1970s Revolutionary Chic

Leila Khaled mural. Separation Wall, 2015.

“Good thing it wasn’t Leila Khaled,” my father muttered, as the Carabinieri carted off an Arab-looking man in handcuffs, submachine guns pointed towards his back. “It was too easy.”

Waiting in line to board a flight to Tel Aviv in Rome, the man in question had been discovered to have been carrying a pistol and grenades in his briefcase. For a brief moment, we could see their images on the x-ray machine screen from where we stood. The arrest of their owner was carried out silently and without a struggle.

The year, if I remember correctly, was 1976. Khaled, as I was to learn, had helped hijack a Tel Aviv-bound TWA flight from the same airport seven years earlier. The aircraft ended up being diverted to Damascus, where the PFLP guerrilla was turned into an icon by photographer Eddie Adams, who captured the photogenic Khaled clad in a keffiyeh, cradling her Kalashnikov.

Nine years old at the time, she was the first Palestinian revolutionary whose face I would come to remember, after Yasir Arafat. A Middle Eastern Che Guevara equivalent, it is hard to underestimate what great PR the portrait was for the Palestinians, particularly given her gender. Up until then, Israel had owned woman warrior chic, with images of Jewish women soldiers bearing Uzis, common in the Western press since the 1950s.

In an era in which the women soldiers of the Kurdish YPG have taken the place of onetime feminist icons like Khaled, it would make sense to see her reappear somewhere, somehow, now. The following flyer, found in Berlin’s heavily Palestinian – not to mention Kurdish – borough of Neukölln, makes sense.

Used to promote a Communist youth organization, the flyer harkens back a distinctly different, albeit more optimistic time in Middle Eastern history.

Karl-Marx-Straße. Berlin, March 2017.


* born 9 April 1944 in Haifa (Palestine)

Lives and fights in Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan

Leila Khaled grew up as one of thirteen children in an Arabic-Christian Palestinian family.

After being forcefully evicted by the Zionists, she grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon.

At the age of 15 she became actively involved in the Arabic nationalist movement.

She oriented herself along the lines of Fatah, where she was not allowed to join the military wing because of her sex.

Following the Six Day War in 1967, she joined the revolutionary anti-imperialist PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine), which was inspired by Marxism and trained her in armed battle and guerrilla warfare in Jordan.

In 1969 she lead an aircraft hijacking operation to blackmail authorities into freeing prisoners thus becoming a heroine for the oppressed Arabic peoples.

After that, she had several face surgeries to continue her military missions despite her high profile.

Later on she was appointed member of the PFLP Central Committee.

Since then she has been fighting as an undaunted revolutionary, anti-Zionist and warrior for the oppressed Palestinian nation, women and the global movement against imperialism.

“Who determines and defines what terror is? As for me, I consider the occupation to be terror. My people and I have a right to fight this occupation. I don’t care how others call it. Peoples have the right to fight the occupiers of their land by all available means – including weapons.” – Leila Khaled

Women – resist and fight! The rebellion is justified!

Translated from the German by jze. Photographs courtesy of Edgardo W. Olivera and Joel Schalit. Published under a Creative Commons license.