By Bill Dores
I can think of no a greater honor than to introduce the next speaker. Although I met her in person only seven years ago, she has been my hero since I was 14 years old, when I took her picture from the front page of a newspaper and taped it to my wall.
Her name is Leila Khaled, and her story is the story of the people of Palestine. Born in the beautiful port of Haifa, she was four years old when her family was broken up and, like most Palestinians, she was forced from her home by racist US-funded settlers espousing the Nazi-like ideology of Zionism.
She grew up in exile in Lebanon and as a teenager joined the Lebanese people’s struggle against French and US occupation. She joined the Palestinian wing of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM). In 1967, Israel, backed by the United States, occupied the whole of Palestine. Then the Palestinian wing of ANM, inspired by revolution and people’s war in Vietnam and Cuba, formed the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
In 1969 Golda Meyerson, Israel’s prime minister from Milwaukee, said, “There were no such things as Palestinians, they do not exist.” She got her answer on Aug. 29, 1969, when Leila Khaled and a team of freedom fighters took over TWA Flight 840, telling Israel and the imperialist powers behind it that “my people shall live.” I would urge everyone to read her book of that name. She mace the pilot fly over Haifa, seeing her home from the air for the first time since her family was forced into exile.
Her image, wearing a hatta and holding a Kalashnikov, became known around the world, a symbol of the survival and defiance of the Palestinian people, of all oppressed people. She was so well known that she had six plastic surgeries. Once again, in 1971, she boarded El Al flight 219 to win the freedom of Palestinian political prisoners held by the racist state. She was captured and her Nicaraguan comrade Patrick Arguello was martyred. Her comrades seized another plane and won her freedom, and she returned to the battlefield. Today she continues to advocate eloquently and tirelessly for the rights of her people.
The people of Palestine are vilified and hated by the imperialist enemies of humanity because they refuse to surrender the most basic human right: to live in peace and freedom in their own home, in their own land. That home happens to be a land strategically situated at the crossroads of Africa and Asia in a region that holds the lion’s share of one of the world’s most profitable commodities.
For that very same reason the people of Palestine are loved and admired by the oppressed of the world, by those who fight for freedom from South Africa to South America, from the Philippines to Ferguson, Missouri. Because for generation after generation they have refused to surrender their rights, defying not only the apartheid settler state of Israel but the monster that stands behind it, the imperialist ruling class of the United States and its monstrous war machine.
Today that monster, the Washington-Tel Aviv-Saudi axis, is waging war directly or by proxy against all the people of the region, from Palestine to Syria, from Iraq to Yemen. They kill and kill because only war and destruction can keep Wall Street banks at the center of the world economy and a sea of petrodollars, the stolen wealth of the Arab people, flowing into their vaults.
The power of Wall Street, the Pentagon and the US dollar depend upon that stolen wealth, upon the giant protection racket that the US and the Zionist entity run in the so-called “Middle East”. Reagan’s Secretary of State Alexander Haig called the racist state of Israel “the biggest American aircraft carrier in the world, and the only one that can’t be sunk.’
Now more than ever the people of the world, truly represented with us here today, must stand with the people of Palestine. We stand with the people of Palestine because Israel is a brutal apartheid state that Nelson Mandela described as “worse” than apartheid South Africa. We stand with the people of Palestine because the brutal racist state of Israel is fundamental to the global system of apartheid, which divides the world into rich and poor, so that the wealthy ruling classes of a few imperialist countries can live off the backs of the majority of humanity.
We repeat the words of another Palestinian revolutionary that we must always honor, Dr. George Habash, founder of the PFLP, that “the oppressed and starving of the world must be victorious.” From the river to the sea, Palestine must be free!