Abstract

This article examines the development and history of the alliance between the Japanese Red Army (JRA) and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). It draws upon Arabic and Japanese sources such as memoirs like those penned by JRA leader Shigenobu Fusako, the 1971 propaganda film Sekigun PFLP sekai sensō sengen (Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War), statements by the PFLP and the JRA, and interviews conducted by the media with members of the JRA. The article traces the development of the JRA's ideology, how it came to view Palestine as the center of global revolution, and the logics underpinning the need for direct action by its members for the liberation of Palestine. The JRA's militancy represented a hitherto unseen aspect of support for Palestine rooted in anti-imperialism, anti-colonialism, and anti-capitalism outside the strictures of mainstream leftist action.

On May 30, 1972, three young Japanese men posing as tourists disembarked from an Air France flight arriving from Rome at Israel's Lod Airport.1 While in the baggage claim area of the airport, they took out guns and grenades from their luggage and shot into the crowds for about three minutes. Israeli security forces quickly engaged the shooters, and when the shooting ended twenty-six people were dead. Two of the attackers died, and one survived with minor injuries.2 It was unclear how many people were shot by the three attackers—Okamoto Kōzō, Okudaira Tsuyoshi, and Yasuda Yasuyuki—or by Israeli security forces.3

The shocking event was the first major operation by the Japanese Red Army (JRA), a Lebanon-based breakaway faction of the far-left Japanese student group the Red Army Faction (RAF), which had become the United Red Army (URA) in early 1972.4 In 1971, several RAF members had arrived in Lebanon to ally with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and prepare for global revolution. The RAF had become infamous in Japan for hijacking a plane to North Korea in 1970 in order to establish a base there. Similarly, the February 1972 Asama Sansō Incident—in which URA members took an innkeeper hostage in Karuizawa, Nagano, following an internal purge of the party in nearby Gunma Prefecture—solidified the group's reputation as an extremist leftist faction.5 Attacking Lod Airport brought global attention to the militancy of the Japanese Far Left. The attack shocked analysts, as they did not expect Japanese leftists to attack Israel.6 In press releases, the JRA stated that the operation was carried out in support for Palestine and the global revolution. The attack on Lod Airport was the first joint mission by the JRA and the PFLP; the two groups maintained an alliance and carried out missions together that furthered the PFLP's goals throughout the 1970s. Although the JRA would only number several dozen active members at its peak, it continued to assist the PFLP in the 1980s even as its membership declined. Unlike many groups, the JRA had a decades-long sustained relationship with the PLFP involving shared military operations and ideological orientations.

The alliance between the JRA and the PFLP demonstrates how inter-Asian linkages among the Far Left could take place without needing state actors to attain the shared goal of implementing revolution. I argue that the JRA allied with the PFLP because the group viewed Palestine as a venue to jump-start global revolution, as it represented in their literature the culmination of capitalist and imperialist contradictions. The JRA linked the Palestinian resistance movement against imperialism to other concurrent causes in Asia such as protests in Japan, the Vietnam War, the Cultural Revolution in China, and the occupation of Okinawa. The JRA challenges the notion that Japanese leftism was insular and shows how transnational solidarity between Japanese and Palestinian leftists could unfold through a shared ideology of liberation via proletarian revolution.

The RAF, and by extension the JRA, are relatively neglected by the existing scholarship on the Japanese Left, in large part because of the marginal role of the Far Left in present-day Japan as well as the popular backlash against the Far Left following the Asama Sansō Incident.7 Many works treat the RAF and its successors as cautionary tales of extremism, with their propensity for violence emerging as a long-standing thematic focus.8 When thinking comparatively, scholars have looked to other examples of Japanese extremism, including the failed coup d’état by fascist author Mishima Yukio, and the apocalyptic doomsday group AUM Shinrikyō.9 Such analysis has typically privileged outsider views of these groups and has rarely engaged with how insiders understood their own actions. There have been several recent important interventions in Japanese studies on the RAF that contextualize the group's theoretical divergences from the wider student movement, particularly the RAF's focus on internationalism and revolution.10 I build upon these recent works and disrupt the dominant approach by examining how the JRA, according to its own revolutionary framework, understood violence. The relationship between the JRA and the PFLP went beyond the simple extremist framework posited by journalists; the two groups shared a similar global revolutionary ideology. Understanding the alliance as an attempt to liberate Palestine and overthrow capitalist hegemony demonstrates that inter-Asian solidarity in the 1970s was multifaceted and complex.

The literature on the global entanglements of the Palestinian revolution have likewise paid little attention to the JRA. This could be attributed to the fact that many of the group's publications are in Japanese, with only a limited number in English and Arabic. Those few works that do touch upon the JRA make a cursory reference to the propaganda film Sekigun PFLP sekai sensō sengen (Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War).11 In addition, the events of Black September in Jordan in 1970 and the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90) overlapped with the group's most active years of involvement in the Palestinian revolution, which may have also limited scholarly attention. This article seeks to expand the scope of sources used to discuss the JRA and its alliance with the PFLP. It draws upon magazines, newsletters, memoirs, essays, and press statements released by the JRA and its members. Fellow travelers of the JRA often compiled statements by the group for publications in compendiums. For the PFLP, the article uses Palestinian magazine al-Hadaf, PFLP pamphlets, press releases, and the memoir of PFLP cofounder George Habash. There is little if any internal correspondence of either group available, as both groups maintained high levels of security to preserve the secrecy of agents and operations. Interviews with JRA members provide little elucidation beyond already published statements, as its members avoid legal incrimination of living members.

The wider historiography of Palestinian internationalism during the long 1960s has been extensively discussed recently. Many of these works analyze how Palestinian movements worked with European leftists, Vietnamese revolutionaries, and Latin American leftists.12 There has also been a recent flourishing of scholarship rediscovering the long-running solidarities between the Black Power movement in the United States and the Palestinian cause.13 Notably, these works demonstrate how these interlinkages happened not as proxies of the Soviet Union or other powers but as the result of shared revolutionary ideologies. These similarities included the Palestinian movement looking to Vietnam as a model for revolution and internationalist solidarity, the Black Panthers linking their civil rights struggle with the oppression faced by Palestinians, and Latin American revolutionaries learning guerilla warfare from the PFLP. These linkages took place culturally as well, as shown in the 1970s when Beirut emerged as a vibrant hub for leftist Arab movements, especially Lebanese and Palestinian ones. Leftists there actively engaged with internationalist movements, such as supporting North Vietnam, to create a new framework for understanding anti-colonial resistance.14 However, in many cases these engagements between movements were interpersonal or ideological rather than joint military struggles. The JRA, exempting other Arab movements, was one of the few groups to work with the Palestinian resistance militarily as a group rather than as individual members.

The Rise of the Japanese Red Army

Japan, like much of the world, was deeply shaped by the tumultuous 1960s. A new generation of students, born after the Imperial Japan period and influenced by Maoism as well as student uprisings abroad, rejected the staid politics of the postwar era.15 Japan—firmly in the pro–United States bloc, politically and economically—was the site of numerous US military installations that served as a bulwark against perceived communist threats.16 Between 1959 and 1960, leftist students rallied against the proposed US-Japan Security Treaty, which expanded and extended the US military presence in the country. During the so-called Anpo protests, the leftist students rejected what they saw as Japan's new status as a comprador state for US imperialism in East Asia.17 The students accused the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) of being complacent with mainstream politics by not pushing back strongly enough against US influence over Japan.18 In 1966, the Second Bund organized student movements across Japan.19 The Second Bund was a resurrection of the First Bund, a student-led movement founded in 1958 that embraced militancy and rejected the JCP's Stalinism.20 While unified in rejecting the status quo, these student groups were often fractious and prone to internecine conflict. The most militant of these far-left groups was the RAF, which emerged in 1969 following a split from the Bund over stances towards global revolution.

The RAF initially drew its membership of several hundred members from elite universities. It espoused a theory of global revolution in which Japan, as an imperialist and capitalist nation, needed to undergo violent revolution in order to transition to communism.21 The group, as explicated in issues of its periodical Sekigun, drew its theories from a diverse range of Marxist writers and movements, such as Che Guevara, Stokely Carmichael, Frantz Fanon, Paul Sweezy, George Padmore, tricontinentalism, and more beyond the classic texts by Karl Marx, V. I. Lenin, and Leon Trotsky.22 RAF members likewise adapted Maoist theories of people's war, while admiring the Cultural Revolution taking place in China. The RAF was novel within Japan by adapting an internationalist orientation toward revolution inspired by anti-colonial movements.23

The core set of RAF theories came out of the writings of the group's first leader, Shiomi Takaya, who led the group from its founding until 1970. Along with a revised theory of Trotsky's world revolution, he developed two interconnected theories that dominated the RAF's and JRA's worldview: three blocs theory and international base theory. RAF leadership adapted these ideas against setbacks such as mass arrests and failure to gain support from supposedly sympathetic countries.24 Three blocs theory held that the world was divided into three groupings: the first bloc were imperialist powers such as the United States, the Soviet Union, and China; the second bloc comprised worker's states such as Cuba, Albania, North Vietnam, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea; and the third bloc were anti-colonial states such as Palestine.25 International base theory held that a global revolution could start by radicalizing a worker's state's government and launching a global revolutionary war.26 Initially, this idea held that concurrent movements led by similarly radical groups in the United States, Germany, and France could trigger revolutions in their areas and could ally with revolutionary forces in second bloc countries.27 Following the failure to achieve any significant alliance with other foreign groups or to make headway in North Korea, the JRA pivoted these theories toward states engaging in revolutionary anti-colonial fighting and chose Palestine for that purpose.28

With attempts to instigate revolution inside Japan failing, the RAF decided to implement its international base theory by sending a team of core members abroad. In 1970, RAF members hijacked Japan Airlines flight 351, an incident also known as the Yodo-gō Hijacking, and demonstrated the group's desire to set up a base of operations for revolution in a communist state, in this case North Korea. RAF members felt that North Korea as a worker's state could provide military training for them to launch global revolution in Asia.29 The hijacking was also an attempt to connect with leftist movements affiliated with North Korea after similar attempts to do so in Cuba failed.30 They put their theories of global revolution and international base theory into practice by seeking out nexuses to stage proletarian revolution.31 However, North Korea did not wish to become the base for international revolution that the RAF desired. It allowed the hijackers to remain in North Korea but required them to renounce their militant activities.32

With North Korea and Cuba proving to be unviable as bases for global revolution, the RAF looked toward other places where they could receive training and participate in global struggle. Vietnam, despite its ongoing war, never emerged as a place where the RAF chose to send members. Rather, the RAF leadership tasked members Shigenobu Fusako and Okudaira Tsuyoshi with contacting the PFLP after learning via a Palestinian in Japan that the PFLP would welcome fellow travelers and provide military training for them.33 Posing as newlyweds to facilitate Shigenobu's exit from Japan, Shigenobu and Okudaira reached Beirut on February 28, 1971.34 In Lebanon, Shigenobu, the charismatic head of the JRA in Lebanon, assumed the role of a foreign exchange student and met with PFLP members at the offices of al-Hadaf (The Target) in Beirut. Over ten members of the RAF and even more fellow travelers joined their faction at this time in Lebanon. Some did military training with the PFLP in Palestinian camps and in Baalbek, while others volunteered in medical centers or PFLP offices. The RAF members in Lebanon distanced themselves from the Japan-based group and revised earlier theories on international base theory and revolution to make Palestine the culmination of capitalist contradictions and the heart of global revolution.35 Moreover, RAF leader Mori Tsueno and others lost interest in internationalism, preferring instead revolutionary struggle in Japan.36

Shigenobu remained the spokesperson for the JRA in Lebanon until its dissolution in 2001. Born in 1945 shortly after the end of World War II, she started her studies at Meiji University in 1965.37 In 1969, she became a member of the RAF.38 After leaving Japan in 1971, she grew more distant from the RAF and focused on liberating Palestine. Shortly before the Lod Airport mission, Shigenobu penned a farewell to comrades in the United Red Army (URA); such a statement firmly situated the future JRA as distinct from its original group.39 After the success of the Lod Airport attack, Shigenobu and other members of the JRA went into hiding for fear of Israeli reprisals.40 Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Shigenobu continued to direct the JRA and authored many of the group's writings. Her texts indicate how the JRA adapted earlier RAF theories such as international base theory to center Palestinian liberation.41 The alliance between the JRA and the PFLP served as an inter-Asian bulwark against imperialist and capitalist movements across Asia for the JRA leadership.

The PFLP as A Revolutionary Exemplar

Founded in 1967 by George Habash and other members of the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), the Marxist-Leninist PFLP carved out a distinctive niche in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).42 Influenced ideologically by Maoism and anti-colonialism, the PFLP sought to enact a Marxist anti-colonial struggle in Palestine.43 Unlike Fatah, the largest faction of the PLO, the PFLP did not receive much assistance from China because of disagreements over the necessity of violence directed at civilian targets.44 Yet it emerged as a revolutionary subset of an increasingly radical and militant Palestinian liberation movement, quickly becoming the second-largest Palestinian political group within the PLO.

The PFLP's active missions against Israel and its dramatic actions, such as the 1969 TWA hijackings and the 1970 Dawson's Field hijackings, succeeded in drawing extensive international attention not only to the group itself but also to the Palestinian cause more broadly. In particular, the leftist movements that emerged from the long 1960s continued to show support for the Palestinian cause and especially for the PFLP. The PFLP was an intellectual and cultural hub for Palestinian nationalism that centered charismatic figures such as Leila Khaled, which raised its profile among revolutionary anti-colonial movements. Kanafani's al-Hadaf regularly published the group's positions on Palestine, the Arab nations, and the world at large. The PFLP published extensively in Arabic and often provided translations of their major materials in English and occasionally in French. Because of the rise of radical movements in the 1960s, the PFLP became an iconic group for the militant global Left.45 The PFLP became a nexus where leftist movements such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of the Occupied Arabian Gulf, the Sandinistas, the Black Panthers, and the Baader-Meinhof Gang would train in guerilla warfare or forge internationalist connections.46 The PFLP, with its more radical politics, embraced groups that the PLO did not engage with in a significant manner. Both groups, however, looked to scions of anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements such as Cuba and the Viet Cong for lessons on resistance.47

The PFLP invoked the need for revolutionary violence and class warfare against Israel, which reflected the wider current of leftist radicalism happening concurrently in the 1960s. Likewise, earlier movements such as the ANM were often locked within the dominant geopolitical trends of the era: Pan-Arabism and the bourgeois nation-state.48 The PFLP's founding document states that “the only language that the enemy understands is the language of revolutionary violence.”49 This notion of revolutionary violence underpinned the PFLP's early actions against Israel as well as its collaborations with other leftist movements. Its violent acts—hijackings, targeting civilian infrastructure, and attacking foreign assets perceived as pro-Israel—were simultaneously asymmetric warfare surprising Israeli expectations as well as propaganda material because of their shock value.50 Foregrounding the necessity of revolutionary violence to achieve its goals underscored the shift in tactics that the PFLP leadership embraced. The PFLP, unlike staid Arab communist parties, adapted the radical politics of Che Guevara, third worldism, and Vietnamese guerrilla warfare, which became potent forces in the 1960s.51

Reeling from the Arab defeat in 1967, the PFLP understood that military power alone was not enough to defeat Israel.52 Rather, the material conditions of the Middle East necessitated revolutionary politics that could transform society and ensure victory against the occupation of Palestine. In the 1969 pamphlet PFLP People's War, the group notes that “the Palestinian struggle is a part of the whole Arab liberation movement and of the world liberation movement. The Arab bourgeoisie and world imperialism are trying to impose a peaceful solution on this Palestinian problem but this suggestion merely promotes the interests of imperialism and of Zionism.”53 While the PFLP did not wholly reject Pan-Arabism, the group's nationalist component positioned its cause as concurrent with other anti-colonial and anti-imperialist movements.54 For the PFLP, acquiescence to the machinations of Arab states forestalled the liberation of Palestine because these states focused on sustaining their bourgeoisies within the global capitalist framework. Arab states enthralled by global capitalism could not defeat Israel; only a people's war, with its revolutionary component, would upend the status quo.55

For PFLP members, contemporary Marxist thought provided an analytical framework to liberate Palestine and demonstrated how the movement adapted tricontinental discourses on national liberation.56 Engaging with contemporary Marxist trends and innovating upon them signaled that earlier models of Arab nationalism did not sufficiently address the disparity in power between Israel and Arab states. Understanding the power differential as rooted within capitalist relations and imperialism helped elucidate the conditions that doomed national armies to failure. The PFLP noted that a theory of revolution was integral, as weapons alone did not guarantee victory.57 While liberating the homeland had a nationalistic component, it was simultaneously a struggle against capitalism.58 The PFLP changed the framing of the conflict by moving the conflict beyond an Arab-Israeli fight to one centered on class struggle.59 Integrating class struggle as the basis of national liberation made the PFLP and the Palestinian struggle resonant globally for revolutionary anti-colonial movements.60 Palestine joined Vietnam in becoming a center of global anti-imperial struggle, as evidenced by calls to make Beirut an Arab Hanoi.61

Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War

In 1971, leftist Japanese filmmakers Adachi Masao and Wakamatsu Koji left the Cannes Film Festival for Lebanon. Both filmmakers were on friendly terms with the RAF but were not members, although Adachi later joined the JRA in 1974. Adachi and Wakamatsu had collaborated in making sexploitation films that, at times, incorporated leftist critiques of Japanese society.62 In Lebanon, they met with Shigenobu and PFLP members to make a film espousing the JRA's view on global revolution, titled Red Army/PFLP: Declaration of World War. The film marked a significant shift in the JRA's and PFLP's approach to filmmaking. In the past, filmmakers like Jean-Luc Godard only visited the site of revolution and remained passive spectators.63 The JRA rejected such practices as replicating bourgeois logics.64 Instead, JRA members worked with the PFLP as allies in armed struggle against Israel; active labor toward liberation was more important than solely documenting struggle. Red Army/PFLP served as a manifesto that allowed the JRA to learn from the PFLP's experiences.

The JRA rejected the notion of revolution in a single country. Rather, they treated regional strife as part of an interconnected global struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The narrator in the film talks of revolution being conducted by a “borderless army” that would ignite revolution in third bloc countries like Palestine with assistance from the RAF as an act of inter-Asian and leftist solidarity. The narrator's focus on the solidarity between the JRA and the PFLP demonstrated how the JRA still sought global revolution through its work in Asia. As he explains, “This is the reason why the ‘Anti-Imperialist/Anti-Zionist/Third World War’ that our PFLP brothers propose and practice and the ‘Anti-America/Anti-Japan War’ of our Chinese brothers, are, in our own words, one and the same with what we propose and practice as the ‘World Revolutionary War.’”65 He also goes on to connect these anti-imperialist forces with the Viet Cong and the Black Panther Party in the United States.66 Leila Khaled, espousing the PFLP political line, states that “all our struggles are one single struggle.”67 Much like the PFLP, which had embraced the doctrine of global solidarity, the JRA linked its struggles to those taking place in Maoist China, where the group supported the Cultural Revolution as a rejection of the worker's state, and Vietnam, which struggled against colonialism. Understanding Japan as complicit within global networks of capitalism, the JRA sought to engage in revolutionary war wherever possible. Aware of the tendency for the Japanese Left to be myopic in its understanding of global capitalism, the filmmakers reminded viewers that a singular focus on revolution in one space did not suffice, and they pushed for solidarity across oppressed peoples as part of the JRA's wider rejection of Japan's imperialist past. Unlike many other groups, the JRA did not go to Palestine to learn and return home. Rather, they sought to launch revolution in Palestine and then bring it to Japan.

Touring Japan in a red bus, the filmmakers screened the film in cities and universities via networks of leftist sympathizers.68 This led to the recruitment of new members outside the JRA's traditional circles. Okamoto Kōzō, brother of Okamoto Takeshi, was a solitary member at Kagoshima University.69 Far away from the major centers of the RAF in elite Japanese universities, he knew of the group because his brother had been a participant in the Yodo-gō Hijacking. In his efforts to become a more active member, he screened Red Army/PFLP at his university.70 Shortly afterward, the RAF sent him to Lebanon for further training.71 However, the ongoing internationalism of the JRA and its alliance with the PFLP proved to be the breaking point for the Japan-based faction. Adachi has recalled how the URA viewed the JRA as becoming an autonomous militia focusing on internationalist issues.72

Other factors furthered the divergence between the two factions: in Japan, the RAF suffered many arrests, which thinned their ranks. To counteract this, leader Mori Tsuneo, already disenchanted with the internationalism of the branch in Lebanon, had the RAF merge with the Keihin Anti-Security Treaty Joint Struggle Group to form the URA. The group rejected internationalism and demanded intense self-criticism from members who did not meet the new standards. By focusing on revolution in Japan, the URA categorized the Lebanon-based members as contravening the main group's revolutionary goals. From December 1971 to February 1972, the URA killed twelve members during a purge in the mountains of Gunma Prefecture.73 The URA purged members close to the old guard by claiming that they had engaged in bourgeois thinking and did not sufficiently devote themselves to revolutionary praxis.74 Those who survived the purge crossed into Nagano Prefecture and staged a hostage standoff at an inn near the town of Karuizawa. The Asama Sansō Incident lasted over a week and received significant live coverage in the Japanese media.75 Two police officers and a civilian bystander died, and the spectacle marked a turning point in Japanese tolerance for leftist extremism. The Japanese government quickly clamped down on the Far Left.76 As the JRA was in Lebanon, it remained beyond the Japanese government's reach.

The Lod Airport Attack

Even though the Far Left in Japan was shuttered as an effective force, people like Shigenobu and her cadre of JRA comrades still believed in global revolution starting from anti-colonial struggles. The JRA focused all its attention on revolution in Palestine, which could compel second bloc states to act to destabilize imperialist ones. Per the JRA's revised version of international base theory, anti-colonial sites of struggle superseded second bloc states as the engines for revolutionary potential.77 The Palestinian conflict served the interests of the JRA as it was a front for sparking world revolution and intersected with Japan's energy concerns in the region.78 At that time, the government of Japan did not meaningfully engage with Middle Eastern politics. Rather, it followed US and European policies, albeit with a less overtly pro-Israel position. The JRA sought to exploit this contradiction of seeming ambivalence on the Israel-Palestine conflict by forcing Japan to take a position on the conflict.

By late 1971, the JRA had started preparing for direct militant action in the Middle East. Several members trained in Palestinian camps in Lebanon, which prepared the Japanese militants to participate in an unspecified military act.79 As Israel had bombed Beirut's airport in 1968 in retaliation for PFLP attacks, the PFLP in turn targeted Lod Airport, including a failed attack in May 8, 1972.80 In preparing for an attack on Lod Airport, the JRA experienced various setbacks, including one member drowning in Beirut.81 Shortly before the attack, Okudaira Tsuyoshi, Yasuda Yasuyuki, and Okamoto Kōzō went to Rome for final preparations. The night before the attack, Okudaira penned a farewell letter to his comrades and to his family acknowledging that the attack was potentially a suicide mission but was necessary for the greater revolutionary cause.82 In this letter he exhorts his JRA colleagues to continue fighting imperialism and Zionism.

The attack had the dramatic effect that the PFLP and the JRA desired. Israel and the world reacted to the incident with shock and horror. Swift condemnations emerged from the Western, Japanese, and Israeli presses.83 Newspapers in Arab countries celebrated the attack for demonstrating that seemingly impregnable targets in Israel were not beyond the reach of Palestinian fighters and their allies.84 From the outset, the media made little effort to understand the JRA's rationale. Rather, media analysts framed it as the work of radicalized terrorists. Okamoto's trial in the months after the attack did little to shift this discourse, as reporting focused on his perceived extremist tendencies. Japan's government sought to assuage Israeli concerns that the attack represented Japanese public views, but they otherwise made no changes in official policies.85

Meanwhile, the JRA made clear that the Palestinian cause was part of a global class conflict and wider anti-imperialist struggle unfolding across Asia in Palestine, Vietnam, and China. A JRA press release on the attack assailed Israel as the most reactionary country that stood against the Arabs and revolution.86 Rejecting the appeals to humanism that the Israeli state wielded in response to the Lod Airport attack and similar actions orchestrated by Palestinian fighters, the JRA focused on the liberatory qualities of armed struggle. In an edited volume compiled by a Japanese leftist sympathetic to the group, the JRA wrote that “the only humanism that the oppressed have is armed struggle.”87 Instead of replicating the bourgeois logics of the Israeli state, the JRA and the PFLP focused on the liberatory qualities of people's war. These forms of resistance against capitalism remained outside the moralistic confines underpinning imperialism. According to this outlook, the seemingly shocking violence wielded by the JRA was only violent if one discounted how the Israeli state was established and sustained itself. The Deir Yassin Massacre and the Kafr Qassem Massacre are both mentioned in the statement as justifications for the attack. Invoking these massacres was a reminder that the violence perpetrated at Lod was not exceptional. Rather, the JRA argued that Israel and other powers normalized imperialist violence, so their critique of revolutionary violence did not matter.88

Throughout the writings of the JRA there are periodic reminders that Japan is an imperial power oppressing minorities in a manner similar to Israel's occupation of Palestine. The statement celebrating the attack says, “To all our Korean, Chinese comrades who live in Japan, as well as to the people of Okinawa who live in a region that Japan has transformed into the third world, to all our comrades all over the world, we say with certainty the same . . . the internationalism of the proletariat will unite all fronts.”89 The focus on Japan's complicity in imperialism was justification enough for revolutionary violence. For members of the imperial core, anything less than full support for anti-colonial movements was acceptance of capitalist oppression. Elsewhere in the statement, there are references to Japan's imperial past as well as salutations to leftist militants across the globe. Even though the attack on Lod Airport was primarily intended to secure the liberation of Palestine, the JRA did not exclude it from the larger anti-imperialist struggle occurring across Asia and elsewhere. In August 1972, JRA sympathizers in Japan commemorated the deaths of Okudaira and Yasuyuki in an event focusing on the shared solidarity between the Palestinian cause and the Vietnam War.90

The Arab media mostly celebrated the attack as evidence of a global Palestinian movement transcending nationalist limitations. Per the PFLP's al-Hadaf, the Japanese fighters demonstrated that Palestine was a cause for the global Left.91 Radio Cairo stated that Palestine was a global cause and not just a Palestinian one.92 More muted coverage of the attack appeared in the Lebanese press, which focused more on the Lebanese state distancing itself from the operation as a means to minimize retaliation against Lebanon.93

The JRA's mission made clear that the international Left not only sympathized with the Palestinian cause but was willing to sacrifice their lives for it. Before the JRA attack, leftists from imperial nations maintained parochial ties with Palestinian movements; Leila Khaled described European leftists as unwilling to appreciate the PFLP's choice of tactics, and the PLO had grown frustrated with film director Jean-Luc Godard.94 Leftists had been training in guerilla warfare at Palestinian training camps for years. Global South individuals such as the Sandinista Patrick Arguello joined the PFLP in hijacking a plane, but he did so as an individual.95 However, the JRA's participation in an attack as a group rather than as individuals showed how training could also serve the needs of the Palestinian movement, and it demonstrated how foreign groups could fully align themselves with the PFLP and participate in its missions.

A primary goal of this mission was to shatter the image of Israeli invulnerability. The idea that no area of Israel was beyond the reach of the PFLP and its allies reminded Israel that resistance was ongoing. In an article on the attack, al-Hadaf stated that “it is our task to make the world remember that Lod Airport like Gaza, like Jerusalem, like the Suez Canal, like the Golan, like any speck of occupied Palestine, is a legitimate target for the revolutionaries’ attacks.”96 This focus on warfare across historic Palestine and other occupied Arab territories indicated that the JRA and the PFLP believed that traditional conflict against purely military targets did not suffice to destabilize imperialism. Striking targets like an airport deep in Israel expanded the list of tangible targets for revolutionary violence. Such actions also served, per the PFLP and the JRA, as propaganda for their causes.

The PFLP, in its analysis of the attack, focused on the internationalization of the Palestinian struggle and the inter-Asian component of the alliance. Its authors describe how the battle against imperialism is global and they rhetorically ask: “Why the Japanese? The doors of our revolution are open to those who want to destabilize this racist entity.”97Al-Hadaf's exhortation to revolution reflects a desire to not only locate the Palestinian cause as an international one—as the magazine's pages regularly did—but also for the international Left to view its cause as part of the wider global struggle against capitalism and imperialism. This interconnected struggle had parallels with events in Japan demonstrating how global capitalism affected peoples across Asia. The article argues that the Japanese fighters in Lod Airport were the same as those resisting the occupation of Okinawa, the displacement of farmers to build Narita Airport, or antigovernment protests at Japanese universities. Resistance to Zionism, therefore, was an ongoing revolutionary act against capitalism and imperialism. Globalizing the PFLP's struggle thus allowed the two groups to attack targets working in tandem with Israel as part of a global imperialist network.

Al-Hadaf acknowledged the shared struggles in Palestine and Japan while also responding to the Japanese elites’ criticisms of the JRA's attack on Lod Airport. This indicates that PFLP members continued to engage with and discuss politics with their JRA counterparts, because al-Hadaf's critique of a Japanese politician focuses on internal Japanese politics. The magazine responds to a Japanese politician's critique of the JRA by listing a litany of leftist Japanese causes such as the Narita Airport protests, the occupation of Okinawa, and ongoing student uprisings, which the international press had largely ignored.98 Such an engagement with internal Japanese politics demonstrates how the two groups shared a solidarity of causes. The description of these struggles aligns closely with the framing used by the JRA in their communiqués indicating how inter-Asian solidarity persisted after the attack on Lod Airport.

The JRA's Continued Support for Palestine

The JRA pushed its analysis on Israel beyond the issue of settler colonialism by linking it explicitly with imperialist powers’ resource extraction and Japan's history of colonizing Asia. In 1972, the JRA wrote that “by establishing the artificial state of Israel in the Middle East, imperialists can extract resources. . . . The very existence of Israel is an expression of imperialism.”99 The JRA linked its analyses of conditions in the Middle East to Japan's history as an imperialist power in Asia. For the JRA, resisting Israel's occupation of Palestine was an act of solidarity with other groups exploited by imperial Japan. This treatment of the question of Israel tracked with the theoretical outlook that the JRA developed on questions of the proletariat and internationalism. Much as the PFLP had taken a critical view of Arab bourgeois states, the JRA also critiqued the Arab regional powers as complicit with Israeli policies. The bourgeois states and Israel were subservient to global capitalism and imperialism. Therefore, the United States remained the global hegemon responsible for political and economic conditions in the region. While many groups exchanged ideas with the PFLP, the JRA's inability to return home caused them to adapt their positions in tandem with the PFLP for decades.

The centrality of the Lod Airport mission in the JRA's memory cannot be overstated. It was the group's first attack and gained the most attention. Subsequent missions had more actionable goals such as prisoner releases, but the Lod Airport mission remained central to the JRA's identity. Every year, the group commemorated the attack; the PFLP would similarly issue declarations celebrating the operation.100 On the first anniversary, the JRA wrote that “true unity is achieved only through the joint armed struggles of the peoples of the developed and the third world overthrowing common enemies.”101 For the JRA, Zionism remained the spearhead of global imperialism.102 The internationalist component of the JRA took a decidedly inter-Asian turn at this stage as they realized that revolution in Japan was not feasible, but they could take part in other struggles affecting Asia. The group instead situated itself as part of a vanguard from the first world fighting for the colonized against imperialist powers.

In January 1974, the JRA further internationalized their cause of global revolution in support of Palestine by staging an attack on a Shell oil facility in Singapore while the PFLP simultaneously attacked the Japanese embassy in Kuwait. The attack was an effort to recast Palestine, Vietnam, and the fight against resource extraction as inter-Asian solidarity against US imperialism. In a statement following the attack, the JRA argued that Shell and similar corporations were extensions of the imperialist powers waging war against the peoples of Vietnam and Palestine.103 For the group, resource extraction by companies from imperialist nations was an extension of colonial exploitation. The simultaneous attack linked Japan's role in the global oil trade with the nation's role in propping up US militarism in Vietnam. By attacking the oil refinery complex in Singapore, the JRA asserted that they could continue to wage revolutionary violence across Asia. Vietnam and Palestine both represented colonized Asian nations fighting against Western imperialism for the JRA, and these attacks sought to make clear that they shared the same cause rather than being discrete conflicts.

Epilogue

The JRA staged more attacks across Asia on behalf of Palestine and oppressed peoples in Japan in the 1970s, but the group grew weaker. Throughout the 1980s, the JRA continued to publish communiqués, articles, and essays.104 Primarily penned by Shigenobu, these writings indicated a growing awareness of the changing political terrains for the Left as violence became increasingly shunned as a revolutionary tactic. Major revolutionary struggles such as Vietnam had ended, and spectacular attacks on imperialist civilian targets no longer captured the imagination of global revolutionaries. The Palestinian movement was likewise undergoing change and experimenting with new tactics that abjured the guerrilla warfare of the near past. While the JRA staged minor attacks on foreign embassies in Jakarta and Rome or on US soldiers based in Naples in the 1980s, its militancy appeared to be outdated.105

With the eras of the Cold War and revolutionary violence over, the JRA persisted as a remnant of inter-Asian solidarity in the 1990s. Its formal end, however, was near. In 1997, Lebanese authorities arrested five JRA members, including Okamoto, who had been released by Israel during a prisoner swap in 1985, and began deportation procedures against them. In 2000, Okamoto gained political refugee status from Lebanon.106 His four comrades were deported to Jordan, where they were extradited to Japan.107 In 2000, the Japanese police arrested Shigenobu Fusako near Osaka. She presumably spent time in Lebanon, Libya, Yugoslavia, and elsewhere following the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon before returning to Japan on a false passport. Following her arrest, Shigenobu announced the disbandment of the JRA in 2001.108 Upon her release in May 2022, she formally apologized to victims of the JRA's violence.109

The militant actions of the PFLP and its revolutionary appeal on a global scale in the early 1970s were a world apart from the current era we inhabit. Other than annual commemorations of the Lod Airport attack, however, the PFLP does not dwell upon its long-running alliance with the JRA. The multifaceted relationship of the JRA and the PFLP represents how both groups centered inter-Asian solidarity in ideology and praxis. Collaborating across Asia and Europe, the two organizations worked jointly to further their goals of revolution and liberation. Unlike popular accounts that describe the alliance as one born out of terroristic extremism, the JRA and the PFLP represent a nuanced theoretical interpretation of inter-Asian solidarity. Both sides articulated complex Marxist theorizations of revolution and solidarity that allowed a decades-long relationship between the two groups to flourish. Understanding the world as beholden to imperialism by the major powers, the JRA used its theories on revolution to situate Palestine as the spark to initiate global revolution. This shared transnational struggle against capitalism and imperialism fused Japanese leftist causes with the Palestinian struggle as a single armed revolutionary struggle across Asia and eventually the world.

Notes

1.

Lod Airport became Ben Gurion International Airport following Ben Gurion's death in 1973.

3.

In this article, the family name for Japanese individuals will precede the given name.

4.

It should be noted that the Red Army did not officially call themselves the Japanese Red Army until 1974. For simplicity, the group based in Lebanon and led by Shigenobu will be referred to as the Japanese Red Army throughout this article.

25.

Sekigun 7, 15–16.

26.

Sekigun 4, 40–43; Sekigun 7, 7–9.

27.

Sekigun 7, 17–19.

70.

Okamoto's university did not have a local Red Army Faction group, as the organization drew its support from Japan's leading universities.

74.

Tōyama Mieko, one of the purged, was a close friend of Shigenobu, and her death appears in Shigenobu's writings as well. Shigenobu, Ringo no ki no shita, 187; Igarashi, “Dead Bodies and Living Guns,” 132.

75.

Nearly 90 percent of the Japanese television audience watched live coverage of the siege. See Perkins, The United Red Army on Screen, 50.

86.

8.16 Paresuchina jinmen, 2.

87.

Taigo o totonoeyo is a compilation of documents and statements by the Japanese Red Army assembled by Takazawa Kōji. Information about the publisher is sparse, as they only published a handful of pamphlets and booklets over a couple of years related to the Japanese Red Army. Sashō Henshū Iinkai and Sekai Kakumei Sensen Jōhō Sentā, Taigo, 40.

91.

The cover of al-Hadaf celebrating the attack proclaimed “the united struggle against the shared enemy of imperialism.” Al-Hadaf, no. 154, June 3, 1970.

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