[News] Arafat's "Funeral"

News at freedomarchives.org News at freedomarchives.org
Sat Nov 13 09:36:44 EST 2004

Subject: Arafat's "Funeral"
To: arlenesreport at yahoo.com

I just came back from two days in Ramallah-- the day he died and the day of 
his funeral. Here is a copy of an article I did. Quite amazing to be an 
"eyewitness" to this. if you have any suggestions of places to publish it, 
please let me know. Peace, arlene

Eyewitness Report of Arafat's Burial

RAMALLAH, Palestine November 12, 2004,

(Note: Ramallah is a large town, a few miles north of Jerusalem in the West 
Bank. It has become the de facto capital of Palestine. The Israeli policy, 
like the fallen Apartheid regime of South Africa, is to isolate Palestinian 
people into "Bantustans"—open air prisons surrounded by a 30-foot high 
wall. Because of this policy, it is now impossible for many Palestinians 
living outside of Ramallah to travel there to visit family and friends, to 
do business or attend school. A trip that used to take a maximum of 20 
minutes, can now take two hours.)

It is Friday, November 12, in Ramallah, Palestine and streams of people are 
flowing from the side streets into the river of people filling the main 
street heading to the Muqataa, the bombed out headquarters of their 
President, Yassir Arafat. For 30 months, the Israelis tried to bury him 
alive by first bombing, then imprisoning him in his compound. Today, at 
least 125,000 Palestinian people crowded into the compound that they call 
Muqataa to demonstrate their determination to continue the struggle that 
Yassir Arafat started some 40 years earlier.

Two young men, mounted on the shoulders of their comrades, their passion 
making a bullhorn unnecessary, lead a crowd chanting, "Abu Ammar is the 
whole people and the whole people cannot die." Many Palestinians 
affectionately called their President, Abu Ammar, the name he adopted as a 
military leader and founder of Palestine's independence movement against 
Israeli occupation. In Arabic the chant is a rhythmic call and 
response—part rap, part battle cry.

Elders, women in their long dark dresses embroidered in traditional 
Palestinian patterns, walk more slowly—holding portraits of Arafat. Many of 
them—older than the state of Israel -- are sobbing. They remember the 
"nakba" (Arabic for sankofa or holocaust): 1948 when Israeli settlers drove 
them from their homes, their olive and orange orchards. They remember the 
negotiated promise of a free life in an independent Palestine. And they 
remember yesterday, when they had to haul 40 pounds of fruits and 
vegetables over rocky hills because more than 700 road closures block all 
travel from home to market, from market to field. And, when this burial is 
over, today, like yesterday and tomorrow, when they take their 
grandchildren to school, try to get to a doctor or hospital or mosque, they 
will have to face a line of Israeli boys armed with M-16's, tear gas, clubs 
and flak jackets—boys younger than their grandchildren. These boys will 
bark orders at them to show identification papers, open their bags for 
inspection, and to state the purpose of their journey from one side of 
their village to another. Often, when the women do not understand the 
Hebrew demands, soldiers yell at them, shout insults, push or even detain them.

These elders join younger women—may wearing kaffiyeh's over traditional 
Muslim headcovers. They are angry and chanting, "Listen Sharon (Israeli 
President), Palestine cannot be defeated." One of them is Nihan, a student 
whose brother is a political prisoner—one of the 8000 out of a nation of 
3.5 million. Some 70% of young Palestinian men have been locked up and 
tortured. While we chat, some men wearing military uniforms and ski masks 
march on the other side of the traffic circle. As they fire their rifles in 
the air, I flinch and involuntarily grab Nihan, a petite, delicate young 
woman. She smiles and tells me, "Don't worry, it's the Palestinian people."

Palestinian flags, black mourning flags, posters with Arafat's face are 
plastered everywhere: on walls, windows, statues, cars, taxis, trucks, 
tractors and ambulances. They join miles of graffiti—some faded, some 
fresh, denouncing Sharon, Bush and demanding and end to the crime of 

A huge poster of Arafat—at least 20 feet high and 15 feet wide—greets the 
crowd as we approach the wall that surrounds the Muqatta. It says, 
"Palestine is our land. (Arafat is) a symbol of resistance. We will fight 
until victory." Signed HAMAS. The same poster with a giant image of Arafat 
hangs from the most prominent place inside the compound.

Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Palestine 
National Initiative and many other organizations that follow strategies 
different from Arafat to achieve the common goal of Palestinian 
independence and freedom, are here to pay their respects to Arafat. While 
they have often criticized his compromises and the corruption of the 
Palestinian Authority—they are united in the conviction that the Israeli 
Occupation is their common enemy. And they all recognize that Arafat was 
the father of the Palestinian nation, a symbol of resistance who, for the 
30 months before he died, refused to leave Palestine, even though that 
meant living under house arrest and with the constant threat of 
assassination by Israel.

The crowd inside the compound covers every available surface. By noon, at 
least 100,000 are packed inside the compound with another 25,000 jamming 
the streets surrounding it. This represents about one out of every 20 
Palestinians in the West Bank—the equivalent number in the US would be 15 
million demonstrators. They came to Ramallah despite fully armed Israeli 
soldiers, tanks and armored cars cutting off many of the side roads and all 
the main roads leading to Ramallah from the East and North.

It is noon—about two hours before the helicopter carrying Arafat's remains 
is due to arrive from Cairo. People cover the rubble where Arafat's bombed 
out offices used to stand. They scale walls to get rooftop views and wait 
patiently. Some came from watching the Cairo ceremony on TV and proudly 
report that nearly all presidents and prime ministers from Arab states as 
well as President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and President Robert Mugabe 
of Zimbabwe attended the state funeral in Cairo. And now, Abu Ammar is 
coming to be buried in Palestine.

In order to avoid confrontation with Israel—despite the desire of 
many—there was no attempt by the Palestine Authority to organize a march on 
Jerusalem to demand that Arafat be buried inside the walls of the Al Aqsa 
compound. Instead, Arafat's casket is being temporarily "buried" in a 
concrete crypt (portable), inside the Muqataa and symbolically covered with 
some soil from Al Aqsa. Yet, many chants confirm the strong commitment of 
the Palestinian people to struggle for the day when they can bury Arafat in 
a free Jerusalem—not a city occupied by tens of thousands of Israeli troops.

Excitement sweeps the crowd. Whistles sound from all sides. But no 
helicopter is yet in sight. Then, masked Palestinian soldiers with rifles 
and swords appear, some marching, some in jeeps. When they fire their 
rifles in the air—a gesture like a 21-gun salute—the crowd claps and yells 
its approval. The Palestinian people crave peace. And they also love their 
sons and daughters who understand that without control over their own land 
and lives, they must fight for peace—either non-violently or violently.

Finally, only a few minutes after the scheduled time, three helicopters 
appear in the distance. They circle Ramallah once before one of the 
helicopters descends into a landing space in the crowd. The helicopter 
whips up dust and rocks, but the crowd stays and chants of "Yassir, Yassir" 
drown out the helicopter noise. When it's engine is turned off, massive 
cheers and quadraphonic rifle fire from several directions explode. Someone 
yells, "If you love Arafat, sit down." For a few seconds, the crowd kneels 
on the dusty turf. But everyone wants a glimpse of the coffin draped with 
the Palestinian flag, so soon, the people stand.

Those who mourn Arafat's death, mix with those who have come to express 
their dedication to resisting occupation—to fight for Palestinian freedom. 
There is more rifle fire. More chants. "With our blood, with our lives, 
we'll avenge you Arafat." Ambulances arrive to aid at least four people 
struck by stray bullets. The sound of rifle fire seems to take over the 
compound. Most the crowd streams towards the gates. Some media described 
the scene as chaotic. Certainly, the sulfur smell of spent bullets filled 
the air. But the crowd dispersed peacefully. There were no speeches, no 
processions. Most people headed home to break their fast. It is the last 
Friday of Ramadan.

One young woman wearing a traditional Muslim head scarf and a kaffiyeh 
around her shoulders told a reporter, "The Palestinian people will continue 
to struggle. We have no choice. The occupation is suffocating us. We must 

# # # #

Possible Sidebars

Arafat's Death Sparks Demonstrations Throughout Palestine

On Thursday, when his death was announced and Friday, the day he was 
buried, demonstrations and spontaneous displays of mourning erupted in 
Jerusalem, all major Palestinian cities, Gaza, and many towns and villages.

In Jerusalem on Thursday, hundreds gathered for a candle-lit rally in the 
amphitheater- like entrance to the Old City at Damascus Gate. As they left 
the rally for a peaceful march through East Jerusalem, Israeli soldiers 
stopped them and arrested 60.

With roadblocks preventing travel to the burial in Ramallah, people joined 
demonstrations in Nablus—which has been under very strict martial law, 
Bethlehem, Hebron and Jenin. There were reports of vigils and rallies in 
smaller towns and villages throughout the West Bank. At the same time, 
young people everywhere burned tires and climbed light poles to post flags 
and posters. At Qalandia, a suburb of Jerusalem and the main Israeli 
checkpoint that prevents residents of the West Bank from entering 
Jerusalem, children threw rocks at fully-armed Israeli soldiers. The 
soldiers fired many rounds in the direction of the kids who seemed to run 
quicker than bullets. But it was only the presence of many reporters that 
probably saved the lives of these children.

In Ain al-Hilwah refugee camp, one of 10 in Jordan where 1.7 million 
Palestinians live, a chant went up, "Abu Ammar, you can rest now, we shall 
continue the struggle."

How Israel Creates Resistance

Throughout the narrow streets of the Muslim Quarters, at corners, and all 
along the route to the Mosque, every day and every night, Israeli soldiers 
arbitrarily stop Palestinians, demand ID and interrogate people. Only those 
with official Jerusalem residency are allowed there. If one observes a 
corner for 15 minutes, a minimum of five men will be detained.

On this Friday, in addition to the usual thousands of Israeli soldiers 
occupying Jerusalem, 5000 more arrived to block all roads and gates leading 
to Al Aqsa Mosque. Last year, on the last Friday of Ramadan, some 300,000 
people prayed peacefully at Al Aqsa—one of the holiest shrines of Islam. 
People have been fasting and celebrating Ramadan for nearly a month. With 
all their dedication to prayer, family and tradition, people head to Al 
Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan. This year, the Israelis decreed that 
only people over 45 years of age and none from the "territories" (West Bank 
and Gaza) could enter the Mosque. They set up an elaborate series of gates 
and mazes to keep people out.

Those—even older people—who were blocked from praying with their families, 
nodded when a woman told a reporter, "Jerusalem is part of who we are. It 
is our capital, our holy land. They cannot keep us out forever."

The Freedom Archives
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