide range of topics included within this conflict, starting from the conflict on land and not ending with the conflict on thoughts, history and terminology. Leila Khaled defined the physical existence of the Palestinian people on their land or in the refugee camps as being itself a kind of resistance against their extinction from history. She called for caution against the attempts to dissolve the Palestinian camps in the surrounding countries and to send the Palestinian refugees into far away countries in Europe and South America (as had happened with the Palestinians in Iraq). She also considered the worldwide BDS campaigns to boycott Israel as an important form of resistance, which shows the Apartheid character of Israel comparable to former South Africa. Resistance has many forms, but only the armed struggle would be able to decide the fight.

Opposition to both authorities

Leila Khaled sees the PFLP as a political opposition to both authorities in Gaza and Ramallah, being both established under occupation and not an expression of a Palestinian sovereignty over their land. Regarding the current Palestinian situation, she denounced the division between the Palestinian political forces in two camps. She considered this division as a new Nakba and called for a national unity based on a resistance program.
Leila Khaled repeated the position of the PFLP against the Oslo process and the negotiations while Zionist occupation continues.
As for the Islamic resistance movement, she sees it as a new-born movement, with which the PFLP would cooperate in resisting the occupation. On the other hand, she denounced ‘the social and political division of the Palestinian people, which is the work of religious powers’. For Leila Khaled, Hamas ‘stopped the resistance and claimed the authority’. She criticised the conflict between the two groups over rule in Gaza, considering this piece of land as a large prison. She urged the world to recognise the democratic choice of the Palestinians. ‘The Democracy we believe in is the right of the people to self-determination on their land and not just to have elections with Swedish or American standards. We are under occupation, and the siege of Gaza existed before and not after the elections. The siege was only strengthened after the elections because they didn’t like the colour of the elected government’. She reminded that the PFLP had respected the outcome and had voted in the Parliament in support of the government established by Hamas, because it had a resistance program. On the other hand, she considered the taking power of Hamas in Gaza as a horizontal and vertical split in the Palestinian movement, which has weakened the struggle.
Welcoming the movement against the siege of Gaza, Leila Khaled warned from depoliticising the struggle and detracting from the occupation itself, which is the root of the problem.

‘Our main contradiction must remain against the occupation’, urged Leila Khaled, considering the document of national reconciliation signed by Palestinian prisoners representing all Palestinian factions including Fatah and Hamas as basis for an agreement. She made both parties equally responsible for the outstanding implementation of this agreement. Leila Khaled avoided to give a clear answer to the question of whether the collaboration authority of Ramallah would realistically ever accept to join a resistance program. Instead, she called upon the ‘creativity of the Palestinian people’, which will be able to create a solution if no conscience could be reached by the factions.

Tactics and strategy

For Leila Khaled ending the occupation of West Bank and Gaza can be only seen as a real political demand of the movement, based on international resolutions. As a strategic target of the fight, she sticks to the ‘democratic state on all Palestine, where all the people can live in equality, and the right of return to all refugees’.
Recognising the decline of action in the West Bank and explaining it by the double persecution by the Israeli occupation and the PNA, Leila Khaled denied that PFLP had given up resistance: ‘We didn’t stop our resistance. We are still shooting over there in Gaza. But not in the West Bank, because we don’t have the capacities there to do so. Revolution in general comes up and down and rises again, according to the objectives and to our capacities. We have Dayton and the Israelis. If the Palestinian Authority does not arrest us, Israel would. We are not going to commit suicide of our party’.

Leila Khaled, a figure of the historical leadership within the PFLP, is historically known as being optimistic. Therefore her talk ended in a positive manner, cheering up all present international guests and Palestinian young and old fighters from the camp. ‘..But we are building again and again. I can’t say more about that because of security reasons. But still we have our general secretary and a lot of our cadre in jail. Do you think we are going to sacrify those people? The PFLP has always been able to surprise.’

Mohammad Aburous