To think that
Hamas has taken over control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah is pinning its hopes on the West bank and people are talking about a "three state solution" that includes
All I can do is to bring alive Yasser Arafat once again. This is my personal account of the man, his people and my encounter with them…It was first published in The Friday Times.
Brick in the wall
“Are you mad?” exclaimed Elias Freij, the mayor of
Little boys are terrorists? Terrorists throw stones? This is how limited my knowledge of
Laxmi Hotel, a crummy little restaurant in a bylane of Colaba, Mumbai, was hardly the place to discuss the Palestinian struggle. But we were doing just that. Trust had built up over the months and he finally told me he was a member of the PLO. “Arafat’s trips are such a well-guarded secret that until the last minute even we do not know - he often changes his itinerary because he can sense danger.”
One day he told me, “Arafat is getting married.”
“Oh no!” I said. He looked surprised.
To me, the leader of the PLO represented the sort of romance you reserve for soppy Hindi films, the underdog, a Robin Hood, a lone ranger. Marriage seemed like a let-down. Had he not said he was in love once but, “For me the decision not to marry was very hard. I am a normal man and I would like to have a wife and children; but I did not think it was fair that any woman should be asked to share the troubles I knew I would be facing in my long struggle”?
Initially, Arafat himself was unaware of what struggle entailed. Born in
Ismail Hassani, whose father was expelled from
Dr. Sabri explained, “The PLO is like an umbrella, and every child born understands it. From a distance the younger people can see it more clearly. They have to believe in the leadership.”
But how could they feel so strongly about a land whose history was wiped out? As Moshe Dayan had said, “There is not a single Jewish village in this country that has not been built on the site of an Arab village.”
Displacement can be recognised in small ways. In
The ambassador was polite but cautious, steering clear of personal views. What did he think of the attempts to justify the existence of
Yet, Jews from any part of the world can get instant citizenship in
The ironies are many: The first Al Fatah cell was established in Kuwait, now a US stooge; Arafat’s closest confidant was a Catholic priest; he hated the sight of blood; he often recruited a person because, “I feel I can trust him”; he had the task of selling to his people the idea of getting back 30 per cent of their land when they had a claim to all of it; he left instructions with his bodyguards that if he was ever captured by Israelis, he should be shot dead – the Israelis kept him under house arrest in Ramallah.
Nothing could break him. Abu Jihad had described him as, “not just a political symbol… he is living all our fears, all of our dreams and all of our sufferings.”
He once told the UN Under-Secretary General, “Please tell those stupid people in
For Arafat the room at the top was destined to be a dark attic.