“Leila Khaled: Hijacker” is an interesting film. It’s one that attempts to profile the first female hijacker – Leila Khaled – and explore her life and motivations from the perspective of someone who idolised her. It hides nothing about its biases – it states from the outset that the director is the child of Palestinian immigrants who is very much in favour of a free Palestine. She agrees with Khaled’s reasons for the hijacking, but approaches the question of hijacking not from a perspective of right and wrong, but rather from the perspective of what should and should not be done. Is it better to commit an action with pure motives and have bad consequences, Makboul asks, or should it be the consequences that define an action? In profiling Khaled, Makboul considers not only Khaled’s story, but the effect it’s had on the struggles for a free and independent Palestine.
The question that initially inspired Makboul to make the film wasn’t necessarily one about whether or not terrorism was wrong. Makboul does delve into this question, however, comparing Palestinian terrorism with Israeli terrorism and asking how one is justified and celebrated while the other is condemned. It’s not an unbiased film by any means, nor should it be. At points, the very pro-Palestine rhetoric even comes into conflict with the even more radical Khaled, in many ways highlighting the woman and what she’s done in an even more meaningful way. Khaled, the film emphasises, has no regret and no pity for those who suffered on the planes she hijacked. She sought to send a message and did so, and considers herself a success for it.
The question that Makboul was intending to ask – and the one the film centres around, though it is sometimes less overt about it – is the question of whether or not Khaled regrets her actions knowing that it’s given Palestinians the reputation of being terrorists willing to harm innocent people. Makboul does eventually ask it, but ends the film before Khaled’s answer can be heard, leaving the answer ambiguous. However, it is not this question that is the most interesting aspect of the film, and ending the film by asking it seems almost a sort of weakness on the film’s part. The interesting questions are those of what happens when a freedom fighter becomes a terrorist and vice versa. It’s the question of what is justified and what is not, and who determines this. These are threaded throughout the film, jumping in and out of the story of Khaled’s life, and creating a maze of ethical and identity questions that is fabulous to wander through.
What is perhaps most enjoyable about the film, though, is how beautifully and how normally Makboul depicts Khaled’s life now. Rather than continuing to be a hijacker or constant freedom fighter, Makboul shows Khaled with her family, walking her dog, or vacuuming in her pajamas. This highly controversial figure becomes completely human. In many ways, this serves to further cement the idea of her not as a terrorist or as a person to be hated or feared – as some of those interviewed see her – but as an ordinary person who is, in many ways, still idolised by the filmmaker and those around her. In being so human, Khaled becomes even more larger than life.
This is the crux of the film. It is clearly biased and states its biases from the outset. It’s a film that is highly supportive of Khaled and what she stands for, and which sees Israeli actions as sometimes terroristic. It does a masterful job of presenting Khaled as a sympathetic figure while still offering to criticise. However, it is in what the film doesn’t explicitly say and in what the film is assuming that the truly interesting questions are raised. What is right, the film asks, in a situation like the one in Palestine? It offers the answer that Khaled had the right idea, and tries to sway the audience in that direction, but there remains enough ambiguity that this remains a question. It’s a fine portrayal of a controversial figure, and one which leaves the audience thinking for quite some time afterwards.
Swedish, Arabic, English
January 28, 2006 (Sweden)
Uri Bar Lev, Shadia Abu Ghazali, Leila Khaled, Lina Makboul, Moshe Dayan, Golda Meir, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin