Notorious Palestinian Plane Hijacker to Promote BDS in South Africa

Leila Khaled, who shot to fame with plane hijackings in 1969 and 1970, will be the guest of South African branch of anti-Israel boycott movement.

Leila Khaled
BDS poster advertising Leila Khaled's visit.

Infamous Palestinian plane hijacker Leila Khaled will be visiting South Africa next month as a guest of the local chapter of the international Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement and Muslim organizations.

BDS South Africa is known for its high-profile, anti-Israel stunts. Last November, It was prevented by court order from protesting outside branches of the Woolworths department store chain. In one of the protests, activists from the Congress of South African Students placed a pig's head in the kosher section of a Cape Town branch.

Born in Haifa in 1944, Khaled joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine at a young age and shot to global prominence with a series of hijackings in 1969 and 1970.

In the first, she was one of a group that hijacked a Trans World Airlines (TWA) flight from Rome to Athens in August 1969. The plane was redirected to Damascus, where it was blown up after the passengers were evacuated.

She struck again the following year – after undergoing plastic surgery – when she participated in the simultaneous hijacking of four El Al planes. That attempt was less successful than the first. Khaled was apprehended by an in-flight security officer and turned over to the British authorities.

She spent only 28 days in detention before then-prime minister Edward Heath released her in exchange for western hostages held by the PFLP.

Khaled was the first woman to hijack a plane. The worldwide distribution of a picture of her dressed in a keffiyah and clutching an AK-47 turned her into the poster girl of the Palestinian struggle.

The same picture is now being used by BDS in a poster publicizing Khaled visit.

Khaled, who now lives in Amman, will be in South Africa between February 6 and 14 and will be the guest of honor at a BDS dinner in Cape Town on February 12.

"For members of my generation, who were around and paying attention when Khaled was playing the poster girl of the hijacking game, it seems a bit odd for the BDS, which portrays itself as very squeaky-clean, righteous and peace-loving, to run a poster of this kind," said Jeremy Gordin, publisher of South Africa's largest circulation newspaper the Daily Sun.

"Obviously it's going to provoke the local Jewish community - in fact, I think they're going to make a big stink. But then that's what the BDS wants. On the other hand, seeing the poster of Khaled as she was then versus what she actually looks like now, is not without its humour ..."