Yasser Arafat was unique

Yasser Arafat was unique
No other person embodied the Palestinian struggle like Arafat did, no other figure played such a key role in Palestinian politics over 40 years.
4 min read
08 Nov, 2014
Arafat dominated Palestinian politics like no other (Getty)
Tuesday is the tenth anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death in Paris ten years ago. That autumn, as Abu Ammar dozed off for the last time, we knew he would not cheat death this time as he had done so many times before.

When we went to bid him a final farewell at the Villacoublay military airport near Paris, I saw people I never thought of as Arafat sympathizers, including some who had leveled all manner of accusations against him and called him unpatriotic. Where they waiting for his death? Did they realize at the time they were bidding farewell to a living part of their history that would never return? I don't know. Perhaps some of them wanted to make sure that the legend was no more, that they had to look for a bit part for themselves in another dream.

Arafat’s main distinguishing factor was that he was able to recast the Palestinian dream and transform it into a cause which he carefully tended for 40 years, close to his heart, under his keffiyeh (headscarf). He made children who grew up in refugee camps passionate about their right of return.

All those close to Arafat were dazzled by his tireless activity. He was a man possessed of unparalleled energy, defeating all attempts to marginalise him, always capable of engineering a political comeback at the last minute. Even on his deathbed, Arafat impacted the political world, not just because he held the key to the issue of Palestine, but also because he knew how to converse with history, from a position of moral superiority.

     Abu Ammar had vision, he saw far beyond his immediate situation.

His main virtue was that he did not inherit his position, take it at the head of an army, or win it by eliminating his peers. He came out of the Palestinian Fedayeen camps, with the shared dream of seeing the minarets of Jerusalem. He lived like all principled leaders, simply and ascetically, uncorrupted by status or wealth. His soul remained as pure as a spring, unaffected by the bitterness and bile that so many poured on him from all directions. His bedrooms in Beirut, Tunis and Ramallah were not better than the bedrooms of his companions. His food was simple, like the food of monks, shepherds and saints.

Abu Ammar had vision, he saw far beyond his immediate situation. This is why he met with Mao Zedong, Indira Ghandhi, Josip Broz Tito, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Houari Boumediene and Kamal Jumblatt. He took Palestine with him, achieving international recognition for the cause, won by the sacrifices of its population.

    Remembering Arafat
Moe'in al-Taher: The beginning of Arafat's detour
Bashir al-Bakr: Yasser Arafat was unique
Mark Perry: "We're nearly there"
Majed Abdulhadi: Arafat and I - his life as I experienced it
Joharah Baker: The short, pale man who was Palestine

Abu Ammar’s passing was the passing of a political titan. His death left the world without political figures of his stature. Many others have attempted to lead the Palestinian struggle, but none could come close to matching Arafat’s stature. Not only did they not have the required calibre of leadership, even political discourse suffered. The lights dimmed on the Palestinian dream.

The Palestinians did not change, but their leader did. Their new leaders do not realize that Arafat went to the farthest corners of the Arab world and lived in exile so he did not have to cede control over the Palestinian cause to any Arab or foreign leader. He fought Syria’s Hafez al-Assad for thirty years for this very reason, and disagreed with the leaders of Iraq, Egypt, Libya and Jordan. He chose death over submission to another ruler, even when that ruler was Gamal Abdel Nasser, whom the masses of the Arab world adored.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic website.