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Poet, Singer, and Activist

Leila Khaled: a Revolutionary Symbol

Hijacker, Leila Khaled

Leila Khaled

Times come around and the revolutionaries of yesterday become legendary symbols and potential peacemakers for the future. One of the most such legendary figures of the Palestinian struggle for national liberation is Leila Khaled, who re-visited the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon recently.  A refugee herself, Leila was forced to flee Haifa as a 4 year old girl in 1948 and later became the first female member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in 1967. She remains a member in the PFLP Leadership Council and no doubt a potential participant for any lasting peace treaty whenever that happens.

Leila made herself and the Palestinian cause the newspapers headlines, when she first hijacked a TWA plane going from Rome to Athens and landed at the Heathrow London Airport in 1969. This was perhaps the first hijacking of its kind carried out by a young woman ever in the history of aviation to draw to the attention of its global community, an international problem blatantly ignored. Ironically, her cause remains as potent today as it was then 42 years ago. What followed in the Middle East and elsewhere for that matter, relating to this festering saga, directly or indirectly, turned uglier and uglier. Supporting the rights of Palestinians now automatically means being anti Israel and a support for suicide bombings and violence against innocent people, while the fact remains that the Israel has a right to exist and displaced Palestinians need their home and their rights restored. It is eerily similar to how people react to prolonged and polarizing issues of the not-so distant past in Punjab. Land, Language and Water rights in Punjab somehow became relegated to “Sikh issues,” which caused the further partition of Punjab and further loss of culture and Punjabiat. Discussing the grave situation Punjab and its people have been subjected through in the 1980s ending with the horrifying state sponsored massacre of innocent Sikhs in New Delhi, usually ends up being a politicized argument based on religion, and political affiliation.

At the time of this hijacking in 1969, I lived in England, not far from Heathrow Airport, where this drama was unfolding. Like everyone else I was greatly impacted by this high jacking. I was especially impressed by the hijacker, Leila Khaled herself, an educated young woman and the fact that none of the passengers or crew members were harmed. I was enthralled by her story. As I read more about the situation in Palestine, I couldn’t help but feel a connection.

I was about her age when my family and I were forced to leave our home in what is now Pakistan during the partition in 1947.  Like her, I was deprived to visit my ancestral home at village Jandiala in District Lahore.  I was growing up on the other side of the Wagah border in village Bhakna almost the same distance on the Indian side as Jandiala was now on the Pakistani side.

In our case, and for so many others like us on both sides of the border, the fate was sealed in 1947 for better or for worse by our respective leaders in collaboration with the then Colonial masters.  The people on both sides of the man-made border were suddenly refugees and made to be the sacrificial lambs, who actually paid the price of freedom for both India and Pakistan. Under the circumstances and having gone through some heart wrenching period, refugees from both sides, many of whom lost their near and dear ones during that avoidable madness, confusion and chaos,  governments on both sides tried to help settle their displaced population over time. But there is no such closure yet, even after 63 years for Palestinians who were displaced exactly at the same time in 1948 as many still live in refugee camps.

The U.S President, Barack Obama, delivered a major speech today on May 19, 2011 covering the world events (full video of the speech above). Apart from other things, the President made a special emphasis on the sea change started in the Middle East and North Africa by its own people; A sea change in the mindset of its people to bring the desired revolution from the inside by themselves rather than waiting from the outside. Coupled with the promise the U.S president made to help giving it a push forward to strengthen these emerging democracies and not helping the dictators’ as have been done in the past, opens a new chapter in the history looking forward.

Leila Khaled’s story touched me so close to my heart that I started to write a poem about her which I could only finish very recently. As poet and an optimist at that, I thought it appropriate to post my poem, “ਲੈਲਾ ਖਾਲਿਦ: ਇੱਕ ਕਿੱਸਾ ਕਹਾਣੀ” to coincide with this good omen and share it with readers. Currently, there is only the Punjabi version (Gurmukhi), but please leave a comment or contact me if you’d like to see an English translation of this poem. An audio version is also coming soon.

As ever please let me know your thoughts about it.

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