Ask yourself why a peace conference would sell swag promoting a terrorist icon in a church sanctuary, and why people who seemed genuinely interested in peace and justice would warmly and enthusiastically embrace such a conference.
I attended the entire Friends of Sabeel North America event “Justice for Palestine: Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” held at Peace United Church of Christ in Santa Cruz last month. (Sabeel is an international group founded by Palestinian Christians.) We all know that actions speak louder than words, so allow me to share what I saw.
T-shirts depicting Leila Khaled (holding an AK-47) were sold in the church sanctuary throughout the conference. Khaled is a terrorist. In 1970, she attempted to hijack an El Al passenger flight as part of the terror group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The only reason her hijacking was not successful was because Khaled’s grenade miraculously failed to explode and the heroic pilot, Uri Bar-Lev, engaged in a truly death-defying split-second flight maneuver, foiling the hijacking. Khaled was arrested in London, and stated to British authorities, “I am the leader of the hijack. My name is Leila Khaled and I am a member of the PFLP and from the unit of Rasmieh Odeh, a Palestinian woman prisoner.”
Some of the conference’s most renowned presenters called for rejection of a two-state solution and appeared to glorify terrorism. One presenter, Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource & Organizing Center in San Francisco, emotionally urged the conference attendees to “take up the cause” of the beloved and aforementioned Rasmieh Odeh.
While Kiswani mentioned Odeh specifically by name, she failed to mention a few key facts about her. Describing Odeh as an “elderly” female “political prisoner,” Kiswani contended that Odeh was tortured into a false confession by the Israelis and was a victim of an unjust prosecution by the U.S. government.
This misleading description received a standing ovation from the conference attendees. Did these peace and justice activists truly understand for whom they were cheering?
What Kiswani omitted was that Odeh confessed to helping plan a bombing of a grocery store in Jerusalem, which exploded during a busy Friday morning when the store was crowded with mostly women and children. The bomb blew two college students to bits as they were buying canned food to take on a botanical field trip. After quickly confessing her involvement, Odeh was convicted and served time in prison. Apparently remorseless, Odeh participated in at least two terrorist reunions in 1993 and 2004 (taped and available for viewing on YouTube).
When asked by an audience member why he did not criticize Hamas for its terrorist activities, BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti replied, “Can you blame the rape victim if she scratches the rapist?”
Unless an audience member was familiar with the players, it would be easy to be cynically manipulated. Carefully ensconced between the sweet words of justice, equality, love, peace and overcoming racism were veiled words of admiration for terrorists.
When I asked the young woman at the T-shirt table in the church sanctuary for a Leila Khaled shirt, she smiled and told me, “You’ve said the magic word.” Remember that: Leila Khaled is the magic word. She’s the litmus test. When asked to “lovingly imagine peace” at a conference on justice, and terrorists like Leila Khaled are being actively glorified, do not be fooled by the pretty words; you are being used.
Anastasia Torres-Gil is an alumna of the Wexner Heritage Program and Hadassah Leadership Fellows and founder of Style Mitzvah, a website that promotes Israeli and U.S. fashion, food, wine and design. She lives in Santa Cruz.