Palestinian revolutionary Leila Khaled on US-Israeli imperialism, Hamas’ October 7 attacks and the Kurdish liberation struggle

Leila Khaled

Leila Khaled is an iconic Palestinian revolutionary activist. A famous mural of her adorns an Israeli apartheid wall isolating the West Bank in Palestine. On International Women’s Day, Palestinians around the world hailed her as one of their great women leaders. Khaled is also a member of the national committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and their representative on the Palestine National Council. However, the Western media dubs her “the first woman plane hijacker” over two actions she participated in more than 50 years ago, and Israel brands her a “terrorist”.

Khaled today lives in exile in Jordan. From there, she gave two exclusive interviews to Green Left and LINKS International Journal of Socialist Renewal in February. Khaled is set to be the keynote speaker at Ecosocialism 2024, which will bring together activists from around the Indo-Pacific region. However, when word got out of her participation, Zionist groups and far-right Australian media commentators began a campaign to stop her speaking, either in person or by video link. The Australian Labor government has declared it will refuse Khaled a visa. 

In March, Meta took down the Facebook page of conference host Green Left over posts referencing Khaled and her participation at Ecosocialism 2024. Green Left and LINKS are campaigning to defend Khaled’s right to speak at the conference. (Statements of support are welcome and can be sent to

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry argued in its letter to the government that Khaled should not be allowed to speak as this “would be likely to have the effect of inciting, promoting or advocating terrorism.” This is nonsense. Khaled has visited Britain on multiple occasions over the past few years. Even Israel allowed her to visit the West Bank in 1996. She has also visited Sweden and South Africa. On one of her multiple visits to South Africa, she met former president Nelson Mandela, once also labelled a “terrorist” by the West, who welcomed her warmly in Johannesburg in 2006.

US/Israeli imperialism

Khaled says the real reason for the censorship is to “make us shut up about what Israel is doing in Gaza and the West Bank today. They don’t like to hear Palestinian voices and they don’t like any other people to hear Palestinian voices.” Israel tries to make out that it is defending itself from Palestinian terrorists and that they are the victims of anti-semitic violence but Khaled says: “We are the real victims here. I myself am a victim. I was forced to leave Palestine with my family in 1948. We were forced to leave our home and our country. They call us terrorists but occupation is the peak of terrorism… They have grabbed our country, they have stolen our properties in Palestine and now they want to make us shut up.” It is Israel, she says, that “is acting like it is above international law”. 

Australia and other Western countries say that “Israel has a right to defend itself. But Israel is not defending itself, it [has been] attacking for months and most of the casualties are women and children… South Africa, which is trying to prove in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that Israel is committing genocide, is now following up the case, as are other countries like Nicaragua, because Israel is not abiding by any rules of the court... 

“Israel is declaring they are going to launch a land attack on Rafah… Israel is now already attacking Rafah [however] they are not on the ground yet but they are bombarding it by planes.” Most of the world see this as the real “terrorism”, says Khaled. “There are 1.5 million people in Rafah now, because they drove people from the north and from the city of Gaza to go to the south. They went there but now [Israel] won’t allow them to go back to their homes, even if they were not [already] destroyed.”

In Khaled’s opinion, the United States “is the only government that can put the pressure that is needed to stop the genocide.” But “until now, the [Biden] administration is not putting enough pressure on Israel… People have nowhere to go today unless the Rafah border is opened. But it is not open yet [even] to receive humanitarian aid like medicines and food, even though the ICJ ordered Israel to let aid in to all parts of the Gaza Strip, especially in the north… Egyptians have sovereignty over the Gaza Crossing but Israel does not allow anybody to go out or in. So it is a siege…

“Governments are supposed to abide by rules but Israel is not following the ICJ’s [interim] orders. So, they should take action. For example, they can cut diplomatic relations to pressure Israel to stop its genocide. They can boycott Israeli products. This would put pressure on Israel. But, until now, the governments which follow the US are not taking those steps. They just hear their people shouting in the streets.”

The real reason that the US and its closest allies — including Australia — support Israel is because it is “a colonial settler state occupying the land of Palestine” that “protects their common interests. Those countries that share the interests of the US administration support its policy which has ended up with this war against the Palestinian people, not against Hamas…”

Hamas’ October 7 attacks

The Zionists are particularly furious that Khaled challenges the many lies about October 7 to justify its latest genocidal attack on Gaza and insists that the Palestinians have the right to resist occupation. “Hamas is part of the Palestinian resistance and are also freedom fighters… The freedom fighters did not attack ordinary people [on October 7], they attacked the military settlements. But when the borders were open some other people took civilians. Neither Israel nor the Western media could prove that there were massacres. The civilian hostages [who were released in one of the deals negotiated] said they were [treated] very kindly… So why are they speaking like this about massacres? Just to say that the freedom fighters are terrorists...

“In international law, people who are under occupation have the right to defend themselves with all means, including armed struggle. And this was part of the armed struggle. We have the right to defend ourselves from occupation and the siege of Gaza. So, they made up lies because they did not have any evidence. Even when [US President Joe] Biden showed some pictures, CNN said that he did not have evidence that this was what happened on October 7.”

Khaled explains that people around the world have been demonstrating because they know that the violence in Gaza did not begin on October 7. “Israel has carried out a lot of attacks on the people of Gaza. Four times they attacked Gaza and caused many casualties, in the first attack killing about 2000 children. The second time they killed more than 2000 children. And then there was a third and fourth attack on Gaza.”

Regarding the so-called two-state “solution” and alternatives, Khaled said: “This illusion of the two-state solution has been set for 40 years but they didn’t implement it so that we don’t have any freedom in our occupied country. The Oslo Accord stated Israel will withdraw and allow a Palestinian state. But Israel did not abide by the agreements that were signed…

“Before 1948, there were no Israelis in Palestine. There were Jews who were Palestinians but we don’t discriminate on the basis of religion. The Zionist movement brought people to Palestine after World War II to establish an Israeli state, which was guaranteed by the British colonial government of that time. We had our identity as Palestinians, including the Jews who were living with us. We didn’t drive out the Jews from Palestine. This is history, Palestine is Palestine.

“In 1949, the UN declared that there would be two states, a Jewish state and an Arabic state — not a Palestinian state. For us, to solve the problem it has to be recognised, first, that Israel does not have the right to occupy Palestine and, second, the right of return for the Palestinians. This is the key to solving the conflict. [But] Israel has denied our right of return, even though it was a condition in the 1948 UN resolution: Israel would be accepted as part of the international community and have a state in Palestine on condition that the Palestinians had the right of return. Because of the balance of forces at the time, Israel was accepted as a nation while the Palestinians remained refugees. I am one of those refugees as a result of the crime that happened in 1948.

“Now we are calling for a democratic state, with the return of the Palestinian refugees. Then, we can altogether live in Palestine and decide what kind of state we need.” Without this, Khaled says, the struggle will “continue from generation to generation”. This is because the Palestinian cause is a human cause, says Khaled: “We are defending humanity and not only in the Gaza Strip. We are trying to build a new history in the region against the imperialists, especially American imperialism, because they are the ones who launch wars and they are supporting Israel with all means and new arms.”

“Now the balance of forces is coming a little bit more in our favour. It is a step forward that people around the world have declared their support for free Palestine. ‘Free Palestine’ has become a slogan of the peoples of the world… They are demanding that the Israeli army ceasefire and withdraw from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.”

Kurdish liberation

Khaled has consistently spoken out in support of the Kurdish liberation struggle. She reaffirmed this support in the interview: “The Kurds were divided between four countries, Turkey, Iran, Syria and Iraq, since the end of the Ottoman empire. This is an injustice and this issue is still not solved. I know that they are oppressed and for this reason we have had links with the Kurds from a long time ago. They were trained in our camps because they were fighting for their rights.” Kurdish freedom fighters died defending Palestinian freedom fighters in Lebanon in 1982.

“The majority of the Kurds are in Turkey – some 20 million. Who is going to say that those Kurds in Turkey who are fighting the government are not the indigenous people? Nobody can say that. They are the people who have been living there but after many wars, some have been forced to flee to other countries. The Kurds are from there and they have a national identity, just as we have our identity as Palestinians. In Iraq, the Kurds have won the right to self-autonomy, although within the state of Iraq. They have the right to have their own parliament and their language. In Iran and Turkey, nothing like this has happened.”

While she has publicly condemned Turkey’s ongoing cross-border war on Kurds in Syria, Khaled has concerns that the autonomous territories held by the Kurds and allies in north and east Syria (Rojava) are too dependent on US intervention to weaken Syria as a country. “They have a right in Rojava to self-autonomy because that is just. So what [should] be the solution? Some Kurds speak about secession and a state of their own, but this will not give them their rights. In the current balance of forces, the Kurds cannot win a separate state, whether in Iraq, Iran, Syria or Turkey. This solution of self-autonomy within the existing states by the law is what can work.”