Leila Khaled: Hijacker (2006)

Leila Khaled: Hijacker is a documentary that looks at the life of one of the most infamous Palestinian activists and examines the difference between terrorist and freedom fighter.  While this semantic debate is a strong undercurrent throughout the film, the main emphasis is on two women separated by a generation and upbringing. The filmmaker Lina Makboul is a significant on-screen character who finds her teenage idol and tries to get her to open up. The film follows this timeline in the present as well as tracing the activities of Leila Khalid almost four decades ago. These alternating narratives compliment each other very well mainly because of the rapport between the two women created by belief in a common cause. Makboul is also a Palestinian but unlike Khaled, she grew up in a very different place in a very different time.

The film follows Khaled through her two hijackings, arrest, and release into exile. Archival footage is used very effectively to give viewers the historical context that is often absent from popular knowledge. Interviews with the victims of the hijackings include pilots and passengers and do not seem to bring up particularly painful memories.  The Israeli pilot is certainly more hostile towards Khaled but both passengers and pilots seem to have put the incidents far in the past and outside of the current political climate. Indeed, much of the positive coverage of Khaled seems to be dependant on the fact that no one was hurt as a result of her actions.

Present day Leila Khalid is shown as a wife and mother who, while still active in protesting the Israeli occupation of Palestine, leads a normal life albeit in exile. Interviews with Khaled are very personal, often including the director in conversation. Beyond supporting a free and independent Palestine and condemning the attacks of 9/11, Khalid does not venture her political views as much as we would like to hear. It is clear that she supports the right of people to defend themselves violently if necessary and that she believes herself to be a freedom fighter and not a terrorist. However, what she might support to get her homeland back remains off the record. History is written by the victors to be sure, but a terrorist is someone who uses the threat of violence against civilians in an effort to accomplish a goal.  Leila Khalid was a terrorist but that category also has to include Nelson Mandela and the Israeli government


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