Yassir Arafat [Archives:2004/790/Opinion]

November 15 2004

Even the last remaining days of the persistent resistance fighter, Mohammed Abder Rauf Arafat al-Kudwa al-Husseini, better known as Yassir or Yasser Arafat, and sometimes as Abu Ammar, are surrounded with mystery and considerable controversy. But, who is Yassir Arafat and why does so much controversy arise wherever this man goes and whatever he says or does? Many people, though very familiar with the almost round face full of beard stubbles and always capped with the renowned black and white headscarf that has come to be the symbol of Palestinian identity and resistance, actually haven't the faintest idea about the background of this phenomenal figure. Even with Arafat making headlines for about forty years in most of the international papers and attracting the attention of most of the media, whatever he does, while recognized as the leader of the Palestinians by most countries, is still shrouded in much mystery and often portrayed as a demonic character by all the media that supports the Zionist cause. But now as his activities are just about brought to a halt and perhaps his end has come to be more certain than anything else that ever could be said about this man, one is bound to give notice to the factors that made this man a noticeable historical figure and the reasons that so much controversy surrounds him.
Yassir Arafat, though a staunch Palestinian nationalist, was actually born in Egypt in August 14, 1929. There are some claims that he was born in Gaza or in Jerusalem, but the majority of the sources seem to suggest Cairo as his birthplace. Nevertheless, he is born into an eminent Palestinian family, with Hashemite roots going back to Ali, the Fourth Orthodox Moslem Caliph (successor) to rule after the Prophet Mohammed (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon them) and Fatima, the beloved daughter of the Prophet. The Al-Husseini family had prominent social status in Jerusalem and still remains quite apparent in the Palestinian political and social circles. He was also educated in Egypt and managed to achieve a Civil Engineering Degree. He initially worked in Kuwait in the Fifties and Early Sixties of the 20th Century and amassed a comfortable net worth. He fought with Egyptian volunteers during the 1948 Arab Israeli War and subsequently served in the Egyptian Army. After having amassed some financial security, he devoted his life full time to the cause of the Palestinians and helped to establish the Fatah Resistance Movement, which eventually became the biggest and most active organized resistance against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. While the initial struggle involved the liberation of all Palestinian territory, from the Israelis, who usurped the Palestinians en masse in 1948, pragmatism later prevailed in Arafat's objectives. Arafat quickly gained recognition as a very determined and active fighter for his people and his strong religious convictions provided sufficient dogmatic foundations to keep Arafat out of extreme measures to achieve the objectives he set for himself and his fellow Palestinian fighters. Though a lot of claims are made of Arafat, being a terrorist, the truth of the matter is that Arafat never sanctioned nor participated in any of the extreme activities to which some frustrated Palestinian organizations took to, such as the hijacking of airplanes, etc. Nor has any evidence been provided that would suggest that Arafat has or ordered the killing of any unarmed civilians. Pragmatism led the Palestinians to evolve their struggle against Israel to seeking justice and to halting the continued Israeli occupation of what remains of Palestine, namely the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Originally, Fatah and many of the Palestinian resistance fighters had bases in Jordan, but when some of the Palestinian groups got too out of hand and undermined the security of Jordan in the early 1970s, Fatah and other Palestinian groups moved to Lebanon and Syria. From the start, the Israelis saw Arafat as their Public Enemy No. 1 and relentlessly pursued him wherever he went. His courage and charisma eventually made him the de facto leader of all the Palestinians and he helped organize the Palestine Liberation Organization and eventually became its Chairman. The PLO encompassed most of the Palestinian resistance groups and eventually became the political institution that was entrusted with managing the affairs of the Palestinians.
In 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon with a view towards disarming and terminating the PLO and the various military wings that it encompassed, after having prodded some of the Lebanese to turn against the Palestinians and help them remove Arafat and his men from Lebanon. For the Israelis, the issue was not so much the military challenge that Arafat was proving to be to the Israelis from Southern Lebanon, but the ability of Arafat to instill a Palestinian political presence, which the Israelis have never and would never come to recognize. Zionist ideology has no room for any institutional Palestinian presence of any kind.
With Arafat removed from Lebanon, he nevertheless continued to wield considerable influence and still managed to ascertain a Palestinian political presence, as the spokesmen of all the Palestinians. Moreover Yassir Arafat was able to amass considerable funding support from Arab Governments and the Palestinians, who worked in the Gulf States, especially Kuwait. Although there is considerable talk of mismanagement by the PLO of their available resources, most Palestinians do not regard Arafat as having any vested interests in such misuse of funds. He told Larry King of CNN once, that he does not even take a salary from the PLO as his wealth from his work in Kuwait is sufficient to sustain him. He was fairly active in the organization of the Intifadha of the 1980s and the sentiment aroused by the extreme measures taken by the Israelis in attempt to quell the resistance led the United States to seek a peaceful conclusion to the Palestinian problem, eventually leading to the signing of various peace treaties, and a Nobel Peace Prize for Yassir Arafat and Shimon Perez in the mid 1990s. However, a final settlement could not be achieved by former President William Clinton in his last year of office, mainly because of disagreement over Jerusalem. When Ariel Sharon took over as Prime Minister of Israel all hopes of peace were thrown out the window, as the succeeding George W. Bush Administration in the United States simply gave Sharon a green light to do whatever he pleases in the West Bank and Gaza. With Arafat gone, or going, there is no telling how the Palestinian cause will be without the Arafat magic.