Home The Embassy Ambassador's articles Let's remember Arafat!

Let's remember Arafat!

Friday, 11 November 2011 09:29

Mr. President, since the first time I met you thirty years ago, I was studying at Ha Noi University in Viet Nam; that was only a few days after the assassination of former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat in Cairo and the assassination in Rome of your brother-in-arms Majed Abo Sharar. I realised then that one might disagree with you but no one can refute you.

You are the father of Palestine, President Yasser Arafat. A supervisor, a freedom fighter, a peacemaker, a leader of compassion; you stood your ground and held on with a tight grip to both the olive branch and the freedom fighter's pistol.

It has been exactly seven years since you departed, leaving bereft and orphaned a nation of stateless Palestinians whose cause you personified and promoted as no one else could.

Shortly before your death, you were asked by a journalist what you thought was your greatest achievement, and flashing your trademark face-splitting grin, you replied: "We have made the Palestinian cause the biggest issue in the world… One hundred and seven years after the Basel Conference, 90 years after the Sykes Picot Agreement, all conspiracies have failed to wipe us out. We are here, in Palestine, facing them. We are not Red Indians."

Seven years after your death, the Palestinian cause remains one of the biggest problems in the world, and despite their receding hopes of viable statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinians still consider a man, Abu Ammar, to have been the person responsible for making it so.

Most continue to think of you as the father of the Palestinian nation, and around the world the obituaries that reported your death referred to you glibly, if not inaccurately, as "Mr Palestine".

Indeed, while we the Palestinians remain divided today about some of the pivotal choices you made (at Amman, at Beirut, at Algiers, at Oslo, at Gaza, at Camp David, and, finally, at Ramalah), and about the style and method of your leadership, there is near-unanimity on the question of your legacy ? ask the Palestinian on the street, on any street in the world, and you will be told, without hesitation, that Abu Ammar single-handedly transformed the Palestinian issue from one of providing humanitarian relief to scattered, war-scarred refugees to that of a nation's enduring political struggle for self-determination through statehood.

One will be told, further, that you unified the fractured Palestinian refugee community; that you transformed the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation, which was created by the Arab states to contain and control Palestinian political groups) into an umbrella organisation for Palestinian nationalism; that you earned the right for the Palestinians to represent themselves in the court of international opinion, and, above all; that you achieved, through a combination of extraordinarily unconventional means, a lasting international legitimacy for our cause.

It is not hard to see, today, why you were so loved, not just by your own people but by the Arab and international community ? you were a people's leader in the fullest sense of the word, who always managed to demonstrate, despite the actual entrenched autocracy of your political methods, an instinctive sensitivity to the mood and sentiments of your people.

The black-and-white peasant's Kofia (deliberately worn to conjure up memories of the first Palestinian peasants' revolt against British and Zionist colonialism in the mid-30s); the shabby army greatcoat (which you claimed you would only take off once Palestine was liberated); the simple meals and austere lifestyle; the constant cheek-kissing and hand-waving and hugging and reaching out to the masses – all these were carefully chosen elements that constituted, despite your less-than-riveting public speeches, your inimitable personal charisma.

The thousands of Palestinians who braved military checkpoints and thwarted Israeli travel restrictions to flock to the Muqata to bid an emotional farewell to you has rarely been seen in the Arab world since, and was testament to the worth of your life in a way far more convincing than any journalistic or academic account could be.

However, seven years after your death, it is doubtful if the dream of Palestinian statehood is any closer than it was all those years ago, when you first appeared at the UN (in 1974) and memorably declared that you had come to court the international community with "a gun in one hand and an olive branch in the other", and begged your audience to not let "the olive branch fall".

Columnists around the world had predicted that your death, and the subsequent taking-up of the mantle by your brother Abu Mazen, would start a new peace process that would rapidly result in a Palestinian state. The reality is more than discouraging.

It has been exactly seven years since you passed away, and yet Palestinians do not yet know how the father of their nation died. And they do not yet know how they are to live. Mr President, may your soul rest in peace. Your people will continue their legitimate struggle to achieve your dreams. We strongly believe we will enjoy independence and freedom and we will join the international community to build a lasting peace and a better future for our forthcoming generations.

Mr President, your legend and legacy will live on and your image will remain engraved deeply in my heart and the hearts of peace-loving people, including the friendly people of Viet Nam. History will remember you as one of the greats.


Published on Vietnamnews on 10 November, 2011