Palestinian Studies

2023 Workshop

Jeremy Randall

Associate Director, Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at The Graduate Center, CUNY

“Globalizing the Palestinian Resistance: The Laju Incident and the Siege of the Japanese Embassy in Kuwait”

In 1974, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) laid siege to the Japanese embassy in Kuwait; simultaneously, the Japanese Red Army (JRA) attacked Laju Island off the coast of Singapore where oil company Shell processed fuel for America in its war against the Viet Cong. These two simultaneous acts challenged American imperialism in Vietnam and the complicity of comprador states in the Global South. Even though neither Kuwait nor Japan directly intervened in the Vietnam War, their material assistance to the American war machine made them logical targets for reprisals according to PFLP and JRA statements. Unlike the JRA’s most infamous operation, the May 31, 1972 Lod Airport Attack, the attack on Laju Island happened with PFLP participation rather than simply guidance and planning. Both the PFLP and the JRA cited Israel as an example of imperialism but pivoted their focus to be against the United States. Even though the JRA was most often in its operations acting in support of the PFLP and Palestinian liberation, they had an overarching ideology of opposing global imperialism and capitalism. Resultantly, America’s ongoing war in Vietnam represented a major reactionary intervention against a communist and anticolonial movement. Likewise, the PFLP did not disentangle the Israeli occupation of historic Palestine from global colonialist and imperialist currents. Liberating Palestine, per PFLP ideology at the time, happened alongside the overthrow of global capitalism and imperialism. The action demonstrated the PFLP and the JRA understood, much like OPEC did a year earlier, the centrality of oil to global capitalism and militarism. However, unlike the GCC countries, they did not allow this critique of American and European support for Israel to justify rapacious global capitalism. Rather, they contended that global imperialism happened because of capitalism and one could not be disentangled from the other. 

This paper draws upon a variety of source materials in Arabic, Japanese, and English dealing with the simultaneous attacks. I analyze press releases issued by the JRA and the PFLP celebrating and justifying the attack alongside newspaper stories covering the attack at the time. Through these sources, I seek to not only analyze the event but locate it within the intersecting matrixes of the PFLP and the JRA regarding their politics of global anti-colonialism. It looks at how the two groups centered transnational solidarity and action as the means to liberate Palestine and other oppressed peoples. By examining how the PFLP and the JRA executed this operation in Singapore and Kuwait, it also brings to light the global capacities of Palestinian resistance to encompass conflicts beyond the occupation of Palestine.

Jeremy Randall, Ph.D. in history, is the associate director of the Middle East and Middle Eastern American Center at The Graduate Center, City University of New York. He is a historian of leftism in the Middle East with a focus on Palestine as well as leftist critiques of sectarianism and capitalism in postcolonial Lebanon via intellectual and cultural productions. He is currently preparing a monograph on the alliance between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Japanese Red Army as an example of internationalism and solidarity with the Palestinian revolution in the 1970s and 1980s.