Palestine Without Arafat

Category: Middle East, World Affairs Topics: Palestine, Yasser Arafat Views: 5633

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's passing away represents the end of an era, as some rashly noted, it is because the absence of Arafat, even as a living symbol, is a matter of great consequence. But that said, we must not indulge in misrepresenting the Palestinian struggle by reducing it to the legacy of one man.

It is still too early to assess Arafat's contributions to the Palestinian march for freedom. It might take years before an accurate assessment is possible. The imperative now is to maintain the momentum of the Palestinian uprising and its ability to stand up to the awesome power of a rogue state.

For some Arafat is just another autocratic Arab ruler clinging to his position, refusing to share power or allocate responsibility to anyone but his cronies and with nothing new to offer save the worn out rhetoric about a "light at the end of the tunnel" and the "mountain (that) cannot be shaken by the wind". But those who see only this side of Arafat ignore the heady political, cultural and intellectual mix represented in his person, his ability to mean many different things to many different people.

Arafat -- whether deliberately or not -- managed to associate himself with every hardship faced by Palestinians over the decades. From his early years as a student activist in Cairo, in 1949, to the momentous formation of the Fatah movement in 1965, Arafat was always present.

For Arab leaders, despite his fall-outs with some on occasion, Arafat was a godsend. His presence justified their absence. It was Arafat who insisted on referring to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the "legitimate and only" representative of the Palestinian people and Arab regimes passionately embraced the slogan. It was an exoneration of their utter failure to defend the cause of Palestine and its people.

Palestinians, of course -- even those who oppose his political line and unconditional peace offerings -- see Arafat in a different light. When a military helicopter hauled him out of his headquarters in Ramallah, ending a three-year-long Israeli siege, Palestinians silently observed Arafat's most recent departure and connected it to the history of dispossession of which they have all been part. Palestinian commentators wrote about distant, yet unforgotten, history, relating Amman to Beirut to Tunis to Gaza to Ramallah and now to Paris.

Arafat's legacy is one of undiluted symbolism -- a symbolism at once substantial and meaningful. Even if he acted as though his journey to France was like any other Palestinians knew that this journey was different.

When Arafat was forced out of Lebanon in 1982 Palestinian fighters fired in the air. Arafat stood defiantly and told his comrades that the path to Jerusalem was becoming closer and that Lebanon was just another stop on their long journey back to the homeland. They believed him, and kept on firing.

The distance from Beirut to Tunis mattered little. Arafat's presence lingered, not only among Lebanon's refugees but in the camps of Gaza.

As a child I often witnessed Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to their knees in my refugee camp in Gaza, threatening to beat them if they did not spit upon a photo of Yasser Arafat. "Say Arafat is a jackass," the soldiers would scream. No one would exchange his safety for insulting an image of Arafat. They would endure pain and injury, but would say nothing.

It was not the character of Arafat that induced such resilience but what the man represented. This explains why Gazans stood enthralled as Abu Ammar spoke upon his return following the signing of Oslo. Retrospectively, it also explains the level of betrayal that many Palestinians felt when their icon, who in some ways had been deified in his exile, failed to live up to their expectations upon his return to the homeland.

It felt as if Arafat's era was coming to a close following his return to Gaza in the mid-1990s. Such feelings were motivated not by his old age or faltering health, nor by Israel's irrelevant designation of the man as a peace partner or otherwise. It was just that the man who promised the moon failed to deliver a desolate refugee camp. The man who promised Jerusalem was in negotiations over the small neighborhood of Abu Deis. The astute leader who spoke of the peace of the brave had little to say as the West Bank was once more overrun by the Israeli military machine.

It was never easy for Arafat to maintain the image of warrior and bureaucrat. Israel wanted him to crackdown on those who fought by him and for him. The United States wanted him to "condemn terrorism, not by words but by deeds". But it was armed resistance that had sustained Arafat's struggle for decades. Arab leaders pressured him, conveying the Israeli and American messages, completely sidelining themselves in what for decades had been the Arab cause. His cronies exploited him. His balancing act slipped and his aura slowly faded.

When Israel bombed Arafat's headquarters in Ramallah and imprisoned him with the blessing of the US government it hardly intended to provide the aged leader with a platform to claim a heroic last stand.

Israel's occupation of the West Bank and physical confinement of Arafat absolved him of political accountability before his people while reinvigorating his image as the warrior who never surrenders, even in defeat. Even as Fatah descended into power struggles and charges of corruption flared, Arafat remained immune. The head of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades told me during a telephone interview a few months ago: "Arafat is our symbol and our leader and nothing will change that." When the Brigades burned down a Palestinian Authority building in Jenin protesting the PA's corruption its fighters salvaged a photo of Arafat from the ruins and protectively carried it away.

Very few people can claim a legacy like Arafat's, or his ability to cater to such competing interests. But even if his end is postponed for a little while longer the bottom line is that Arafat's era is coming to a close.

In the days that follow Israel, the US and Arab regimes will be scrambling to ensure that the post-Arafat era serves them best. In the case of Arab governments this era must absolve them from any meaningful responsibility towards Palestine and her people. But Palestinians are resilient. They will learn how to deal with life without Arafat and his mystique. Their national unity remains and it will strengthen their fight, even in grief. Warriors, sages and leaders come and go, some linger a bit more than others, but the march to freedom will certainly carry on, for the "mountain cannot be shaken by the wind".

Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of and head of Research & Studies Department at English.

He is also the editor of the anthology: "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion."

To buy "Searching Jenin: Eyewitness Accounts of the Israeli Invasion" CLICK HERE

  Category: Middle East, World Affairs
  Topics: Palestine, Yasser Arafat
Views: 5633

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Older Comments:
Abu Umar writes:
"another traitor of the muslim ummah has passed away."

And we should not wish that Allah "punish you for your sins." as another poster put it.

How can we wish punishment upon another person when we are not ones to judge on the day of qiyamaat? And who are we to start mouthing off about someone after that person dies? So Abu Umar, you want to hold anger against Yasser Arafat, do you not know that when someoen passes away, you should forgive them because it will lessen their punishment in the grave? Doesn't Allah (swt) want us to forgive over other methods, because it is better for us and more rewarding?

Think again.

I have FOUR WORDS of many sentences for you 'Abu Umar'...


"The Believers are but a single brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy."

"O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it...But fear Allah. For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful."
Surah Al-Hujurat,Ayat 10,12

It is clear and obvious to everyone that you do not truly understand the bounties of love, compassion, forgivenes, nor do you posess guidance in these manners, for if you did, you would realize right away that Ramadan is a time for forgiveness - since it just ended, I suggest to you to learn a thing or two from the fasts you just kept, don't be foolish by throwing away the blessing of Allah being At-Tawwab, for He always accepts our sincere repentance.

Yes I acted on my 'emotions' with MUHABBAH...and I certainly did not accuse anyone of acting upon their emotions as you accuse me buddy, I RESPONDED to those calling Arafat a "traitor" as ones who spew venom, anger, and hatred. Don't change my words to suit you, and all that anger and hatred for Arafat you have in yourself, what you gonna do now??? You call a man a traitor after he honourable of you....what courage you have....WAKE UP Abu Umar.

Ramadan should have been a time for you to realize that the anger you hold in your heart is powerless and demeans you!

May Allah guide you towards forgiving those whom you hate, and May Allah teach you to learn this lesson before it is too late for you to do so.

Presbyterian Church receives arson threat. Letter cites church's policies in the Middle East.

To seperate one's opponents from their supporters sometimes it only seems necessary to encourage the well intentioned among their supporters to say no to them. Perhaps their arrogance would do the rest in starting that which might lead to their undoing.

If our opponents turn in repentence to the Lord of the Worlds before they are undone then surely that is a good thing. A prayer of gratitude for what others have endured on our behalf might also seem like a good thing. Insha'Allah (God willing) I am grateful.

I am sure there are still ways Yasser Arafat's standing with the Lord of the Worlds can be improved. One way appears to be through prayers for him by one who is as a child to him. Might the good deeds of those who call themselves his followers benefit him similarly?

Eid Mubarak!

first akbar,i think it is you who is acting upon emotions. it is plain as day that all these so called leaders in the muslim world,not just arafat,are traitors to this ummmah. if you dont want to see that that is with you. ALLAH is arafat and all of mankind's judge on that day,but, looking and examing arafat's actions,again,actions, he no way worked for islam. he was a nationalist,secularism,democratic leader. so, he was a traitor to islam. just as you mention the quran,remember the ayats.
remember, ALLAH is merciful but also has HIS punishment.

it is hard for the palestine people to struggle without strong leader like late arafat, may allah bless his soul

Arafat was a great man and revolutionary. He fought for the rights of the Palestinian people and for their freedom. The Palestinian and Chinese people share a history of fightint Western imperialism, and Mao supplied Arafat with many weapons to fight the Zionist oppresor. Arafat was a dear friend of the Chinese people, and we in China have lost a good friend. The Palestinian people have lost a father and the world has lost a great revolutionary.

Inni lillahi wa inni ilaihi raji'un. Verily to Allah we belong and verily to Allah we return.

To those who called Arafat a traitor and all that nonsense. Who are you people, what did you do for Palestinians, you guys talk as if you put your lives on the line - DO ANY OF YOU KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE TO PUT YOUR LIFE ON THE LINE, WOULD YOU THEN COMPLAIN ABOUT ARAFAT, PSSHH YEH RIGHT you goons have no idea what that even feels like, so don't even talk, and keep your HATRED to yourselves, don't spit it at Arafat, it only bounces back on to you.

I REPEAT what I said in the very first comment, unfortunately you goons are too full of pride and hate, your hearts are rusted and shriveled up like PRUNES, so I repeat!:

"If Allah is the all-merciful, then surely we cannot be proud by not showing mercy and forgiveness. May Allah forgive him for anything stopping him from entering Paradise, and reward him plentifully for the good he did in his life and grant him Jannat. AMEEN."

He eas a great man and a hero to all musilims around the world he never sold out his people he is a icon that will be missed may allah give him janna and forgive his shortcomings

I may not have liked Arafat much, but he was the democratically elected leader of his people which is more than I can say for some other world "leaders."
Rest in peace, old man. May Allah reward you for your good works and punish you for your sins.

another traitor of the muslim ummah has passed away. Allah is just and fair in giving His reward and also just and fair in giving the punishment. this man arafat has for decades deceived his people with dreams of some so call palestinian state. Palestine/israel is an islamic land. was first open to islam by Umar the shahabi,may Allah be please with him, then liberated by salahudiin from the kuffar. what is arafat's legacy. the backs of his people were beaten as his stoled billions of dollars from them.

When a great leader, or one who is seen to be a great leader, passes on, it is very easy to believe that no one will be greater. but mankind is passing, and we must remember that. i'm sure that God will raise another leader, perhaps one even better, for this struggle, who was not before visible to our eyes because he or perhaps she was shadowed by Arafat's charisma. we need to move on, because our enemies do not wait for us to mourn.

RIP. We must respect the human being, the revolutionary, the freedom fighter who put the falestini cause on the map! his legacy must be known worldwide,but lets not be hypocritical about the politician and business man arafat. Sheikh Yasin ash shaheed never accepted $...Our beloved Arafat changed as soon as Netanyahu called him "Mr Chairman"... anyhow his contributions to Falestin are wider than middle east and brought support from the planet, for that we will honour him and his work till yaum ad din...

I won't shed a tear for the loss of this man. He sent millions to his family in France while 'his people' lived in poverty mere yards away. He was quick to reject peace, but never offered a resolution of his own. He is honored, not for being a good leader, but for standing up to 'the Jews', even if it ultimately meant the death of thousands. He had the opportunity for peace, and he squandered it, creating conditions that make peace all but impossible. He would not allow power to be shared, and he made himself irrelevant for most of this decade.

this is good article, its a sad day for the people of Palestine, muslims and the worlds people in general. He is definately a respectable man then the rest of the Arabs impotent, disgraced and shameless dictators. Palestine would not be in this situation if they had a little bit of vision. Arabs unity is paramount but they don't seem to learn anything from histoy or around them. what a shame!

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaiyhi raji'un. President Yassir Arafat has passed on to the next life. May Allah and his rasool encompass him with their love and reward him for the good he has done in this world. I love Yassir Arafat, and ask you all to forgive him and do not hold any anger in your hearts against him, there is more reward for forgiveness, and it is what Allah wants us to do. Do not forget the leadership he upheld for so many decades against Zionism and what he stood for. Remember him and send peace upon him so that he may have comfort and ease in his grave. If you have nothing good to say then don't say anything at all.

If Allah is the all-merciful, then surely we cannot be proud by not showing mercy and forgiveness. May Allah forgive him for anything stopping him from entering Paradise, and reward him plentifully for the good he did in his life and grant him Jannat. AMEEN.