BY MITCH WEBBER
- Can one write an obituary or eulogize Yasir Arafat without betraying a bias in the Israel-Palestine conflict? It doesn’t seem possible. But I’ll do my best, making only a single, modest point before heading to the highlight reel of the all-important World Opinion to see what our erstwhile allies have said about the recently deceased Chairman.My one point is this: for Yasir Arafat, it was never about the occupation.
In 1957, pursuant to the Israeli Independence War armistice lines (or as the war is more succinctly known in the Arab world: al-Nakba, The Catastrophe), Jordan held East Jerusalem and the West Bank, and Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. It was in that year, 1957, a full decade before the 1967 Six-Day War, that Yasir Arafat founded al Fatah (“The Conquest”) to fight a guerrilla war against Israel. (To be fair, Arafat did eventually go to war against Jordan, but only after Jordan no longer occupied the West Bank. Arafat’s belief that Palestinians were entitled to all of Jordan, as well as all of Israel, culminated in 1970’s Black September – the utter defeat and expulsion of the Palestinians from Jordan. Try finding mention of Black September in Arafat obituaries.)
- But don’t take my word for what Arafat meant to Palestinian nationalism. Take Nelson Mandela, best known of late for calling America’s war against Iraq “racist” and accusing the United States of committing “unspeakable atrocities.” Last week Mandela called Arafat “an icon in the proper sense of the word… one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation.”
Now I question Mandela’s sense of perspective and proportion on the topic of Arafat. After all, Mandela has spent much of the last few years on an Anti-Israel World Speaking Tour. Exhibiting the moral maturity of a child, Mr. Mandela trots the globe insisting that if Israel gets to retain its arsenal, America has no right preventing Iran and North Korea from developing nukes. Analogously, I imagine Mr. Mandela is equally befuddled as to why cops, and not outlaws, get to carry unconcealed pistols in public. That is, unless the outlaw in question is Arafat, and he’s speaking before the General Assembly.
- I have yet to hear a eulogist mention the fact that most estimates have Arafat personally pocketing between four and five billion dollars in foreign humanitarian aid earmarked for his own people. Again, to be fair to Arafat, $4 billion is nowhere near the $11 billion mark Kofi Annan’s UN skimmed in its oil-for-food scandal. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find Annan overlooking a fellow Peace Prize laureate’s criminal corruption.
The Secretary-General does not disappoint. Annan was “deeply moved” by the passing of Arafat. In his press release, Annan praised Arafat for, in 1988, “accept[ing] the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future Palestinian state.” 1988? It seems Annan missed the headlines, say, in 1996, when Arafat remarked, as he often did in the years following Oslo, “We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion…. We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem.” That doesn’t sound like the two-state solution our enlightened Western friends pretend to advocate.
Coming to Arafat’s defense one final time, I’m certain the Chairman meant to say that he hoped to make life unbearable for Israelis or Zionists, not Jews, because – say it with me now – “anti-Zionism is NOT anti-Semitism.”
- Speaking of Iraqi sanction profiteers, French President Jacques Chirac mourned the death of a man “of courage and conviction.” Mr. Chirac diplomatically omitted any mention of which convictions, precisely, Arafat embodied. We’re left with the impression that the content of a man’s convictions is of no moment, so long as he had some. Which makes me wonder: why is it that Mr. Chirac never speaks highly of our own President Bush, who, if nothing else, is certainly a man of convictions?
Likewise, the Pope reportedly felt “pain” for the “illustrious deceased,” and Vladimir Putin hailed Arafat for dedicating his life to “an independent state, which would coexist with Israel within recognised and secure borders.” I find the latter’s remarks particularly touching; if there’s one world leader sensitive to Muslim self-determination, it’s Vlad Putin.
- Don’t let me give the impression that Americans haven’t shed our own tears for Mr. Arafat. Model ex-president and sometime-Arafat-speechwriter Jimmy Carter must have felt a true loss of consortium last week at the news of Arafat’s death. According to Carter biographer Douglas Brinkley, “There was no world leader Jimmy Carter was more eager to know than Yasir Arafat.” Last Friday, Carter defended Arafat as the “legitimate,” democratically elected Palestinian leader. Carter is apparently employing an idiosyncratic, mechanical definition of democracy, in which a dictator gets to delete all true opposition from the ballot and then “indefinitely postpone” all subsequent elections. Carter’s op-ed several times scolds the “occupying Israelis,” but never says a disparaging comment about Arafat. No mention of the Munich Olympics, no Ma’alot, no Moshav Avivim, no Achille Lauro, no assassinated American ambassador, no airline hijackings. No thousands and thousands of dead civilians. No need to sweat the details.
In its official obituary, The New York Times poeticizes Arafat’s “once-taut stomach” and his “trademark checkered head scarf, carefully folded in the elongated diamond shape of what was once Palestine.” If you didn’t know any better, you might think Palestine was a sovereign state before Israel existed. At any rate, it can’t be long before Arafat’s kafiyah becomes as ubiquitous on college dorm walls and t-shirts as Che Guevara’s single-starred beret.
If only our own President were more like Arafat, maybe The New York Times would publish the occasional kind word about him as well. But I seriously doubt the UN will fly its flag at half-mast upon Bush’s passing.
- I’m afraid I’ve fallen into my own trap and interjected my own views into what was supposed to be a dispassionate discussion of Chairman Arafat. So back to my original, indisputable point, so glaringly forgotten by a world smitten by the father of modern terrorism. Yasir Arafat, a man whose steel resolve was matched only by his six-pack abs, began his war for conquest a decade before Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.
Unless the Occupied Territories include all of Israel proper – Tel Aviv, Haifa, Eilat – it was never about the occupation.
Mitch Webber is a 2L from Rochester, NY.