She was allowed to speak in Spain. She was allowed to speak to the European Parliament in Brussels. But not in Italy. Leila Khaled’s Italian trip ended before it could begin, at the Fiumicino Airport in Rome. Officially, because of the supposed invalidity of her Schengen visa (a claim that the organizers of her tour are denouncing as false). Unofficially, because of the organized campaign that has worked for weeks, online and in national newspapers, to stop the Palestinian activist from speaking in our country.
They’re still afraid of Leila Khaled. A petition was launched on the Change.org online platform “against the Palestinian terrorist,” while the media representatives of the Italian Jewish community denounced “the visit by the former terrorist.”
In late September, this “terrorist” spoke in Brussels at the invitation of members of the European Parliament about the role of women in the Palestinian liberation movement. She did likewise in her visit to Spain.
In Italy, she was expected in Cagliari, Naples and Rome for three meetings organized by the UDAP, the Arab-Palestinian Democratic Union, which is now protesting, saying her visa was valid.
The Interior Ministry has a different story: “The normal verification procedures regarding the validity of the required documents showed that she lacked a valid Schengen visa.” This happened on Tuesday, and Khaled has now returned to Jordan, after being put on the first flight back.
What influenced the Ministry was the question posed in Parliament a few days ago by Mara Carfagna, spokeswoman for Forza Italia and city councilwoman in Naples (Khaled was set to talk at the Asilo Filangieri, where the mayor of the city, De Magistris, had also been invited). She asked Minniti to account for these meetings, which would take place “at such a sensitive time for the fight against international terrorism.”
A lot of noise and outrage was on display, which some Italian newspapers also gave voice to, and which, according to the events’ organizers, amounted to nothing more than an act of censorship. Just like those that have marked the past year, with a string of cancellations of events about the Palestinian issue because of the open pressures by the Italian Jewish community and the Israeli embassy.
In March, the Sapienza University of Rome denied permission at the last minute to use their hall for the event È tempo di giustizia in Palestina. Le responsabilità dell’Europa (“It’s time for justice in Palestine. Europe’s responsibilities”), organized, among others, by ARCI, FIOM and ASSOPACE, as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
A few days before, the city authorities had blocked the showing of three Palestinian films at the Nuovo Cinema Aquila in Rome. In February, the Italian Left had their request rejected for a hall on the Capitoline Hill to organize an event as part of the BDS campaign (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), which would have featured Ann Wright, a former diplomat and U.S. soldier, today a human rights activist, after indignant protests by the Israeli Embassy and the Jewish community in Rome.
Maybe it’s not because they’re scared of Leila Khaled. What is scaring them is Palestine, now forcibly removed from political discourse — starting from that of the Left — and reduced from an anti-colonialist struggle to a mere matter of public order. Khaled is a symbol for many: for Israel, of terrorism; for anti-Zionists, of resistance.
She has been a political inspiration for many Palestinians who knew her in the ‘60s and ‘70s, when, as a militant of the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), she took part in two airplane hijackings. Both ended without casualties, and Khaled has never killed anyone: the PFLP’s orders were to not endanger any passengers (and in the second case, when security forces intervened, she did not use the two grenades she was carrying).
A refugee since 1948, she is still a member of the Political Bureau of the Palestinian National Council, for which she works from Amman, where she lives in self-imposed exile in order to avoid arrest in Israel.
In the background of this dispute, we see a country, Italy, which is no longer able to deal with the Palestinian problem except by feats of censorship and removing the possibility for open debate.
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