Remembering Theresa Halasa: Revered Veteran of the Palestinian Resistance

Amman, Jordan — “I didn’t join the Palestinian resistance because I experienced suffering, I joined out of a sense of patriotism,” Theresa Halasa, a revered veteran of the Palestinian resistance said this in an interview in 2009. Halasa died in Amman on March 28, 2020, after succumbing to cancer. She was 65 years old.

In 1972, Halasa was one of four Palestinians who hijacked a Belgian Sabena airliner en route to Tel-Aviv. The objective was to keep the passengers hostage until the Israeli government agreed to release Palestinians held in Israel prisons. However, less than 24 hours after landing in Tel-Aviv, Israeli commandos stormed the plane dressed as technicians. They immediately killed two of the hijackers and captured the other two, Halasaamong them. Two of the commanders that led the raid were Ehud Barak and Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was slightly injured in the arm by a bullet during the raid. Israel claims it was from friendly fire, the Palestinians claim it was Halasa who caused the injury. Either way, it was no more than a flesh wound.


A Palestinian Patriot

Theresa Halasa was born in Palestine in 1954, not far from Akka in the beautiful town of Al-Rameh in the Upper Galilee. She studied nursing in Nazareth, and as a student, she joined Maki, the Israeli Communist Party which at that time was the political home to many activist Palestinian citizens of Israel. “I received my patriotism from my father,” she says repeatedly. “We did not suffer, suffering was not the cause for my joining the struggle, it was the sense of patriotism I received from my father.”

“I had a romantic notion that I would find the resistance in the streets, but that’s not where it was. There was no resistance in the streets,” Halasa says, “I had to go to Lebanon,” which at the time was the center of the Palestinian resistance. “I made the decision to leave for Lebanon in January, 1971,” she said.

Therese Halaseh

Therese Halasa, right, and Rima Issa Tannous, left, hear the reading of their life sentences at their trial on August 14, 1972. Castro | AP

Halasa left home without telling her family. She proceeded north towards Kiryat Shmona, an Israeli city near the Lebanese border, then to Matala, (the Israeli colony of Metula) and from there she crossed the border into Lebanon. “The trip, which would normally take an hour and a half, took me three nights and two days.” She arrived in Marj Ayun hungry and exhausted and from there she was led to a Fateh camp where she was questioned for several days.

“I had a few months of training with weapons and explosives and then had to swallow the news that I was selected for an operation.” The hijacking was planned by Ali Hasan Salame who headed the Palestinian “Black September” group.


Armed Resistance

Halasa never regretted participating in the highjacking, even though it came at great cost to her and her comrades. Two Palestinians were killed and she was injured. Furthermore, she and another female hijacker, Rima Tanous, were tried by an Israeli military court, convicted and sentenced to several lifetimes in prison. Both women would eventually be released in prisoner exchanges. Halasa ended up serving twelve years in an Israeli prison after which she was exiled to Jordan.

It is hard to say for sure what type of training she and the others received before embarking on this operation, but based on her testimony, it only lasted a few months. One can assume they learned how to operate small arms, machine guns, and hand grenades, and how to make explosives. One thing of which we can be sure is that the resources the Palestinian resistance had were not enough to prepare her and her comrades to face the Israeli army, much less an elite commando unit.

An Israeli combat soldier will go through many months of grueling basic training, after which the real work of learning to be a professional soldier begins. The resources Israel has are far superior and its soldiers are far better trained, equipped and even better fed than anything the Palestinian resistance could ever have hoped for. Consequently, when the Palestinian resistance fighters faced the Israeli commandos or even regular soldiers, the saga always ended swiftly with the Palestinians paying the heavier price.

Israel made sure that its military was always superior to any other military in the region. Since Palestinians have never had more than armed guerrilla forces, which cannot compare to a regular army, Israel always had the upper hand.


Israeli Oppression

In an interview with Aljazeera, Halasa said she believed that Palestine will only be returned to its people by the force of resistance, a claim that Israel has proven to be true over and over again. What this resistance will look like is, of course, another question. Israel has purposely made it impossible to resolve the Palestine question peaceably and without confrontation. As the years go by, the oppression, the killing, and the dispossession of Palestinian have become more entrenched.

Therese Halaseh funeral

Theresa Halasa is laid to rest in Amman, Jordan

Palestinian efforts at armed resistance and at negotiating have cost the Palestinians dearly and yielded no positive results. The only option left is to pursue dedicated, uncompromising campaigns of boycotts, divestment and sanctions. Israel must be isolated, its ambassadors must be sent home and all countries must call their ambassadors back from Tel-Aviv. The campaign must also demand an end to Israeli participation in the Olympic Games, the World Cup, all academic, cultural, sporting events must be closed to Israel.

Theresa Halasa did not live to see her homeland liberated. She stepped up and was willing to pay the price and indeed she paid a price for her patriotism, but the ultimate goal was not achieved. One hopes that she will be remembered and that the lessons of her experience will be shared widely so that all of us who are alive today will see her dream of a free Palestine become a reality.

Feature photo | An Israeli grabs the arm of Theresa Halasa, her arm wounded when Israeli troops attacked the Sabena jet held captive by Palestinian guerrillas at Lod International Airport in Tel Aviv, Israel on May 9, 1972. Photo | AP

Miko Peled is an author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. He is the author of “The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”

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Remembering Theresa Halasa: Revered Veteran of the Palestinian Resistance