Deadly Woman Terrorist From Under the Apple Tree

A recently published book by the woman who sent the suicide mission to attack Lod airport 30 years ago does not shed much light on the massacre.

During the years between the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War, Palestinian organizations carried out a series of terror attacks against airplanes on their way to Israel. This activity reached its peak in 1972. On May 8 of that year, members of the Black September organization hijacked a Sabena plane on its way from Brussels to Israel. The following day, the government approved a military operation to release the passengers and an Israel Defense Forces unit broke into the plane and took control of it. The release of the kidnapped passengers gave rise to a sense of joy and release - but this did not last long.

The surprise came from an unexpected direction. On the evening of May 30, three young men of Asian appearance landed at Lod airport. There was nothing unusual about their passage through the arrivals hall, and after passport control, they went to pick up their luggage. From their suitcases, they pulled out assault rifles and split up. One remained near the luggage belt, the second stationed himself near the entry to the hall, and the third stood on the tarmac, opposite an El Al plane that had just landed.

A signal was given and they opened fire from Kalashnikov rifles and threw grenades in every direction. They hit everyone who crossed their path, and there was no response from the airport security people. It was a massacre. They stopped firing only after five long minutes, when their ammunition ran out. At this point, two of the members of the cell took their last grenades and blew them up next to their own heads. The third terrorist was captured a few minutes later and handed over to Major General Rehavam Ze'evi, who had rushed to the scene and managed to rescue him from the rage of one of the security men.

The arrivals hall was full of bodies and puddles of blood. By the next morning, the official number of those who had been killed mounted to 24, most of them pilgrims from Puerto Rico. Among the five Israeli victims was Prof. Aharon Katzir, a world-renowned scientist and the brother of Ephraim Katzir, who became Israel's fourth president the following year.

The massacre at Lod was one of the most violent terror incidents that Israel had experienced on its own territory. Thirty years later, the reverberations of this incident are still being felt. About a year and a half ago, Fusako Shigenobu, the leader of the Japanese Red Army (JRA) terror organization that had carried out the attack, was arrested and she is now due to stand trial in Japan.

After the attack at Lod, Shigenobu hid out in Lebanon and later, perhaps, in Damascus. At the end of 2000, she was arrested in a hotel in Osaka - according to reports, disguised as a man - not long after she landed in Japan. She was then 55, a middle-aged woman, without the long hair and the sharp beauty that had characterized her, but still gripped with revolutionary fervor. In 1974, the year Shigenobu first entered Interpol's international most-wanted list because of her involvement in the attack on the French Embassy in the Hague, her arrest would have created an international sensation. Nearly three decades later, the report attracted relatively little attention. It is not clear whether Shigenobu had tired of the chase and wanted to return to Japan. It has been claimed that before her arrest, she had intended to complete the procedures for the naturalization of her daughter, who was born in Lebanon. She did not manage to do so and since then she has been held under arrest awaiting her trial. Quite a long time will pass before the legal procedures against her are completed.

Narrow glimpse

In April of last year, Shigenobu's book "I Decided to Give Birth to You Under the Apple Tree," was published in Japan. The book, which was written as a long letter to her daughter, May, sums up her history as a wanted terrorist. More than a diary of memoirs, the book is a manifesto - and a disappointment for anyone who is looking for confidential details of her involvement in international terror. Shigenobu took good care not to incriminate herself or her accomplices, though she has afforded a narrow glimpse into her world and her values.

She was born in Tokyo a month and half after Japan's surrender in World War II, the third of four children in a family that lived in crowded conditions. Before the war, her father had held leftist political ideas, but during the war, he served in China and became an officer. After Japan's defeat, her father opened a bakery. According to her, he was a strict father, the son of a former samurai (warrior) family from Kagoshima, who did not demonstrate much love for his children. However, he played an important role in shaping Shigenobu's self-image as a social reformer. In their neighborhood lived many immigrants from Korea to whom the locals related in a negative way, but the father forbade his daughter to discriminate against them.

At the night school where she studied, Shigenobu joined radical groups and eventually became aware of the Palestinian issue. She went to Beirut in 1971, with the intention of setting up international bases for the revolution in Japan.

In her book, she describes in detail the birth of her daughter, May, fathered by a Palestinian whose identity she has kept secret. The daughter was born exactly nine months after the attack at Lod, and indeed was named for the event. During the following years, Shigenobu lived in a refugee camp and in a villa in the mountains near Beirut, but she did not specify what she was doing then.

Although she has implicit criticism of the oppression of women in Palestinian society, she writes about this with the detachment of an anthropologist. It is evident, however, that she is very supportive of the Palestinian struggle and, even today, displays no remorse about the victims or any inklings about the complexity of the conflict.

She has almost nothing new to say about the massacre at Lod beyond what is already known. Then, however, during the first days after the incident, there was a thick fog surrounding the perpetrators of the attack and their motives. The terrorist who was captured gave a false name at first and provided only ideological declarations. The day after the attack, one of the investigators told journalists he was surprised by "the subject's strong character," adding "these are people with whom we are not accustomed." The Japanese government, however, had no doubts - the attackers were Japanese and well-known on the terror front that was battering Japan as well.

Government secretary Noburo Takashita, who eventually became prime minister, expressed profound apologies and the Japanese government quickly paid compensation of $1.3 million for the deeds of the three terrorists. But it also sent a delegation to Arab countries to apologize for the apology to Israel.

Two days after the attack, the terrorist who had been captured was identified as Kozo Okamoto, a 24-year-old student who had dropped out of agricultural school at Kagoshima University. He was also the younger brother of one of the hijackers of a Japanese passenger plane to North Korea two years earlier.

The investigation found that Okamoto had gone to Beirut in April to join his two brothers in arms, Tesuyoshi Okadaira and Yoshiaki Yasuda. They trained in southern Lebanon and on May 16, Okadaira informed them of the planned action. They flew to Paris and from there went on to Frankfurt, where they were given passports and weapons. The three then proceeded to Rome, where they waited until the day of the action. They boarded an Air France plane on its way to Israel.

Violent tradition

Japanese involvement in international terrorism did not have extensive roots until then, but Japan itself had been suffering from the activities of radical leftist groups for about two decades, and from a far longer tradition of violent social protest. The most extreme element on the Japanese left was an umbrella organization of several student organizations, which was founded in the late 1940s and was initially under communist control. In 1958 its leaders were purged and founded a rival organization called the Communist League, which promoted extreme violence against the establishment and police that was intended to cause ferment among the working classes and bring about a revolution.

At the end of the 1960s, when the student revolution in the West was already waning, radical activity at Japanese universities was reaching its peak. In 1969, the Red Army Faction (Sekigun-Ha) was founded during a split in the Communist League. In that same year, a representative of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (headed by George Habash) came to Tokyo and found an attentive audience in this group.

During that year, Japanese police succeeded in suppressing the students without bloodshed. About 15,000 activists were arrested. In dire straits, some of the activists turned to terror actions outside Japan. In March, 1970, nine members of the Red Army Faction hijacked a Japanese plane to North Korea. About a year later, the Red Army Faction split and from this was born the United Red Army, which went back to terrorist activity in Japan.

At the same time, the Japanese Red Army (Nihon Segikun) was also founded. It was supposed to serve as an international base for the United Red Army. The organization rapidly developed into a terror underground with a small number of activists. The success of the action at Lod in Palestinian eyes gave the organization a free base for independent action in Lebanon. From two members at the outset, the number of Japanese activists in Lebanon grew to several dozen.

In Japan, however, the attempt to unite the various splinter groups led to an internal purge and the murder of 12 members of the organization, and finally to the arrest of most of the activists by the police. Those who remained continued in international terror and defined themselves as revolutionaries, not terrorists.

The reflection of Japanese society in all factions of the Red Army was evident in the great sensitivity to the status of the women. Despite its revolutionary tendencies, there was a close relationship between the status of the university from which an activist came and his status in the organization. Women, however, suffered from low status with no relation to the university at which they studied, and most of them were considered to be only girl friends of activists and served in auxiliary positions. The only woman who managed to break through these limitations absolutely was Shigenobu. She was involved in the organization since its inception, both as the girl friend of one of the leaders and in her own right.

Later she stood out as a fund-raiser, and remained on the central committee of the organization even after her boyfriend took part in the hijacking of the plane to North Korea and remained there. She was one of the two founders of the cell in Lebanon in February, 1971, and led the JRA after the death of her lover, Okadaira, in the attack at Lod.

After 1973, the JRA refrained from direct struggle with Israel and most of its attacks were aimed at freeing jailed members. The organization not only succeeded in forcing foreign governments to do this, but also obtained a great deal of money from ransom. Gradually, its activities dwindled. The last time the organization was linked to a terror action was in 1988, when five Americans were killed in an explosion at a recreational club for the military in Naples.

Last echo

With the end of the Cold War, and especially with the beginning of the peace process in Israel, the presence of the organization became an annoyance to the Arab states. In Japan itself, the organization had been wiped out in 1972, but radical activity continues to this day. Though Japan is justifiably proud of having the lowest crime rate among its citizens, at the same time, many underground organizations are active both on the left and on the extreme right, which aim to change the face of society by violent means. During the 1980s, the number of guerrilla actions in Japan increased, but most of them were not deadly.

No wonder then that when the AUM Shinrikyo embarked on terror actions in the Tokyo subway in 1995, it was at first perceived by the Japanese public as another protest and guerrilla organization that was carrying on along tradition.

Though many of the radical students of the 1960s integrated well into the Japanese political and economic system, the members of the JRA have not done so well. The hijackers of the plane to Korea remain there to this day, and the Japanese government has been assiduously negotiating to have them extradited. Okamoto, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in Israel, was released in 1985 after serving 13 years as part of a large-scale exchange of prisoners with Ahmed Jibril's organization. It was claimed that he had lost his sanity in prison, but after his release, it seemed that he partially recovered.

Japanese pressure on the government of Lebanon led to his imprisonment again, along with four other members of the organization. They were convicted of forging passports. Despite repeated requests by the Japanese government, Lebanon refused to extradite them. Finally, in March, 2000, Lebanon granted Okamoto political asylum, for the first time ever in that country, because of his uncompromising struggle against Israel - as was declared. His four colleagues, however, were deported to Jordan and from there extradited to Japan. The noose around Shigenobu contained to tighten and eight months later, she was captured in Osaka.

The last echo of this affair, at the moment, was heard from Shigenobu's daughter, who landed in Japan for the first time last April. May turned out to be a mature and impressive woman and in her interviews to the press, she sounds like a softer version of her mother. She revealed a little of the story of her life in Lebanon and disavowed the belief that a deadly terrorist cannot be a warm and loving mother. Throughout her childhood, she was raised under the cover of secrecy, as she related in fluent Japanese, and in constant fear of the Israeli Mossad. Now, too, she does not reveal where she lives and she is not prepared to speak about the people with whom she lived in the past.

Japan is still engaged in the merciless pursuit of the aging activists of the JRA, for fear of a new outbreak. In Israel, the scars of the massacre at Lod have never healed and suicide terror has become a tragic and deadly part of everyday life - even more than it was in the past.