Al Jazeera World

Revolution United

The story of a Japanese guerrilla group that embraced the Palestinian cause during the 1970s.
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2012 13:13
Members of the Japanese Red Army linked up with Palestinian revolutionaries in an alliance for a struggle that continues to this day [Al Jazeera]

Filmmaker: Adam Bahjat

The Japanese Red Army was one of the world's most feared guerilla groups in the 1970s. The group's campaign of violence spread beyond Japan, with members linking up with Palestinian revolutionaries.

It was started by a young female student called Fusako Shigenobu, who was part of a growing student movement that protested against what it saw as American dominance amid the Cold War setting post-World War II.

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May Shigenobu says her mother was a normal student who worked to pay for her university tuition fees, but later became involved in student protests against increased fees.

"She was not an activist or rebellious in any way. Each morning on her way to school she would pick a flower and give it to the policeman. She never thought of the regime as the enemy," says May.

Events in another part of the world also attracted Fusako's attention; the conflict in the Middle East presented another theatre for the ideological struggle between East and West.

In 1969, radicals from student groups opposed to the US military bases in Japan formed a new group, and called themselves the Japanese Red Army.

"There were many movements at that time, like the anti-NATO group. They were all mainly against capitalism," says Norio Hanazono, a former member of the Red Army.

Radical shift

The group conducted military training and political indoctrination in the mountains, away from the eyes of the authorities.

"They wanted to understand the difference between the failed student movement in Japan and the unresolved Palestinian cause."

- May, the daughter of Japanese Red Army founder Fusako Shigenobu

The shift to violence led to the decline in public support for the student radicals.

May says in early 1971 her mother and Tsuyoshi Okudaira, the leader of a movement of militant volunteers that started in Kyoto following the failure of the Tokyo student movement, decided to find out more about the Palestinian cause.

Fusako and Tsuyoshi Okudaira went to Lebanon and teamed up with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Together they made plans to attack Israel's main airport in Tel Aviv, known then as Lod Airport.

Leila Khaled, formerly of the PFLP, says the Japanese revolutionaries "were among many groups that came to Lebanon which was then the centre of resistance".

On the roof of Kyoto University's West Auditorium are three stars depicting Orion's Belt, said to be in memory of the three members of the Japanese Red Army who carried out the 1972 attack on Lod Airport, considered one of the most important operations against the Israelis at the time.

This is a story of a revolution from another era – of an international alliance, of a cause, of a struggle – that continues to this day.

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