Yasser Arafat, the legacy [Archives:2004/791/Front Page]

November 18 2004

A lot has been said about Yasser Arafat, particularly in the days after he fell ill in October 2004. Globally, a lot of the material was published about him, but which was mainly negatively portrayed as it was taken from the narrow perspective of the pro-Israeli point of view that assumes that Arafat is a supporter of terrorist who facilitates the killing of innocent Israeli civilians.
On the other hand, most of the people of the developing world see him as a hero who had been fighting all his life for the liberation of the Palestinian occupied territory.
This contrast cannot easily be identified unless one travels throughout the world and interviews citizens in different countries.
It is noteworthy that in the last few years, the sympathy towards Arafat has increased tremendously, particularly in Europe, which Israel now considers anti-Semitic.
But to shed more light on this freedom fighter, let us take the historical dimensions of his life into perspective and see how he evolved into becoming a symbol for freedom throughout the world.

The beginning
Being born in Gaza in 1929 to a relatively well-to-do merchant family, Arafat was given the birth name Muhammad, which has since been almost completely sidelined by the nickname Yasser.
Arafat's mother passed away when he was four, leaving the responsibility of raising him to his older sister.
Arafat lived as a regular boy who worked hard to attain the maximum educational level possible, but also held on to the conviction of the need to struggle for Palestinian independence.
As a teenager, Arafat was involved in assisting Palestinian fighters resisting the Israeli occupation.
It has been recorded that the young Gazan helped smuggle weapons to the fighters in the war of 1948.
Like many aspiring students from Gaza, he traveled to Egypt to finish his studies. There, he formed the Palestinian Graduate Association.
Among other tasks, the group supplied volunteers to the Egyptian front to stand against British, French and Israeli forces during the Suez crisis.
He graduated from the civil engineering department of the University of Cairo and sought employment in Kuwait.

Establishment of Fatah
In 1956 he formed an underground organization, later known as Fatah in Kuwait. The group fought for a Palestinian state, carrying out attacks on Israeli targets.
But the young revolutionary was interested in much more than a secure job. The Fatah movement later came to serve as the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's largest and most popular faction.
He worked towards attracting more attention to his movement and the plight of Palestinian refugees.
One of the earliest recorded outcomes of those efforts was the publishing of the magazine Falestinuna (Our Palestine).
To expand the scope and influence of his revolutionary ideas, he opened an office for his group in Algeria, in 1965.
By then, he was seeking a greater Arab awareness of the Palestinian issue but without allowing any Arab government to have a mandate over the Palestinian struggle with Israel.
He was recognized for leading several attacks against Israel from various Arab territories. He believed that armed resistance was the only option left for a population that had lost its homeland and freedom.
He was determined that Palestinians were the best people to manage the war with Israel.
However, his insistence on maintaining the independent character of the Palestinian struggle has often been a source of conflict between him and various Arab governments.

Black September
In Jordan, that rift culminated in a war between Palestinian resistance factions and the Jordanian army.
Thousands of Palestinian civilians were slaughtered in Jordan's crackdown in what became known as Black September.
Palestinian factions were forced out of Jordan into Lebanon, this time with Arafat elected as the chairman of the PLO's executive committee.
Lebanon, already swamped in a civil strife between its various sects and factions, was hardly ready for another formidable force that, in addition to its political influence, altered the fractious ethnic set-up of the country. Meanwhile, Arafat became the first representative of a non-government agency to address the UN General Assembly. With a pistol-holder strapped to his hip in 1974, he said “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.””
In 1978