THE 69-year-old Venezuelan internationalist, Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, rechristened ‘Carlos the Jackal’ by the media, was in the French courts last week to challenge his conviction for life. The case he appealed against was a 1974 one in which a grenade tossed in Paris’s Saint-Germain-des-Pres, (Champs Elysee Avenue) killed two persons at the Drugstore Publicis while 36 were injured. His conviction on this charge, is lacking in hard evidence including fingerprints and DNA. Rather, it is driven more by circumstantial evidence and supposition.
Carlos does not think his appeal will yield any tangible results. In any case, he has two other life sentences hanging on his neck. One for the 1975 killing of an informant and two French security agents, and the other for attacks on a railway station and a Paris street in which 11 were killed and 150 injured.
In all probability, Carlos, whose primary goal is the defence of Palestinian rights across the globe, will die in jail because the Palestinian cause for which he fought has few backers in Europe. He confounded Western intelligence, even taunting them, and was seen as a symbol of the Cold War politics.
The Zionists who founded modern Israel felt they had the right to assassinate all those they considered enemies of the Jews. So for decades, they went after Germans they considered complicit in the Second World War pogrom against the Jews. When they thought the British colonialists who ruled Palestine were obstacles to their realisation of the State of Israel, they attacked them. The most infamous of these was the Monday, July 22, 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, the British administrative headquarters by the Zionist organisation, the Irgun. Ninety-one persons from various countries were killed with 46 injured.
In the 1950s, Israelis assassinated some Egyptians through letter bombs. One of their most infamous assassinations was that of (West) German rocket scientist, Hein Schillerstrans who was accused of doing some work for Egypt. His body was never found, however, the Germans apprehended the Israeli assassins when they went after another German scientist.
Carlos was so appalled by the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians that at 21, he left Moscow, where he had just been expelled from the then Patrice Lumumba Friendship University, to join the Palestinian struggle.
Carlos’ father, José Altagracia Ramírez Navas was a radical Venezuelan lawyer who named his first son, Ilyich, in honour of the Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. He named his two younger children Lenin and Vladimir.
When Carlos arrived Beirut in July, 1970, he joined the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, PFLP, and was coded-named, Carlos. His arrival coincided with the decision of King Hussein to militarily expel the Palestinians. This led to the September 1970 Jordanian Civil War. The slaughter of the Palestinians in that conflict became known as ‘The Black September’ Massacre. It was in that war that Carlos, for the first time, fought on the side of the Palestinians.
Mohamed Boudia, an Algerian and a veteran of his country’s bloody anti-colonial war against France, was a playwright who ran a theatre in Paris and identified with the Palestinian cause. The Israelis in what was called Operation Wrath of God, bombed him out of existence. On December 30, 1973 Carlos retaliated by carrying out an assassination attempt in England on Joseph Sieff, the Vice-President of the British Zionist Federation who was shot in the attack.
Carlos’ most audacious strike for the Palestinian cause was the December 21, 1975 movie-like raid on the headquarters of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, in Vienna, Austria during the body’s meeting. About seventy hostages were taken including the famous Saudi Arabian Oil Minister, Ahmed Zaki Yamani. Three persons were killed; an Iraqi OPEC employee, an Austrian policeman and a member of the Libyan delegation. He forced the Austrian Government to broadcast on radio and television, a communique on the plight of the Palestinians every 15 minutes. He then got the Austrians to provide an aircraft to fly out his six-person commando team and 42 hostages, first to Algiers and then Tripoli where the hostages were freed.
On 16 February 1982, Carlos’ wife Magdalena Kopp and a comrade, Bruno Breguet were arrested in France. What followed were a series of attacks which were blamed on Carlos.
He lived in Yugoslavia, Yemen, Hungary, Syria and finally Sudan. France and America enticed the Sudanese Government to abduct Carlos. He was drugged and kidnapped by the Sudanese Government which on August 14, 1994, transferred him to French intelligence who smuggled him to Paris where he has since been in prison. He was put in solitary confinement for years despite the fact that prisoners have a right to be treated as human beings with dignity.
While the Israelis who for seven decades have carried out assassinations across the globe against perceived enemies and are celebrated, people like Carlos who fought for the Palestinian cause are locked away. It can be said that Carlos was a terrorist, but so also are the Israelis.
There is no doubt that he was involved in violence. During his trial, he said: “When one wages war for 30 years, there is a lot of blood spilled—mine and others. But we never killed anyone for money, but for a cause—the liberation of Palestine.”
The primary difference between Israeli agents who continue to kill the Palestinians, and internationalists like Carlos who rose to the Palestinians’ defence is that the former have an independent country, backed by rich and powerful individuals and countries. In contrast, the Palestinians are colonised, their lands seized, their homes sometimes destroyed and many of their patriots are in Israeli jails or exile. They do not have powerful countries to stand up for them; at least militarily.
Carlos, like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Joe Slovo of South Africa and Kay Rala Xanana Gusmão of East Timor were regarded as terrorists. But those for whom they sacrificed, saw them as liberation fighters. It is a case of one man’s terrorist, being another man’s freedom fighter.