Chairman Yasser Arafat dies at age 75

By on November 17, 2004

This past Thurs., Nov. 11, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat passed away around 3:30 a.m. in a military hospital in Paris after previously slipping into a coma on Wed. Nov. 3. He was 75 years old. Although there was no immediate word as to the cause of his death, doctors attribute it to an undisclosed blood disorder. To his people, the Palestinians, he was known as Abu Ammar, which, in Arabic, is a term of respect and affection that means Father to Us All. Arafat was a symbol of statehood to his people, while a symbol of Satan to many Israelis. But whether revered or reviled, Arafat’s life and death symbolized the modern Middle East.

For years and years, Arafat fought Israel for land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. His methods varied from guerilla warfare to being a terrorist leader to a pragmatic peacemaker. He succeeded in raising the Palestinian cause to worldwide recognition, and even caused President George W. Bush to declare the once unthinkable- that the Palestinian people deserved an independent state called Palestine.

Throughout Arafat’s career, he pursued either the defeat of his enemy or a full peace. “The battle for peace is the most difficult battle of our lives,” said Arafat in 1993. Yet this was not achieved in his lifetime. “He actually didn’t complete anything he started… That’s why Arafat will be remembered as an indecisive man as a politician and also an indecisive man as a revolutionary,” said Abdel Bari Atwan, editor of the London newspaper al Quds.

However, despite his indecisiveness, “He played a key role in reshaping the Middle East’s political landscape toward the end of the 20th century,” said Rashid Khalidi, director of the Middle East Institute at Columbia University. Said Khalidi, his biggest impact on history was when he elevated the Palestinian movement onto the world stage despite a universal reluctance to deal with it. “He built up Palestinian nationalism… In an environment of Arab intrigue, his achievement was considerable,” Khalidi said.

In the aftermath of his death, many worldwide are wondering what the consequences will be both on Palestine, the Middle East, and the rest of the world. Even before Arafat’s death, there were signs of change on the government of Palestine. The two men who are now running the government, former Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas and the current Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei, are moderates. Many activists see Arafat’s death as an opportunity to push reforms for open and accountable government, elections, and security services that Arafat prevented.

Hanan Ashrawi, Palestinian legislator, said that a post-Arafat government would have to change, because Palestinians viewed Arafat differently from any other leader and tolerated things from him that they would not accept from others. “The decision making will be shared and there will be closer accountability because of all the things that people accepted from Arafat, or even gave Arafat because of his stature, his historical standing, his revolutionary image, his national identification, they will not forgive anyone else,” said Ashrawi.

In one of his last addresses to the Palestinian people, Arafat spoke of peace; “Israel cannot gain security until there is an independent Palestinian homeland free from occupation, free from settlements, free from the Israeli siege.”


About Nicole Kurker-Stewart