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Arafat


Palestine’s leader, Yasser Arafat, has died.

I expect that in the coming days there will be a lot of stupid things written about him on all sides. I have already read some of it. As when he was living, the point will not be to shower contempt on him and his legacy. It will be to shower contempt on the Palestinian people.

My own feelings about Arafat have fluctuated in tandem with those of the Palestinians around me. Sometimes angry at the collaboration with Israel since the Oslo years, sometimes angry at the corruption, but recognizing that the Israelis and the Americans had set Arafat, like the Palestinians themselves, in an impossible situation. Colonizers and occupiers always do their best to make resistance carry a terrible cost. The most sophisticated colonizers force the colonized into collaboration not by offering personal benefits, but by threatening worse horrors for those who resist. The leader of a people wanting to be free then gets to watch his people get liquidated, murdered, displaced, and know that if he had not collaborated the destruction and death would be even greater. That’s the context, anyway, and I just hope that people try and understand that.

Another important part of the context, for people wondering what is going to happen next, is that Israel has been systematically and mercilessly killing Palestine’s leaders for decades. If either Israel or the United States believes that Arafat’s death is going to cause Palestinians to acquiesce in their own destruction or ethnic cleansing, they are only displaying their own ignorance.

He will be buried in the Muqata, the compound in Ramallah that the Israelis repeatedly ruined by shelling and bulldozing, a compound the Israelis have repeatedly sought the world’s, and especially the US’s, permission to blow up, with its inhabitants, including Arafat. I spent a few hours in the rubble back in 2002. They were rebuilding the place, in the constant cycle: Israelis destroy it, Palestinians rebuild it. Israel will probably defile it even after he’s buried there. That will not harm his own dignity nor the dignity of the Palestinians.

November 11 is a day set aside in Canada to remember those warriors who fought in the European civil wars, WWI and WWII. The veterans who are honoured at the usual celebrations are very old now. It’s generally celebrated in a low-key way, not as an over-the-top celebration of militarism that is accompanying the massacre in Fallujah right now. But I’ve found myself wishing that the noncombatant victims, who far outnumbered the dead soldiers in 20th century wars, could be remembered too. And those who fought against war itself and resisted it.

And other warriors, especially those who fought against domination and colonialism over the centuries, from the indigenous in the Americas to the Asians and Africans.

Yasser Arafat was one such warrior.

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