Yasser Arafat: The Passing of a Statesman

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

“…I have chosen this path and if I fall, one day a Palestinian child will raise the Palestinian flag above our mosques and churches” (Yasser Arafat, March 2002).

It is with sorrow and a heavy heart that I note the passing of one of the truly great men of our time: Chairman Yasser Arafat. He was for me, and for a great many people around the world, a statesman. He was a man of vision, a man of valor, a man of principle and of unbounded energy and vigor. He not only embodied his people’s resolve for self rule, dignity and freedom, he gave hope to all those who yearned to free themselves from the shackles of limitation, imprisonment, defeat and subjugation.

What greater service is there than the service to one’s own people and to ones own land. Arafat accomplished both: he served his land and his people. He lived his life in the services of his land. Arafat gave wind to the wings of Palestine; he gave bounce to the political protests and rhythm to the Palestinian freedom songs.

Chairman Arafat made some mistakes. Yes, that is true. But then, even gods make mistakes. However, the greatest mistake would have been for him to acquiesce to the dictates of most of the American Press and pro-Israeli commentators — most of whom are now accusing him of not transiting from being a freedom fighter to a statesman. Oh, hogwash! Short of selling his soul, these teary-eyed pro-Tel Aviv commentators still would never have accepted Arafat. They hated him. They despised him! How dare he…they growled and argued!

I liked Yasser Arafat. I loved him. And so did millions of people around the world. We understood his cause. Here was a man who stood up to the State of Israel. Here was a man who stood up to the United State. Here was a man that refused to be bullied by anyone. Here was a man who refused to compromise his high principles. Here was a man who steadfastly refused to betray his people. Arafat was the champion of a noble cause. He epitomized his people’s struggle, hope and aspiration.

Arafat was said to have scuttled the peace process. He did not! He was branded a terrorist. He was not! He was a freedom fighter extraordinaire. It is unfortunate that America and especially Israel painted the man with a dozen unflattering brushes. There is nothing Arafat did, said or dreamt of that successive Israeli government and Prime Ministers have never done, said, or designed. He was accused of terrorism as if terrorism is a private purview of any one state, non-state actors or band of people. It is not.

The State of Israel became independent in 1948. And in the intervening years have denied the Palestinians statehood; and have also systematically and illegally annexed Palestine, sent in Apache helicopters, battle tanks, gunship and other weapons to assassinate those they consider bold, visionary, and noncompliant; and have in the process bulldozed people’s homes and maim and even killed thousands of innocent women and children — all in the name of defending Israel’s sovereignty. Unfortunately, such actions are not deemed terrorism by the United State. But less comparable actions by the HAMAS, Fatah or the Hezbollah are considered terrorism and detrimental to the wellbeing of the regions.

Generally, terrorism is a reaction to the intermestic policies of a state. And in some cases “terrorist organizations” are formed in opposition to the repressive and non-democratic actions of nation-state. In order words, most terrorist organizations came into being only because particular governments refused or failed to take into consideration the grievances of an oppressed group — in which case terrorism becomes “weapon of the weak.”

What were Arafat and his men to do when the State of Israel was belittling and disparaging them? What was the PLO to do when the Palestinian lands were being illegally annexed? What was Arafat to do when his homeland was being turned into settlements for Jews fleeing the Old Soviet Union?

Generations of Palestinians have been dispossessed of their land and rights. And so what Arafat and his band of brothers did was merely a reaction to the callous and illegitimate actions of the State of Israel. That is to say: Whatever Arafat and his men did was not a crime, but merely a legitimate political struggle against an occupying force. It is an historic irony that the Israelis are now doing to the Palestinians what Hitler and the Nazi’s did to defenseless Jews in years gone by. How ironic! The world condemned Hitler and the Nazis; the world should condemn Ariel Sharon and his henchmen today!

Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu and Prime Minster Ariel Sharon wanted nothing more than to “arrest, deport or kill” Chairman Arafat. For years they had tried in vain to “get him.” They were obsessed with him. When he was finally “deported,” he died within a few days. That begs the question: What happened to Arafat? What did he die of? Was pathogens were deliberately introduced into his immediate surroundings? Or, was it a bit of this and that and that and this in his food and water and blood? Was he betrayed by a trusted comrade? For three years or so, Arafat was confined to a hell-hole. What happened to him in all those years he was incarcerated? Does the Israeli cabinet know what the French Doctors didn’t know?

Arafat is gone; but would that solve the “problem” of the Israeli government? No one would ever, ever tolerate subjugation and oppression — so why should the Palestinians? And why should Arafat? One of life’s lessons that Ariel Sharon and the Israeli government forgot was this:

“Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality–not as we expect it to be but as it is–is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love” (Carl Frederick Buechner).

History will absolve this freedom fighter! History and posterity will be kind to him because he was not the problem. Yasser Arafat was not the problem. He was never the problem. The problem was successive Israeli Prime Ministers and an Israeli society that refused to honestly deal with Arafat. The Palestinians are human; but the Israelis treated them as though they are sub humans. Therefore and until there is a change of attitude policy and attitude the part of the State of Israel, no Palestinian leader will do business with them without risking his life, reputation and humanity. The ANC fought against apartheid South Africa; Robert Mugabe and his men fought against the oppressive regime of Ian Smith and his cohorts. Free peoples around the world fought for their freedom – which was what the PLO was doing!

The State of Israel is fearful that the Palestinian and the Arab world are scheming to do them in. This is an unfounded fear! Their best hope and chance for peace, security and peaceful coexistence depended on Arafat; but now that Arafat is no longer on the stage let’s see who the Israelis are going to blame next — their own shadow? When it is all said and done, history will absolve Arafat for he was truly a great man, a statesman and a peacemaker. And so I mourn the untimely passing of a unique nationalist and a genuine statesman. I will miss him dearly!

Allah is most great…There is no god but Allah. May Allah bless and keep Arafat. May Allah welcome him to paradise!


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