29th August 1969 Leila’s First Hijack

Leila Khaled

Today in 1969, and just twelve months after Women’s Libbers first burned a bra at an Atlantic City protest against inequality, a new kind of World Revolutionary was born when twenty-five-year-old Leila Khaled of the PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) hijacked TWA Flight 840 en route from Rome to Athens. Accompanied by her PFLP comrade Salim Issawi, Khaled diverted the Boeing 707 east to Damascus, after first requesting that the pilot fly over Haifa so that the hijacker could view briefly the homeland she had, along with 750,000 other Palestinians, been forced to flee when she was four years old. At Damascus Airport, the passengers were exchanged for the release of 13 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody, after which the American airliner was destroyed with explosives by the two terrorists. But it was the subsequent worldwide publication of that iconic monochrome photo of Khaled – her beautiful face framed loosely by her cotton kaffiyeh, demurely clutching her AK-47 rifle – that immediately launched her into the same astral orbit as her own hero Che Guevara. And through that single revolutionary action, as Eileen Macdonald wrote in her book Shoot the Women First: “She shattered a million and one taboos overnight and she revolutionised the thinking of hundreds of other angry young women around the world.”

Five decades later, today living in Jordan and still utterly committed to her Palestinian cause, Leila Khaled continues to redefine our notions of a female revolutionary: “I no longer think it’s necessary to prove ourselves as women by imitating men,” she says. “I have learned that a woman can be a fighter, a freedom fighter, a political activist, and that she can fall in love, and be loved, she can be married, have children, be a mother.”

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10 Responses to 29th August 1969 – Leila’s First Hijack

  1. Paul Wyrd says:

    Some women burn bra’s, others hijack planes! Nice one!

  2. Anonymous says:

    My father, an American, was on that plane. He was very terrified. Yet today, he only tries to better understand their cause and motivation, what it is they have been fighting for. Had my father been killed, you better believe I would not care about their cause one iota, that I would want them removed from the face of the Earth. There is a lesson here, but I’m not sure what it is. I do know that terrorism is not the answer. There must be other means of getting attention for one’s struggle. I do pray for peace and for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for ALL.

    • fatima says:

      one of the most brave woman in this world

    • fatima says:

      I love laila Khalid

    • Susan Mulholland says:

      I was on that flight that day. I was 13 years old. The woman may have been fighting for the PLO but no one on board that flight was worth killing almost 205 people.

    • Giorgio Cosentino says:

      Note to Mrs. Khaled: My father just passed away two weeks ago, so I am reflecting on his life, including this incident of terror. I also wrote the December 8th comment, in 2012. What I wrote was in error as my sister has reminded me that my dad was not terrified at all. Maybe everyone knew they would not be harmed? My dad was the one you instructed to be last to exit the plane, that he was supposed to help everyone, that he had 5 minutes before the explosion. He also remembered eating roasted chicken (with raisins and spices) in brown paper bags. He always remembered food. I am glad that no one was hurt, but I would have preferred that you made your statement by placing your own life on the line, not the lives of innocents. Be like Gandhi or Dr. King. I was 5 years old when you did this. I’m not saying your cause was/is not one that is just, I am simply opposed to the means you employed. I pray for peace, and freedom of the oppressed.

    • Pingback: An ode to Leila Khaled, a woman who shook the world | For Naija

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