Laila Khalid: “I Never Regret”

Her name had shaken the world. She was the first Palestinian woman who hijacked two aircrafts to protest Israeli occupation against her country. She was Laila Khalid, a member of Popular Front for Liberation Palestine (PFLP).

Her first action committed on 29 August 1969 against a Boeing 707 belongs to Trans World Airlines (TWA) with flight number 840 in route from Rome to Athena. She has forced the pilot to land on international airport in Damascus, Syria, after flew from Haifa, her birth city. After all passengers and crews have got down, Laila and her team blew up the plane.

Laila then has been detained by Syrian security services. After being freed, she has committed her first plastic surgery to hide her identity. But she was not give up. Her second mission was done on 6 September 1970.

Along with Patrick Arguello, a Nicaraguan, she hijacked an El Al belongs to Israel with flight number 219 from Amsterdam to New York. Unfortunately, Arguello was shot dead by Israeli police. Otherwise Laila was arrested with two grenades on her hand.The planned landed on Heathrow airport, London. She was freed on1 October 1970 as a part of prisoner swap.

Politics wasn’t strange for Laila. At age of 15, she became member of Arab Nationalist Movement led by George Habbash in 1940s. Even she studied medicine in the American University of Beirut, she was more interested in politics. Laila then joined PFLP that was founded by Habbash after Six Day War in 1967.

She didn’t left political activities although she was 62. Laila was born in Haifa on 9 April. She fled from Haifa after Israel occupied that city in 1948 war. She currently member of Palestine National Council (PNC) and active in World Social Forum.

After divorcing with her first husband, she has married with Fayez Rashid and lived together with her two sons, Badir and Bashar, in Amman, Jordan. She also teaches English at elementary and junior high schools in Kuwait. Lina Makboul, a Swedish director who has admired Leila made documentary about her hijacking stories. A movie title Leila Khaled the Hijacker (2005) was performed in Jakarta International Film Festival, December two years ago.

Through her cellular, December 2006, Laila told Faisal Assegaf from Tempo about her heroic stories. Only one question she refused to answer, is about her plastic surgery to hide from Israeli hunt. Excerpts:

A documentary film about you is performing in Jakarta. What is your comment?
I think that movie has focused on Palestinians struggle and also emphasized on the role of Palestinian women. I think that film as well as another documentary.

What is positive effect of that movie?
This movie can help to understand the background of Palestinian resistance and will also increase people to realize about their struggle.

What is the goal of your first hijacking?
We would like to attract international community about desperate condition suffered by Palestinians caused by Israeli occupation that still continues. Israel also forced out Palestinians from their homeland.

Why did TWA airplane became target?
Because we thought on of the passengers is Israeli Ambassador for the United States, Yitzhak Rabin. At the beginning, we wanted to take Rabin as prisoner swap for Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons. We wanted international community to give attention on the Palestinian problems and at the same time, Israel ready to commit their obligation to release Palestinian prisoners.

How many member of your first team?
I just accompanied by my best friend, Aman. I led that operation.

How did you feel at the time?
I was happy can lead the mission and that was an honor for me. Each of us supplied with a hand grenade and a pistol.

Do you think your first hijack was succeeded?
Yes, the mission accomplished. We then gave up to Syrian police. We were freed after detained for 45 days.

How about the second mission?
My leader assigned me along with three colleagues. But airport security services have succeeded to avoid two colleagues came in. So, we just two committed the mission.

At the time, do you have children?
I wasn’t married yet.

Did you have any plan to commit suicide bombing?
Not at all. In the fact, innocent people get hurt. We have restricted rule not to hurt anyone. We have to commit mission without victim.

Do you think hijacking is the best tactic to resist?
At the time yes. But recently, it’s useless.

Which is the best, struggle by gun or diplomacy?
I believe the struggle can be done by the two ways. But I also convince that history taught us people can gain their freedom through revolution.

What are your activities recently?
I’m a member of Palestinian National Congress (PNC) and also member of PFLP Political Bureau. I joined as a member of General United of Palestinian Women. I try to balance between political activities with my family.

Do you want your sons follow your track record?
My sons have choices for their future and not me to decide. We’re a democratic family.

Have you been to Haifa?
Never because Palestinian refugees prohibited by Israeli government based on Rights for Return.

Do you regret due to your two missions?
I never regret my actions.

Do you believe Palestine can be an independent state?
Obviously, I believe. It’s just a matter of time. I’m so convinced if Palestinians continue their struggle they can reach their freedom.

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