Terrorist and plane hijacker addressed Leeds University students and advocated 'armed struggle'

Camilla Turner
·3 min read
Palestinian activist Leila Khaled - Anadolu Agency 
Palestinian activist Leila Khaled - Anadolu Agency

A terrorist and plane hijacker addressed Leeds University students and advocated using “armed struggle” as a means of resistance.

Leila Khaled, who rose to fame in the 1970s after hijacking two international flights for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), spoke to students at a virtual event on Friday.  

During the Zoom meeting, organised by the Leeds University Palestine Solidarity Group, Khaled told students that Palestinians are “not afraid of struggle”.

She went on to say: “We have used all means of struggle and we are still determined to continue using all means of struggle including armed struggle.”

Following her recorded address, the chair of the meeting, Adam Saeed, told attendees: “I think we can all be inspired by this”.

He added: "Everything that she said about international law is true, it doesn't mean that anyone in this meeting endorses or encourages anyone to take arms, what it means is that under int law people are entitled to resist occupation in any means they see fit."

Layla Khaled - Bettmann 
Layla Khaled - Bettmann

The university has launched an investigation into how the webinar took place despite the society having been denied permission to host it.

It is understood that Zoom also attempted to prevent the webinar from taking place, but the event’s organisers found a way around this.

Khaled, age 76, became prominent in the 1970s as an operative for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), which is now a designated terrorist organisation under US laws.

Her first airline hijacking was in 1969 when a flight was on its way from Rome to Tel Aviv but forced to divert to Damascus.

She had extensive plastic surgery to prevent anyone from recognising her when she carried out the second hijack the following year on an El Al flight from Amsterdam to New York City.

The plane landed at Heathrow where she was arrested and held for 28 days at Ealing police station, before being released by the then prime minister, Edward Heath, in exchange for western hostages held by the PFLP.

The Leeds University event, called “We Will Not Be Silenced with Leila Khaled”, took place last Friday.

Leeds Jewish Society and the Union of Jewish Students said they are “extremely disturbed and shocked” that the event took place.

“This event went ahead despite it being shut down by Zoom, on the basis that they would have been providing a platform for a terrorist," they said. 

"This event also included academics and students at the University, all being complicit in sharing this platform. It is imperative that Jewish students are able to access academic spaces, both virtual and physical, free of hate and prejudice.”

Leila Khaled holds signs during a demonstration organised by Jordanian women's groups in front of the US embassy in Amman
Leila Khaled holds signs during a demonstration organised by Jordanian women's groups in front of the US embassy in Amman

Prof James Dickins, from the university’s Arabic department, attended the event and gave a speech to students following Khaled's address. 

Asked whether he thought it was appropriate for the event to take place, he said that he is “inclined towards pacifism”, adding: “As the attorney and human rights activist, Stanley Cohen, points out, under international law, all occupied people, including the Palestinians, have the right resist their occupation".

 A Leeds University spokesman said: “The student union only became aware of this online event the day before it was due to take place.

 “Organisers had not followed the required protocol and had not given sufficient notice – specifically about the existence of an external speaker ­– so permission for the event was denied.

 “We were disappointed that the event organisers chose to proceed without our permission. We are investigating this matter further.”