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Mick Hall • 28 November 2004

There have been many obituaries of the Palestinian leader Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini, known to all Palestinians as Abu Ammar and to the world as Yasser Arafat, including two on this site. However whilst many were accurate in there historical content, few caught the measure of the man and the reasons why he was a living icon for millions of Palestinians and others across the world. It is as if many of these writers could not accept the real Arafat and thus concentrated on his faults and weaknesses, as if they seem to prefer their political leaders to be strong men, without human frailties, as if such a leader has ever existed beyond hack biographies. The whole point about Abu Ammar is that his very physique told you he could not possibly fall into this category, even if they did exist; even his most ardent supporters would agree he was not blessed with looks or physical stature. The fact that he was in many ways a very ordinary man was part of his great strength. Indeed his unthreatening appearance in the often macho world of the early days of Fatah and the PLO was the very reason he achieved power. As is often the way in politics, those who are not seen as a threat by the more likely leadership contenders often win the crown and so it was with Arafat..

Until Arafat took the helm of the PLO in 1969 it was little more than a satrap organisation, having been founded in 1964 by the Arab League on the insistence of Egyptian President Gamal Nasser. Nasser saw it as a means to advance Egypt's Foreign Policy by uniting the Arab world under Egyptian rule and by rallying the Arab states under the banner of destroying Israel. Its first head, Ahmed Shukeiry, mainly hung about in the ante chambers of various Arab governments awaiting handouts and patronage, as I have already said, most notable from Egypt. With the emergence of radical Palestinian groups like Arafat’s Fatah and George Habash’s PFLP and their affiliation to the PLO, this all changed when Arafat took its helm. One of his great services to the Palestinian people was his recognition of two pertinent facts, if Statehood was ever going to become a reality. One has to remember that back in the 1960s & 70s armed struggle was paramount within the world's Liberation Movements, upon which Arafat’s PLO was based. Victorious Liberation Movements were then moving from the battlefield into government and by so doing had set the agenda for change. Politics would come later; the gun was to be the tool to bring about Statehood. Arafat gradually and before most recognised as far as Palestine was concerned, armed struggle alone could never bring about a Palestinian State, for two reasons. Israelis did not consider themselves to be a settler population and the dreadful experiences of European Jewry under the Nazis reinforced in them that they were never going to be forced out of their Nation, They would fight to the last and secondly as the USA underwrote Israel, it was unlikely that they would ever need to do so. Thus especially in the early days of the PLO the armed struggle really was propaganda by deed much in the manner of the Russian Narodniks.

With his famous United Nations speech about the Kalashnikov and the Olive Branch Arafat demonstrated his firm hold on real politic and thus he was more willing than most to see the advantages of a genuine two State solution.

What made Arafat head and shoulders above almost all other Palestinian leaders of his generation was that he refused to bend the knee to any of the Arab Satraps who were then governing the Arab nations in the region. Yes, he had no problem in holding out his begging bowl for them to fill, nor offering up in their direction the most obtuse praise, but that was as far as he went. Under Arafat, Fatah and the PLO were never allowed to become an arm of the various Satraps foreign policy, to be used not in the interest of the Palestinian people but of Saddam’s Iraq or Assad’s Syria, Anwar al Sadat’s Egypt and Gadaffi's Libya. Of course, once these wretched dictators realised that Arafat had not only tricked them with his honey but also binned a great deal of their cash in the process, they raged against him and placed him on their not inconsiderable lists of their mortal enemies to be shot on sight. Yet when the dust settled it was they who had to swallow their pride and once again greet Arafat at the foot of the steps to his private jet, which more often than not had been borrowed/flinched from one or other of this group of freeloaders and useless Satraps. No matter what they would like to do to him, they did not wish to go down in history as having done the Israeli's dirty work for them and in any case they were well aware that the Arab street would not stand for it. As for Abu Ammar, he would greet each of the Satraps as if they were his favourite long lost brothers, kissing them in greeting with his stubbly chin with an impenetrable smile on his rubbery lips.

To understand the Palestinian people's admiration, if not love for Arafat, one only has to turn to what was, although a major defeat, also one of his finest hours. On the 6th June 1982 when Arial Sharon and his sidekick, the then chief of the Israeli Defence Forces, Rafael Eitan conceived a plan, Peace for Galilee, which was intended to not only drive the PLO from southern Lebanon, as Sharon claimed to the then Israeli PM and his cabinet, but would militarily destroy the PLO once and for all and in the process kill Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian leadership who resided in Lebanon. Within a short space of time the Israelis were in Beirut, knocking on Arafat's door; he was, however, never at home to receive them, although Arafat seemed to be everywhere else. As soon as the Israelis got wind of where he was, they rained down hell and fire onto that neighbourhood in their frantic attempt to exterminate him, only for him to reappear shortly afterwards with a look of innocence on his face to proclaim victory for the PLO and their Lebanese allies was near — and this was not done in the manner of Comical Ali in Iraq* but was heartfelt. Not only did it help to rally the PLO fighters but apparently drove Sharon mad with rage when he watched Arafat’s performance on CNN TV.

This funny little man with his silly clothes and kefiyah at that time made grown men weep in admiration. On one occasion he was asked were not his own and the PLO’s defeat and surrender near. He looked at the questioner as if he was a madman, and he gently took his hand in a sign of sympathy with this poor inflicted fellow, who Arafat clearly regarded was in need of urgent medical treatment. Then he suddenly turned to the small group of journalists and cried out, "Come, come, come, I show you defeat," and he rushed across the road with his bodyguard in a state of panic, the journalists a step behind with Arafat still repeating, "Come, come, come, come," as if he was herding a class of naughty school kids. He then stopped at a group of young PLO fighters who were dug in amongst West Beirut’s bombed out cityscape. "Do they look defeated, ask them, and ask them if you dare." As if on queue the fighters started chanting “Lebanon, Palestine, one struggle one trench.” Defeat, he muttered the words quietly to himself with such contempt, it looked as if he was still mulling over such a silly statement as he and his escort drove off. An act, perhaps, but never forget this little interlude was shown on TV throughout the world, including in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. Was it any wonder that within a short period of time after this the first intifada began?

Finally, due to international pressure, Sharon was forced to strike a deal to let his hated adversary leave the city with his fighters. A deal was struck in which the PLO fighters would turn their heavy weapons over and leave Lebanon by Sea. This they did with rifles firing into the air, as is the Arab tradition. Sharon and Eitan were reduced to watching this spectacle from the roof of one of Beirut’s surviving sky scrapers, although they were to have their revenge in the most cowardly and criminal way. They quelled their anger at Arafat's miraculous escape from the jaws of defeat, by turning their rottweiller’s, in the human form of the Lebanese Phalangist militia, loose on the Palestinian elderly men, women and the children who the PLO fighters were forced to leave behind in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Their slaughter went on for well over 24 hours whilst the IDF sat on their arses taking a break and looking the other way. Thus Generals Sharon and Eitan forever blackened the name of the IDF.

Of course, what happened in Lebanon was a major defeat for the PLO from which its military infrastructure has never recovered to this day. But Arafat and the core PLO leadership survived to fight another day. Arafat himself was indefatigable and he soon bounced back, plotting and conniving from his exile in Tunis, whilst suffering more blows from the IDF. This time more personal when they murdered in 1988 and 1991 two of his closest comrades, Saleh Khalaf (Abu Iyad) and Khalil El Wazir (Abu Jihad).

Incidentally it was claimed in the Israeli newspaper Maariv that the leader of the Israeli Defence Force team that carried out the assassination of Abu Jihad was none other than Arafat’s future adversary in the early stages of the Oslo accords, Ehud Barak, who it is claimed ran the assassination operation from a command centre on a navy missile boat off the shore of Tunis. Once again this goes to show what a small world, as far as personalities are concerned, the struggle between the Palestinians and Israel is.

Finally we come to the Oslo accords which some still claim was Arafat’s great-lost opportunity. Maybe, but he did not seem to feel this and the price asked of him was always going to be far too high, especially for a man who understood his position in a historical context so clearly, he was never going to blot his biography for a will of a wisp. What he was asked to do was disown the three million plus Palestinians in the Diaspora by signing away their right of return to their homeland. He understood that this was simply something that it was not his right to do; he had after all spent most of his life in exile and understood all too clearly the dream within every Palestinian exile and their families to one day return home. It was not only the Jewish people who cried out, next year in Jerusalem. For Barak to ask Arafat to do such a thing, when he himself knew that throughout the centuries of exile this was something no Jew would be prepared to do brought shame on him and his Government.

Maybe, if only subconsciously, many Israelis also thought this, for a short while after his Government fell and Arafat's arch nemesis Arial Sharon formed a government. On being asked what the future held for the Palestinian people and indeed himself and what should be done, Arafat stoically replied, "Endure". As in Beirut he refused safe passage and remained with his people and like them he suffered their humiliations, confinement and bombardments. He knew any offer from Sharon, backed up by Bush’s Republican government in the White House, would be worthless. So the final period of his life, like his people, was one of endurance, of such, great men are made. Under his leadership, he and his people would resist and suffer rather than become ‘kaffers’ in an Israeli Bantus-land, until better days and thus opportunities came.


* Saddam Hussein's Minister of Information.




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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



All censorships exist to prevent any one from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorships.
- George Bernard Shaw

Index: Current Articles

2 December 2004

Other Articles From This Issue:

Questions - and Doubts - Remain
Tommy Gorman

Another Crisis for Trimble?
Dr John Coulter

No Gangster More Cruel
Anthony McIntyre

Love Your Enemy More Than Your Friend
Elana Golden

Mick Hall

The Biggest Mistake They Could Have Made
Áine Fox

Danilo Anderson and Condoleeza Rice
Toni Solo

28 November 2004

Anthony McIntyre

The Cost of the Failure of Politicians is Immeasurable
Mick Hall

A Provisional Pushover
Tom Luby

Seeing What You Want to See
Eoin O Broin

Puritan Death Ethic: Ronan Bennett’s Havoc, in its third year
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Mairtin O Cadhain
Liam O Ruairc

Please Help Put A Smile On The Faces Of Palestine’s Poorest Children This Christmas
Margaret Quinn



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