'Leila Khaled' explores the meaning of terrorism

‘Leila Khaled’ explores the meaning of terrorism
By Talia Whyte
Originally published in the Bay State Banner

Everyone has someone they look up to as an idol, whether it is a Hollywood actor, a high-profile politician, or just an ordinary person who did something extraordinary. But what if you had the chance to meet your idol and they turned out to be something you didn’t expect?

Filmmaker and journalist Lina Makboul had this experience when she met a not-so-ordinary person: Leila Khaled, the world’s first female hijacker.

Makboul’s documentary “Leila Khaled: Hijacker” — the opening film in the Boston Palestine Film Festival that began Saturday — examines Khaled’s legacy in Palestinian-Israeli politics and the thin line between being a “freedom fighter” and a “terrorist.”

Growing up as a Palestinian in Sweden, Makboul admired Khaled as a strong, beautiful Palestinian woman who would make the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of her people. In the film, Makboul describes how, unlike the Palestinian men that Makboul thought just sat around and complained about the loss of their homeland, Khaled channeled her frustration to action.

Khaled was born in the Israeli city of Haifa, but her family moved to Lebanon while she was still very young. As a teenager, Khaled was swept up in Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s radical Pan-Arabist movement during the 1960s. However, feeling disillusioned by the 1967 Six-Day War, Khaled felt she needed to take stronger measures and joined the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

She embarked on her first hijacking in 1969 with a team aboard Trans World Airlines Flight 840 on its way from Rome to Haifa. It was believed by the PFLP that the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was the Israeli ambassador to the United States at the time, was on the plane. (Rabin decided against flying at the last minute.) The flight was diverted to Damascus, Syria, where the plane was evacuated and blown up. Because of her immediate notoriety following the hijacking, Khaled went into hiding and had several plastic surgeries to conceal her identity.

The following year, Khaled hijacked another plane. This time, it was El Al Israel Airlines Flight 219 from Amsterdam to New York with Nicarauguan American partner Patrick Argüello, part of a coordinated PFLP effort to hijack and fly four planes to Jordan. The plot was foiled when sky marshals killed Argüello, and Khaled was subdued and taken into custody in London, where the plane was diverted. A few weeks later, she was released by the British government in a prisoner exchange.

Today, Khaled is still involved in Palestinian advocacy, albeit in a more scaled-back manner. She gives speeches around the world on gender roles in Middle East politics and is a member of the Palestinian National Council. A retired teacher, Khaled now lives a relatively quiet life with her husband and two sons in Amman, Jordan.

It’s amid this comparative tranquility that Makboul’s film picks up. While they smoke cigarettes and chow down on shish kebabs, the filmmaker interviews Khaled about her past and her thoughts on extremism today — though, Makboul notes, the subject did have some reservations about the project.

“Leila was a bit skeptical about doing the film at first,” Makboul said during a question and answer period following the film’s screening Saturday night at the Museum of Fine Arts. “I think, being a Palestinian myself, she came around.”

In the film, Khaled says that she doesn’t approve of hijacking as a form of protest today, although she is still troubled by Palestinian-Israeli relations and feels that Palestinians are still not given equality in the peace process. Asked about the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, Khaled immediately comdemns the hijackers, saying she was upset by the large number of civilian deaths.

The tone changes, however, when Makboul asks if Khaled considers herself a terrorist, and if she had any remorse for the hijackings in which she participated.

Without missing a beat, Khaled says she has no regrets, that the hijacking was necessary at the time to turn the world’s attention to the Palestinian struggle.

“I don’t care if I am called a terrorist,” Khaled says. “Palestinians are justified in fighting Israel.”

Makboul said she was struck by this answer, and it made her reevaluate the way she saw her idol; while she agrees with international law’s support for those that defend themselves against occupation, Makboul thinks that civilians have rights, too.

More than that, Makboul now thinks that Khaled’s lack of remorse gives Palestinians a bad reputation. Two pilots, a flight attendant and a passenger who were hostages during Khaled’s hijackings share the same sentiments in the film. On the other hand, Khaled’s Palestinian neighbors interviewed in the film believe she is a freedom fighter and her actions were right.

Despite the moral confusion, Makboul says that she really likes Khaled, and that the two remain friends. Makboul hopes that by presenting a portrait of Khaled as both human and hijacker, her film can contribute to a balanced discussion about Palestinian-Israeli relations.

But when it comes to viewing Khaled as an idol?

“I stopped having heroes a long time ago,” Makboul said.


At Wednesday, August 25, 2010 7:32:00 PM, Blogger maxadamo said...

It's pointless what mrs. Makboul says.
The question is just easy: the hijackings of Leila Khaled didn't make any victim, and she is a kind of strange terrorist who never killed a person in her life.


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