ROME – Renowned Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine militant Leila Khaled was stopped by Italian border police in Rome after she disembarked a flight from Amman, according to Italian press reports. She was expected in the Italian capital as well as in the southern city of Naples to give talks on the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the PFLP, but was sent back to Amman.
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Italy’s Department of Public Security issued a statement insisting that the stopping of Khaled was a purely administrative act, not a political decision. “The Jordanian citizen arrived to Rome from Amman without a valid Schengen visa [allowing passage through European borders], and was sent back in compliance with national and international Schengen regulations,” the statement read.
‘Why welcome her?’
Khaled’s arrival had already sparked controversy in Italy, as she took part in the hijacking of airlines in 1969 and 1970. “Why should we welcome a militant who became famous hijacking planes to destroy the State of Israel, in other words a terrorist who is still proud for what she did,” wrote prominent pro-Israeli columnist Pierluigi Battista in “Corriere Della Sera,” Italy’s largest daily. He endorsed the Italian Jewish communities’ vocal protest against the arrival of the Palestinian militant, who has become an icon of Palestinian armed resistance against Israel.
Now that Khaled’s entry to Italy has been blocked by Fiumicino Airport border security, pro-Palestinian organizations are voicing their outrage. Napoli Direzione Opposta (Naples Opposite Direction), the association that was due to host Khaled at the event in Naples, wrote on its Facebook page that “this episode shows how Italian institutions are submissive to the Zionist lobby and the Mossad.”
According to Riccardo Pacifici, former president of the Jewish community in Rome, “Italian authorities acted rightfully against a member of a terrorist organization which is also on the blacklist of the EU; it would be nave to think that the decision was non-political,” Pacifici said. “We should welcome in Italy all Palestinians who are willing to discuss the creation of a state next to Israel, not those who advocate the creation of a state instead of Israel, like the terrorist Khaled.”Khaled largely owes her fame to a series of photographs depicting her as an attractive young female hijacker, smiling with a kaffiyeh over her head and a rifle in her hands. The most famous photo was taken in the aftermath of a plane hijacking of 1969, when a Rome-to-Tel Aviv TWA flight was forced to divert to Damascus by a PFLP commando squad, of which Khaled was part. There were no casualties in the attack.
The following year Khaled and hijacking partner Patrick Arguello attempted to hijack an Amsterdam-to-New York El Al flight, but did not succeed. During a struggle onboard, Arguello shot a crew member and was shot to death by security. Khaled was taken into custody by British police but released three weeks later in a swap for dozens of Western hostages.
Khaled, 73, has maintained an uncompromising attitude towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recent statements published on the PFLP website, she denounced all initiatives that might lead to a “normalization” of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Outrage at European Parliament
She set off controversy in September when she took part in an event at the European Parliament in Brussels titled “The Role of Women in the Palestinian Popular Resistance.” The event was organized by far-left Spanish MEPs. “The European Parliament GUE group [European United Left] used the democratic institution they were elected to, and which represents all of Europe’s citizens, to spread their whitewashing and hate-filled agenda,” the Brussels pro-Israel lobby Europe Israel Public Affairs told Haaretz at the time.
Following Khaled’s participation in the conference, Antonio Tajani, the conservative Italian president of the European Parliament, proposed banning from the European Parliament anyone who had been involved in terrorism, which the Parliament endorsed.