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Yasser Arafat

By , Denver, CO
Yasser Arafat, a Palestinian born in the 20th century from Egypt, was the chairman of Palestinian Liberation Organization and devoted his life to create an independent Palestinian state along the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He was born on August 24, 1929. Arafat claimed that he was born in Jerusalem in order to avoid any challenges caused by him being a full Palestinian when in fact, French biographers, Christophe Boltanski and Jihan El-Tahri revealed in their 1997 book, Les sept vies de Yasser Arafat, that he was actually born in Cairo, Egypt, and that is where his birth certificate was registered. His full name is Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini. His nickname became Yasser which means easygoing, like a teenager and some people later actually say that this reflected on his attitude as a person. Early in his life, politics became his passion. He was a student activist at King Fuad I University, which is now Cairo University, where he studied civil engineering. When the first Arab-Israeli war erupted in 1948, Arafat, then 18, fought with forces of the Muslim Brotherhood, the original Egyptian fundamentalist group, in the area around the Gaza Strip. Arafat never was an actual member, but he still would often work with the Brotherhood and remained an observant Muslim. As shown, even early on in his life, he loved taking on any role of leadership that he could contribute which would later drive him to even bigger projects.

Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) is a political movement of the Palestinian people who fought for an independent state along the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PLO was created in 1964 by a group of pro- Palestinian forces in Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. In 1969, Arafat became the chairman of it, the highest position of all, and remained so for the remainder of his life. The PLO fought for the territories that where either partly or completely controlled by Israel since 1967. There are three main branches of the organization which are the Palestine National Council (PNC), the Executive Committee, and the Central Council. At the moment, they were located in Jordan, where they created many attacks on Israel from. By acting as such a large force, this intimidated King Hussein. So, he put out an immense army to attack Arafat and his group in a bloody war referred to as Black September. Ultimately, the PLO and other Palestinian guerrillas were forced to relocate in Lebanon. Not soon after, however, they started to create tension once again in Lebanon that became a factor of the Lebanese civil war which was already in place. As Israel observed from afar and saw that the Lebanon and Beirut government had a very difficult time controlling the PLO, they invaded the northern land and spent a three month siege in Beirut. From here, the US helped the two sides negotiate the safe exit from the PLO’s city. As the last boat of the Israelis sailed away, Arafat famously displayed a victory sign in happiness.
Together with a group of colleagues, Arafat created the group Al- Fatah or Fatah. It belonged to the umbrella organization that was PLO. An umbrella organization is a large association with a number of smaller member groups included in it. Fatah was one of the biggest organizations inside the PLO. The word “Fatah” means victory, conquest, and opening in Arabic. This group used violence and politics to help gain an independent state and began in the late 1950’s. Later on, a magazine was created that encouraged taking arms to eliminate Israeli control. This sparked many guerilla attacks and made Arafat the main leader of this group as well. It could be said that Arafat was the most reckless of the small group of leaders. He commanded a group inside Fatah referred to as “the mad ones” who initiated all of the armed action. The other co-leaders of Fatah were in charge of the group “the sane ones”. This group was in charge of fostering the organization. One of the attacks that the group is remembered for failing is what was supposed to be their debut attack. Dynamite was placed at a water canal when Israeli locals discovered it unexploded and fizzled. Arafat had traveled all across West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon to avoid being caught. He dressed as a peasant, a priest, a woman carrying a baby, and a particular Dr. Mohammed for disguises. Because of this certain incident, Fatah never was a great fighting force, but Arafat did prove to be a skilled recruiter and fundraiser. By the end of 1967, Fatah reached the point of being the dominant factor of the PLO. In the next year, when they succeeded with the support of the Jordanian army in facing an ambush from the Israelis, they obtained major popularity.
Arafat became the first person to speak to the United Nations as liberation rather than a political state as the PLO gained more and more recognition. In 1974, the PLO was chosen as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” by the UN. The PLO also adopted the UN’s resolution 242 which would therefore abandon the use of terrorism. This also required Arafat to agree to acknowledge that Israel had the right to exist in peace and also that there were two separate lands: Israel and Palestine. King Hussein also tried to contribute to this by renouncing the use of terrorism. Nevertheless, attacks still continued by members launching targets toward Israeli objectives. At the time, Israel also didn’t want to discuss any plan of peace which many thought was an odd predicament. Later on, a series of protests started called the intifadeh or intifada. This series would later change Israel’s mind. An outbreak sparked by a traffic accident in the Gaza Strip in which an Israeli truck driver killed six Palestinian laborers was a spontaneous event in which the P.L.O. had no role. Arafat however was quick to adopt the popular revolt, naming and funding the local committees that organized the intifadeh's main events: strikes, demonstrations, boycotts of Israeli taxes, and, especially, challenges to Israeli soldiers by rock-throwing Palestinian boys, known as the shabab. After a while Palestine became an unsettling and corrupt place. The Israelis thought to retaliate by even killing some of the PLO leaders. Arafat had survived. In the midst of all of these events, Arafat gave a speech to the UN. At this point he was certain that peace must be found immediately. He shows this when he says, “Let all hands join in defense of an historic, possibly irreplaceable opportunity to put an end to a tragedy that has lingered too long and cost thousands of lives and the destruction of hundreds of village and cities. We reach for the olive branch because it sprouts in our hearts from the tree of the homeland, the tree of freedom.” In the entirety of his speech he shows the UN and Israel that he is sick of all the tragedies and eventually Israel agrees and joins this notion. However, this was also a low time for Arafat and the PLO because the reputations for them had plummeted to the ground because of the intifada. But even so, all of the drama of it raised Arafat’s status by bringing world attention to him of how the Palestinians were having a difficult time, which could be said brought pity for the Palestinians and therefore brownie points when they admitted a desire for freedom to the UN.

Arafat continued to give peace talks for the latter of his life until violence broke out between the Israelis and the Palestinians in 2000. In 1994, he won the Nobel Peace Prize which he shared with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. In his acceptance speech he notes that, “Just as war is a great adventure, peace is a challenge and wager.” From this he admits that even if what he has worked for so far in his life only reached him this far, there is still work to be accomplished by the help of other nations. He calls out for help saying that if everyone doesn’t work together as a team, we can’t count on peace any soon. One Arafat’s greatest challenge was dealing with the whole Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. Hamas bloodily rejected reconciliation with Israel, which it viewed as an alien colony on Islamic land. However, the organization did win support on the grassroots level with openings of new schools, clinics, sports clubs, and welfare societies. These competed with the social services the P.L.O. had always provided but which were scaled back amid a financial crisis in the early 1990s. These groups seemed to threaten Arafat's capacity to hold together a unified nationalist organization with a goal of statehood. Some Israeli government officials opined that the armed Fatah sub-group al- Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades commenced attacks towards Israel in order to compete with Hamas. The Israeli government released a report, based in part on documents captured during the Israeli occupation of Arafat's Ramallah headquarters, which included copies of papers signed by Arafat authorizing funding for al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades' activities. Moreover, in 1996, Arafat became President of the Palestinian Authority. From there he used his special influence to try to sum up his career. In 2000, peace talks between Israel and the PLO broke down, and a period of violence began between Israelis and Palestinians. Arafat's position was weakened. In 2003, he agreed to appoint a prime minister to assume some of his PA executive duties. In late 2004, Arafat became seriously ill. He died on Nov. 11, 2004. In Arafat’s life, at some points it was difficult to tell which side he was truly on. Because of this, there is much debate over whether he can be classified as a terrorist. Sometimes, Arafat was on the other side of the bombs and was therefore the attacker. Then again, at major points in his life, he would turn the other cheek and talk about peace. It just depends on which parts of his life one wants to emphasize on in order to determine if he is a terrorist or not.





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