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Palestine | International

Yasser Arafat — Reflections on the Man of Palestinian Destiny
by Arab News (repost)
Thursday Nov 11th, 2004 9:24 PM
JEDDAH, 12 November 2004 — Yasser Arafat’s death marks the end of a Palestinian icon who, as long as I can remember, dominated the Middle East scene.

From that fateful year of 1967 when the Israelis invaded and occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip until his very last breath, Arafat figured prominently on every Palestinian issue.

My recollections of him are vivid: As students, we were all supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and he embodied the cause.

I first met Arafat in September1982 . It was in Jeddah at the Guest Palace in Baghdadiah. I had gone to interview him for Arab News and its sister publication, Al-Majalla.

He was very different from the image portrayed by the media. A short, dapper man, he quickly disarmed you with his pleasant smile. He smiled often, something which men of lesser mettle would not be able to do — considering he had just lived through 88 days of hell during the siege of Beirut.

A quiet dinner followed our initial meeting. Arafat hardly ate, too preoccupied with narrating what had happened and what future course of action to take. At times it seemed he talked more to himself than us — describing in minute details the savage bombing by the Israelis of Lebanese and Palestinian civilian targets.

One could almost feel his intense emotions as he meandered from topic to topic, touching on incidents of valor and bravery and of the determination of the young PLO fighters and their patriotic Lebanese allies, willing to die for a just cause.

His eyes brimmed with tears as he spoke of the treachery that followed his departure from Beirut. The PLO fighters left Beirut so that its civilian population would not further endure the merciless slaughter by the Israelis who, by using freely provided American arms and ammunition, were intent on razing the entire city to the ground and adding one more chapter in their history of genocide against the Palestinians.

Throughout the siege, Arafat remained calm. His appearance and manners contrasted sharply with the loutish behavior of Sharon or the psychopathic gesture of Begin. He spoke not of revenge but of justice. For the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in diasporas, the need of the hour was a homeland of their own — not refugee camps.

Arafat was genuine. Throughout our meeting, he did not try to act the patriot or the arrogant leader. What I found was a man who sincerely believed in his cause.

Our conversation was interrupted by his interview on an American television network channel via satellite. He was asked questions that showed the narrow-mindedness and bigotry of the journalists interviewing him — but he never lost his cool. Instead, he repeatedly asked the questioners not to be biased.

But the interviewers continued to reiterate the same old Zionist propaganda statements: The PLO is for the destruction of Israel; the PLO wants to kill all Jews, etc.

As these, and similar questions were asked, Arafat would sit back, fold his arms, look genuinely puzzled and ask about the authenticity of such statements. This match would go for a couple of minutes until Arafat would then pose a question himself.

It was always certain that the interviewer was trying to bait Arafat. It was also certain that Arafat never took the bait.

Throughout most interviews Arafat would patiently repeat that the PLO was not waging a war against Israel, but rather Israel was waging a war of occupation against the Palestinians. He repeatedly said it was the Israeli government, and not the PLO, that was playing an exterminator’s role. And he chided the United States for fully backing these ardent Zionists who were intent on destroying both the PLO and the Palestinians.

The terrorists in Tel Aviv and their allies, Arafat said to me during our dinner, may gloat temporarily at the PLO’s departure from Beirut, “but Sharon and Begin have only to turn the pages of history to find out where Attila and Hitler have gone.”

The will of the people cannot be suppressed, he told me quietly while reaching out for some grapes. The 88 days of Beirut somehow strengthened the Palestinians’ determination, he said.

I had several other opportunities to meet him at different venues — at Arab summits and conferences in Europe. He was always polite. At times he would cross security lines to offer a handshake.

Once, over a cup of tea in Dakar, I found him in a very pensive mood.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he replied. “I am just thinking about my family in Palestine.”

On another occasion, while having lunch together in Tunis, I asked him whether he would ever return to Palestine.

“Yes” he said, pushing his chair back. “You see, one cannot repress the will of a people who are trying to reclaim their lost rights. What about the massive US military, economic and political support for Israel?” I asked.

“That has temporarily stopped us,” he conceded. “But in the long run we will win — for several reasons.

First, because we are right; second, the American government will discover that what they are doing is absolutely wrong. Because by depriving a people of their God-given right of self-determination, they are negating all principles of justice.”

At times, Arafat would ramble, and his use of the English syntax was poor, and he constantly labored to improve his language.

Once, while meeting with some Western journalists, he kept reiterating something about the “Israeli military junta.” I quickly pointed out that no such thing existed in Israel.

During the last few years, Arafat found himself vilified by the many pro-Israeli commentators in the United States who, at the behest of the Israelis, tried to demonize him.

It is true that few modern figures were as controversial as Arafat.

One of his failings was to try to please everyone. For this he was often rebuked — not by the Arabs, but by his own people.

For example, his support of Saddam Hussein during the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait cost both him and the Palestinian people dearly.

He once said it was difficult to do business when under pressure from friends. It was a vague statement but I understood what he meant.

There is no doubt that Arafat missed many opportunities. His critics argued that had he agreed to the Wye peace talks organized by former President Bill Clinton, he could have achieved something for the Palestinians.

Throughout his life, Arafat was a humble man who lived simply, but he was surrounded by an enormous entourage whose lifestyle contrasted differently with his and that of those in the Palestinian refugee camps.

His personal propriety was never questioned, but some of his financial decisions aroused suspicion.

Throughout most of his life, the Israelis and their allies tried their best to denigrate him. By using their media “outlet” in the United States, they hoped that whatever support there was for the Palestinians would dissipate. This never deterred him, and he put together a group of well-educated, articulate Westernized Palestinian spokespersons who knew how to stand their ground.

It is unfortunate, for both Arafat and the Palestinians, that Israel has become a domestic issue in US policy.

No candidate can gain ground in a US election without pandering to Zionist interests or by advertising his or her pro-Israeli leanings. Arafat thus became a punching bag for both Bush and Kerry in their interviews and debates.

But whatever people said about him, it did not diminish his image in the eyes of his people and to millions of supporters of justice for the Palestinians.

On the contrary, the more viciously Arafat was attacked, the more fiercely he was supported by both his people living in the refugee camps outside Palestine and among the3 . 5million Palestinians living under the oppressive and brutal Israeli dictatorship in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Arafat was no saint. But he kept the Palestine issue alive.

He was its symbol. His failing was his refusal to delegate, and his inability to accept his own mortality.

At his death, he had one simple request: He wanted to be buried in Jerusalem. It is sad that the descendants of those from the ghettoes of Danzig and Warsaw have deprived him of that wish.

Now that he is gone, it is up to those who will follow in Arafat’s shadow to keep the Palestinian cause in center stage.

Arafat may be no more. But the image of that frail old man with his mischievous smile trapped by Sharon’s murderous forces in Ramallah and yet emerging again and again to wave at the camera, while maintaining his dignity and decorum — will remain embedded in the minds of future Palestinians, and many others throughout the world.

Allah Yarhamak ya Abu Ammar.


GAZA CITY, 12 November 2004 — The world will bid farewell to Abu Ammar, Yasser Arafat, as one of the towering figures of Arab politics embarks on his final journey with a state funeral in Cairo today followed by a solemn burial ceremony in Ramallah.

Heads of state and government leaders from some 100 countries will be on hand in Cairo to pay tribute to the Palestinian leader who died in Paris early yesterday.

Last night the United Nations General Assembly took the rare step of paying tribute to Arafat with a minute’s silence followed by a eulogy from Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The measure was seen as a unanimous endorsement of the Palestinians’ right of self-determination by the world community.

Arafat’s passing was seen by leaders and analysts alike as the end of a chapter in the region’s history and the opening of a new one filled with uncertainties. While many voices spoke of new opportunities and new hopes, others warned of darker days ahead, especially if the Palestinians fail to quickly develop a new united leadership.

This morning, the mortal remains of Arafat, flown overnight from Paris in a French military aircraft, will pass through the streets of the Egyptian capital in a solemn cortege to King Faisal Mosque for a special memorial service. The Palestinian leader’s remains will then be flown to Jordan en route to Ramallah, in the West Bank, where he would be buried close to his Muqataa compound tomorrow.

Arafat,75 , died after almost a week in a deep coma in a French military hospital in Clamart, near Paris. A brief statement by the general commanding the hospital did not mention the cause of the death.\Palestinian officials announced 40 days of mourning for Arafat. Shortly after news of the death was announced, a wave of grief swept across the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thousands of Palestinians poured into the streets, clutching Arafat’s pictures, crying and wondering about their future without the man who embodied their struggle for statehood.

Black smoke from burning tires rose across the Gaza Strip and gunmen fired into the air in grief. Palestinian flags at Arafat’s battered compound in Ramallah were lowered to half-mast. Church bells rang out, and Qur’anic verses were played over mosque loudspeakers.

The death of Arafat, who ruled firmly over rival Palestinian factions for four decades, left Palestinians without a strong leader for the first time. It raised concern that the scramble to claim Arafat’s mantle could fragment the Palestinian leadership or spark chaos and factional fighting in the streets.

In a hurried effort to project continuity, the Palestine Liberation Organization elected former Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas as its new chief, virtually ensuring that he will succeed Arafat as leader of the Palestinians, at least in the short term.

The Palestinian legislature also swore in Parliament Speaker Rauhi Fattouh as caretaker president of the Palestinian Authority until elections can be held in 60 days, according to Palestinian law.

Saudi leaders paid tribute to Arafat and offered condolences to the Palestinian people. In a message addressed to the Palestinian leadership, King Fahd said he shared the pain of the Palestinians over the loss of their leader. Crown Prince Abdullah and Defense Minister Prince Sultan sent similar messages.

President Bush said the passing of Arafat was a “significant moment” in Palestinian history and expressed his hope that Palestinians would achieve statehood and peace with Israel. “During the period of transition that is ahead, we urge all in the region and throughout the world to join in helping make progress toward these goals and toward the ultimate goal of peace,” he said. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said Arafat’s death could serve as a “historic turning point in the Middle East” and expressed his hope the Palestinians would now work to stop “terrorism”. In a sign of the enmity the two men shared even in death, Sharon refused to mention Arafat by name. French President Jacques Chirac eulogized Arafat as a “man of courage and conviction who, for 40 years, has been the incarnation of the Palestinians’ combat for recognition of their national rights.”

So intent was France to show its attachment to Arafat that his mortal remains were given a full military escort en route to the Villacoublay airport from the hospital. Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Foreign Minister Michel Barnier were on hand, to pay tribute to the deceased Palestinian leader.

Arafat was flown to the French military hospital on Oct. 29after his health began deteriorating last month. It was the first time in nearly three years that he left his compound in Ramallah, where he was held a virtual prisoner by Israel.

Palestinian officials initially insisted he had a lingering case of the flu, but they grew increasingly concerned when he did not recover.

Neither his doctors nor Palestinian leaders would say what killed him. “He closed his eyes and his big heart stopped. He left for God but he is still among this great people,” said senior Arafat aide Tayeb Abdel Rahim, who broke into tears as he announced Arafat’s death.

The Israeli military said it would restrict access to the burial, allowing only Palestinians with permits to attend, but would allow mourners to hold processions in towns and refugee camps.

As much as his life was filled with controversy, so too was Arafat’s death.

The Palestinians had demanded Arafat be buried in Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Israel refused, fearing a Jerusalem burial would strengthen Palestinians’ claims to a city they envision as a capital of a future Palestinian state.

In a compromise, the Palestinians agreed to bury him at his compound in Ramallah, battered and strewn with rubble from repeated Israeli raids. But they plan to line his grave with soil taken from the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, said Ahmed Ghneim, a Fatah leader, and he is to be interred in a cement box, so he can be moved to Jerusalem for burial when the opportunity presents itself.

Arafat became one of the world’s most familiar faces after addressing the UN General Assembly in New York in1974 , when he entered the chamber wearing a holster and carrying a twig. “Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun,” he said. “Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” Two decades later, he shook hands at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on a peace deal that formally recognized Israel’s right to exist while granting the Palestinians limited self-rule in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The pact led to the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for Arafat, Rabin and then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

But the accord quickly unraveled amid mutual suspicions and accusations of treaty violations. A Palestinian uprising that erupted in the fall of 2000has killed some4 , 000people, three-quarters of them Palestinians.

A resilient survivor of war with Israel, assassination attempts and a plane crash, Arafat was born Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat Al-Qudwa Al-Husseini on Aug.24 ,1929 , the fifth of seven children of a Palestinian merchant killed in the 1948 war over Israel’s creation. There is disagreement whether he was born in Gaza or Cairo.

Educated as an engineer in Egypt, Arafat served in the Egyptian Army and then started a construction firm in Kuwait. It was there that he founded the Fatah movement, which became the core of the PLO. After the six-day Arab-Israeli war of1967 , the PLO thrust itself on the world’s front pages by sending its gunmen out to hijack airplanes, machine gun airports and kill Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

“As long as the world saw Palestinians as no more than refugees standing in line for UN rations, it was not likely to respect them. Now that the Palestinians carry rifles the situation has changed,” Arafat explained.


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by Arab News (repost)
Thursday Nov 11th, 2004 9:25 PM
RIYADH/JEDDAH/DAMMAM, 12 November 2004 — Gloom descended on Saudi Arabia like the rest of the Middle East and elsewhere in the world, as Yasser Arafat died in a Paris hospital yesterday morning. Citizens and expatriates of all shades of opinion admired his role in the struggle for statehood for Palestinians.

“His death is a big loss to the entire Arab world,” Ihsan Ba Hulaiga, a Shoura Council Member, said in Riyadh. “Arafat will continue to be the symbol of Arab aspirations and independent Palestine state for all future generations to come.”

“Arafat was a charismatic leader who struggled for the cause of Palestine until his last breath. His demise has left a vacuum, which cannot be filled by anyone from the ranks of Palestinian leaders. He was one of the most relevant political figures of our time,” Hulaiga said.

“He was the father of our struggle,” Syed Khalaf, a student at King Abdul Aziz University, said. “We only hope that his death will not complicate the Palestine issue further, but pave the way for real peace.” Khalaf’s feeling was shared by many nationals and expatriates across the Kingdom.

Yasser Arafat has been the standard-bearer of Palestinian nationalism for nearly half a century and has lived most of his life in the shadow of death with numerous enemies poised to liquidate him. His status as the symbol of the Palestinian fight for their own homeland has never been challenged and his death would leave a huge gap difficult to fill, said Ahmed Al-Mugri, a Saudi businessman and an active member of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce & Industry.

Describing Arafat’s death as “the greatest loss suffered by Palestine,” Nayef Ezghool, a Palestinian teacher in Riyadh, said the departed leader worked resolutely in the past four decades to promote the Palestinian cause. “He was a leader of not only Palestine, but a hero of the Arab world.”

“The bigger question is, would Arafat’s death mean even more instability in the Middle East or could it act as a circuit breaker for one of the world’s longest and bloodiest conflicts?” asked a Canadian expatriate, Bob Cannon. At stake are the shape of a new Palestinian leadership and the very future of the Middle East, he said.

“Arafat was as much of the problem, and perhaps more of the problem than he was of the solution,” said an American expatriate who requested anonymity.

Dr. Abdullah Al-Homiedan, dean of the College of Languages and Translation (COLT) at King Saud University, sounded an alarm about the post-Arafat era. Whatever the shape of things to come, “Arafat will remain a symbol of resistance and Palestinian dignity,” the academic said, adding that there cannot be any replacement for Arafat in Arab politics.

“Chairman Arafat,” he said, “devoted his entire life for the just cause of Palestinian people and worked with a missionary zeal to create a separate Palestinian state. His death is not only a great loss to Palestine, but also for Saudi Arabia,” said the dean in the context of growing Saudi-Palestine relations. The Kingdom is currently implementing millions of riyals worth of development projects in the war-ravaged Palestine, which is losing SR 40million daily because of the Israeli intransigence.

Riyadh, which has recently donated some 137 ambulances, is also regularly extending aid to Palestine within the framework of an initiative launched a few years ago by Crown Prince Abdullah. This initiative led the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to set up two funds -Al Quds Fund and Al Aqsa Fund — primarily to raise $ 1billion for Palestine.

“Asia, and particularly India, has lost a great friend.” Akhtar Siddiqui, member of the managing committee of Delhi Public School (DPS), said, adding that Arafat’s death is a great loss not only for the Palestinians but also for Asia. “His death marks a turning point in the history of the Middle East and the world at large,” he said.

In Jeddah, Alladin Ahmed Mohammed, an Egyptian taxi driver said: “I think Arafat has been dead for five or six days. They were just stalling for time. He was poisoned. The change in his blood cells indicates this. The coming months will not be good for the Palestinians. With the death of their leader they will receive little attention from the world. All the focus now is on Iraq. I believe that the Palestinian people and the Israeli people want to live together. It is to the advantage though of both corrupt governments that the violence continues.”

“Nobody can guess global politics anymore. It’s a game. How it will play out we are waiting to see. Arafat’s passing could be a good thing. At least it will give a chance for new initiatives,” Mohammed Hamdan, a Lebanese trainee at Jeddah Inter Continental said.

“I think it’s a loss no matter what you think about the man. Arafat was their elected leader. The future now will be up to the Palestinian people. It is best if there will be a peaceful transition and I don’t think the road ahead is clear. There are many possible factors that could emerge. And the Palestinians alone can’t create a lasting peace. It is strange though how things happen sometimes. In Poland whoever thought that a local pipe fitter could change the government. Hopefully the right person will come into the spotlight at the right time,” said an American consultant for a US firm who identified himself as Robert.

“God bless his soul. This is a confusing time. I really don’t know who will take Arafat’s place. No one man can. There are so many issues and nothing is clear. About the money, there have been rumors for some time. I have the feeling that at least some of it is the truth. But this should not be the focus immediately. The factions must unite and stand together. That is the only way the Palestinians have a chance for a better future. At this moment we must be hopeful. It’s all we have,” said Ousama Hussein, a Palestinian dentist in Dammam.

Some Jeddah residents said Arafat’s death would strengthen the Palestinians’ will for freedom and independence. “Arafat was a symbol of Palestinian freedom struggle and statehood. He did more than anybody else in furthering and strengthening that cause,” said Sameer A. Awadallah, a Palestinian computer engineer “In that sense, with all due respect for the departed leader, it is not a loss,” he added.

Kasim Noor Muhammad, an Indian electrical goods sales executive, said that while any death was a sad occasion, Arafat’s was much more so, “because he has passed away at a critical stage in Middle East politics.”

According to him, in death Arafat would prove more formidable for (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon, who did all his “evil best” to sideline and “politically destroy the Palestinian leader in connivance with the US.”

Wael Bukhary, a Saudi accountant, said Arafat had left a legacy of spirit, and strong will for the Palestinians to continue their struggle for independence from the occupation Israeli forces.

“Israelis must realize that their killing of thousands of innocent Palestinian women and children, and old and young people, is proving useless just because the will for freedom is stronger in might than any power in the world and this will is definitely going to be strengthened by Arafat’s death,” he added.

Yasin Al-Akkas, a Syrian pharmacist, said Arafat was a hero and man of the masses all his life. “Notwithstanding Sharon’s machinations, he has died a hero’s death and left a determined army of followers much larger than the Israelis can comprehend “intoxicated by ruthless power and brutal force as they are. Of course a new leadership will emerge, but Arafat will be missed a lot and his death will cast a long shadow.”

(With input from M. Ghazanfar Ali Khan in Riyadh, Molouk Y. Ba-Isa in Dammam and K.S. Ramkumar and Habib Shaikh in Jeddah).

by He Put Palestine on the Map
Thursday Nov 11th, 2004 9:26 PM
Yasser Arafat’s death in Paris yesterday closes one of the most dramatic chapters in the contemporary history of the Middle East. It is natural that the world should know, as well as like or dislike, Arafat for the role he played as the leader of the Palestinians. But his 40-year-long political career had a much broader impact on regional and world politics.

When he emerged at the head of an obscure guerrilla group named Al Fatah (Victory), the Arab states, having suffered three successive defeats at the hands of Israel, appeared more discredited than ever. Arafat offered an attractive alternative: People power emanating from the barrel of a gun. As a long-term strategy, this was doomed to failure. But then there was the law of unintended consequences. Arafat’s revolutionary politics, condemned by many as terrorism, achieved what the Arab armies had failed to do: Forcing the world, and eventually Israel itself, to acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian nation. This meant that a people who had been treated as refugees surviving on handouts, while their very name was not mentioned even in UN resolutions, were able to regain, if not their rights, at least the recognition of their rights. The recognition restored part of the dignity that the Palestinians had lost since the “nakba” (catastrophe) of1948 . Arafat, however, was destined to end his life in tragic failure. Having embarked on the rollercoaster of international diplomacy he saw his fortunes rise to their peak with the Oslo Accords crowned by a Nobel Peace Prize. The year2001 , however, brought the downside, with Arafat becoming a prisoner in his forlorn compound in Ramallah.

It is too early for us to judge a man of such a stature as Arafat. That task must be left to history. The best that the people of Palestine and their friends can do is to acknowledge Arafat’s achievement but also recognize his shortcomings. Among the latter was his dogged determination not to allow Palestinian politics from being institutionalized. His administration was also marred by incompetence and corruption. A towering giant of a tree he would not allow others to grow in his shadow. But even then, when all is said and done, Arafat must be remembered as the man who leaves behind a national identity, a set of deeply felt aspirations, and years of experience in waging war and seeking peace.

Tomorrow as Arafat’s mortal remains will be laid to rest in Ramallah, all men of good will would remember the sufferings of the Palestinians and the justice of their aspirations. But, once the moment of grief is gone, the new Palestinian leadership should move quickly to revive the stalled peace process and prevent the imposition of a unilateral Israeli solution with the Gaza plan as its prologue.

by Arafat: Struggle From Birth to Death...
Thursday Nov 11th, 2004 9:31 PM

Although we may not all have agreed with Arafat, all of us agreed on one thing, that former president Yasser Arafat became a symbol of the Palestinian resistance. And despite his siege for years within his ravaged Al-Muqatta compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Arafat had been an instrumental player in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as he had an iron will. Arafat, who used to wear a commando's uniform and an Arabic headdress, was, possibly, the only man capable of keeping Palestinian hopes of freedom alive.

by gehrig
Friday Nov 12th, 2004 7:22 AM
"He Put Palestine on the Map"

Sadly, he did just the opposite. Had he carried through with his obligations under Oslo, or had he accepted the offer at Taba, then, yes, he would have put Palestine on the map. But ultimately he was more interested in personal power than in the existence of the state of Palestine. All the glowing hagiography in the world won't change the fact that, on what mattered most, Arafat was a curse rather than a blessing for the Palestinian people, because he convinced them that symbolic victories outweighed real defeats. And that _kept_ Palestine from the map.

by gehrig
Friday Nov 12th, 2004 7:27 AM
"was, possibly, the only man capable of keeping Palestinian hopes of freedom alive. "

Don't underestimate what the Palestinian people can do now that they're free of Arafat's "leadership."

by Opach
Monday Feb 14th, 2005 11:52 AM
Arafat was a terrorist. Near the end of his life he pushed for peace, and that is good. But for the most part he was a scum-in-a-bucket terrorist. The world is a better place without him.
by Critical Thinker
Monday Feb 14th, 2005 11:58 AM
>>>"Near the end of his life he pushed for peace"<<<

Sorry, he only pretended to push for real peace.
by Joe
Monday Feb 14th, 2005 12:53 PM
Why do modern-day "peace" activists love terrorist scumbags like arafat so much?

I understand that leftists hate big government, but does that mean you have to support terrorist scumbags who are trying to form big government but merely haven't been able to because they're been too busy fooling their people into a pointless, ever-lasting terrorist war?

Arafat stole money like a big government politican. Does that make you love him a bit less?

by Jeff Jacoby
Tuesday Feb 7th, 2006 11:49 AM

Arafat the monster
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist | November 11, 2004

YASSER ARAFAT died at age 75, lying in bed surrounded by familiar faces. He left this world peacefully, unlike the thousands of victims he sent to early graves.

In a better world, the PLO chief would have met his end on a gallows, hanged for mass murder much as the Nazi chiefs were hanged at Nuremberg. In a better world, the French president would not have paid a visit to the bedside of such a monster. In a better world, George Bush would not have said, on hearing the first reports that Arafat had died, "God bless his soul."

God bless his soul? What a grotesque idea! Bless the soul of the man who brought modern terrorism to the world? Who sent his agents to slaughter athletes at the Olympics, blow airliners out of the sky, bomb schools and pizzerias, machine-gun passengers in airline terminals? Who lied, cheated, and stole without compunction? Who inculcated the vilest culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich? Human beings might stoop to bless a creature so evil -- as indeed Arafat was blessed, with money, deference, even a Nobel Prize -- but God, I am quite sure, will damn him for eternity.

Arafat always inspired flights of nonsense from Western journalists, and his last two weeks were no exception.

Derek Brown wrote in The Guardian that Arafat's "undisputed courage as a guerrilla leader" was exceeded only "by his extraordinary courage" as a peace negotiator. But it is an odd kind of courage that expresses itself in shooting unarmed victims -- or in signing peace accords and then flagrantly violating their terms.

Another commentator, columnist Gwynne Dyer, asked, "So what did Arafat do right?" The answer: He drew worldwide attention to the Palestinian cause, "for the most part by successful acts of terror." In other words, butchering innocent human beings was "right," since it served an ulterior political motive. No doubt that thought brings daily comfort to all those who were forced to bury a child, parent, or spouse because of Arafat's "successful" terrorism.

Some journalists couldn't wait for Arafat's actual death to begin weeping for him. Take the BBC's Barbara Plett, who burst into tears on the day he was airlifted out of the West Bank. "When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound," Plett reported from Ramallah, "I started to cry." Normal people don't weep for brutal murderers, but Plett made it clear that her empathy for Arafat -- whom she praised as "a symbol of Palestinian unity, steadfastness, and resistance" -- was heartfelt:

"I remember well when the Israelis re-conquered the West Bank more than two years ago, how they drove their tanks and bulldozers into Mr. Arafat's headquarters, trapping him in a few rooms, and throwing a military curtain around Ramallah. I remember how Palestinians admired his refusal to flee under fire. They told me: `Our leader is sharing our pain, we are all under the same siege.' And so was I." Such is the state of journalism at the BBC, whose reporters do not seem to have any trouble reporting, dry-eyed, on the plight of Arafat's victims. (That is, when they mention them -- which Plett's teary bon voyage to Arafat did not.)

And what about those victims? Why were they scarcely remembered in this Arafat death watch?

How is it possible to reflect on Arafat's most enduring legacy -- the rise of modern terrorism -- without recalling the legions of men, women, and children whose lives he and his followers destroyed? If Osama bin Laden were on his deathbed, would we neglect to mention all those he murdered on 9/11?

It would take an encyclopedia to catalog all of the evil Arafat committed. But that is no excuse for not trying to recall at least some of it.

Perhaps his signal contribution to the practice of political terror was the introduction of warfare against children. On one black date in May 1974, three PLO terrorists slipped from Lebanon into the northern Israeli town of Ma'alot. They murdered two parents and a child whom they found at home, then seized a local school, taking more than 100 boys and girls hostage and threatening to kill them unless a number of imprisoned terrorists were released. When Israeli troops attempted a rescue, the terrorists exploded hand grenades and opened fire on the students. By the time the horror ended, 25 people were dead; 21 of them were children.

Thirty years later, no one speaks of Ma'alot anymore. The dead children have been forgotten. Everyone knows Arafat's name, but who ever recalls the names of his victims?

So let us recall them: Ilana Turgeman. Rachel Aputa. Yocheved Mazoz. Sarah Ben-Shim'on. Yona Sabag. Yafa Cohen. Shoshana Cohen. Michal Sitrok. Malka Amrosy. Aviva Saada. Yocheved Diyi. Yaakov Levi. Yaakov Kabla. Rina Cohen. Ilana Ne'eman. Sarah Madar. Tamar Dahan. Sarah Soper. Lili Morad. David Madar. Yehudit Madar. The 21 dead children of Ma'alot -- 21 of the thousands of who died at Arafat's command.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is jacoby [at] globe.com.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company