Yasser Arafat, born Muhammad Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini on Aug. 24, 1929, died on Nov. 11, 2004 at 6:30 p.m. PST in Paris.
Although the death of Abu Ammar, as he is affectionately referred to by his supporters, is a great tragedy, it is up to the Palestinian movements here and abroad to keep him alive by preserving his memory and his message.
His Memory. Yasser Arafat had a long list of accomplishments during his 40-year commitment to the cause of the Palestinians. From the beginning, Arafat was a powerful grassroots activist.
After Israel’s 1967 crushing defeat of the Arab armies and its capture of the West Bank and Gaza, Fatah (the Movement for the Liberation of Palestine which Arafat secretly founded after 1948 with a few like-minded diaspora Palestinians) was the only credible force left fighting Israel. Arafat’s reputation was enhanced in 1968 with his courageous defense of the Jordanian town of Karameh against superior Israeli forces.
When Palestinian forces at Karama, Jordan came under Israeli assault in April of that year, Arafat and his comrades insisted on standing their ground.
By doing so, they transformed the Battle of Karama into a turning point in the history of Palestinian and Arab resistance against Zionism and imperialism.
In 1969, Arafat was voted chairman of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which had been formed four years earlier by the Arab League.
The PLO served, and continues to serve today, as a critical player in the existential struggle of the Palestinians.
In 1974, Arafat made a dramatic entrance on the international diplomatic stage. Addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, he told delegates that he had come ‘bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.’
In 1982, Arafat resisted military and political pressures to abandon the Palestinian struggle from the PLO headquarters in Beirut. Instead, he led an alliance of Palestinian-Lebanese-Syrian resistance against Israel’s invasion, which at the time was under the direction of then Defense Minister Ariel Sharon.
Refusing offers of safe passage out of the besieged city of Beirut, Arafat insisted on staying with his people and fighters. In fact, after leading and personally participating in thwarting Israeli attempts to occupy Beirut during the fateful summer of 1982, Arafat was the last person to leave the city after ensuring the safe departure of his forces.
In the 1980s, Arafat was instrumental in building a consensus in the Palestinian national movement in favor of resolving the conflict with Israel on the basis of two states living side by side in peace, and making this the official goal of the PLO.
In 1994, Arafat, along with Israeli leaders Yitzhak Rabin and Simon Peres, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace ‘for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East.’
By 2000, the Oslo Peace Process had come to a dead end. Arafat came under intense pressure at Camp David to accept U.S.-Israeli dictates with regard to Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees’ right to return.
However, the Palestinian leader refused to sign or endorse any agreement that fell short of minimal Palestinian demands.
Arafat was blamed by Israel and the U.S. for the failure in July that year of the peace talks at Camp David.
He insisted, though, that the deal he was offered was far less generous than it was portrayed, and, as he put it, ‘the Arab leader has not been born who would give up Jerusalem.’
His Message. Sadly, this goal of peace based on a Palestinian state alongside Israel was not to be fulfilled in Arafat’s lifetime. However, for those of us who continue to stand in solidarity must never forget what Yasser Arafat has always taught us: The Palestinian people, and only the Palestinian people, have the right to define the objectives and strategies of their struggle.
Furthermore, in the interest of achieving and securing that right, he taught us that the will to resist oppression must be unmatched, irrespective of the cost.
Refugees must have their right of return. The colonial occupation of Palestine must end.
Lastly, he showed us that the Palestinian struggle is an existential struggle that goes beyond individuals.
His embodiment of a greater Palestinian cause and consciousness has reconstituted the Palestinian identity into an unwavering resistance that we must now carry on in his absence.
Thanks to Al-Awda-Los Angeles, the American Task Force on Palestine, and the BBC for their resources regarding Yasser Arafat.