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Leila Khalid: Palestinian Freedom Fighter

Leila Khaled was born in 1944 to a middle-class family in Haifa, Palestine. At the at the age of four, Khaled,
her family and thousands of other Palestinians were made to go into exile from their homes. This was the
beginning of the first Arab-Israeli conflict that would continue to erupt for decades, even now in the present
day. Her family, minus her father who decided to stay behind to fight, moved to Tyre in Lebanon. There they
stayed for over fifteen years in a cramped home in utter poverty.

Pushing the Gender Boundaries

Being Muslim, Khaled’s mother wished for her to stay at home, settle down and have a family. Khaled had
other ideas. She joined her brothers when they joined the Arab National Movement (ANM). In 1962, Khaled
tried to get away from the fighting and ANM when she obtained a scholarship to the American University in
Beirut. After a couple of years, the money ran out and Khaled was forced to move to Kuwait and become an
elementary teacher. She never left the realm of politics, and once again Khaled found herself within the thick
of it. This new political connection was within the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine

Fighting for the PFLP, Khaled had to prove that she was a capable freedom fighter. For years she was a
translator and secretary, and then she was trained in combat. Khaled’s first major job as a female terrorist
was in 1969. This job was also one of PFLP’s most dangerous to pull off. Khaled spent months learning how
to fly a large aircraft, and on the prescribed day, Khaled hijacked a plane with a fellow freedom fighter, Salim
Essawi. In the end, they ransomed off the Israeli prisoners and in exchange, Khaled was able to free thirteen
Palestinian political prisoners, while injuring no one. This was a major victory, and it showed the world that
Arab women were just as capable as men to fight. This act marked her as terrorist by Israel and the Western
world, and a household name in the Middle East.

Due to her fame, she was recognized all over the world. This stopped her from being able to go on any
future assignments with PFLP, so Khaled opted on her own to get plastic surgery to change her features. All
of the surgeries were done without pain killers, so she remembered the suffering of her fellow countrymen.
After she was healed, a second high-risk hijacking was set one year after the first one. This mission failed in
England with her comrade, Patrick Argüello, being killed and Khaled being arrested and beaten for her failed
attempts at overtaking the cockpit. She was released when the PFLP hijacked a plane with many British
prisoners and demanded Khaled’s release. The switch was made, Khaled was free once more, but the
damage was done. Khaled didn’t want to fight with an arsenal anymore.

After her botched hijacking, Khaled got plastic surgery to return her face to her original look, and she even
married an old PFLP comrade. The marriage didn’t last, and she was always a marked target. She married
again in the 1980s and worked towards a political seat within the PFLP after the murder of her sister. She
excelled in her role as a member of the Palestinian National Council with a platform for the rights of
Palestinian women and children. Even to this day Khaled has maintained an air of strength, knowing her role
in the PFLP, and remains an icon for all freedom fighters around the world.