RAMALLAH, Nov 11 (R. Sherlock) - Beneath the gleaming square-cut tower which houses Yasser Arafat
’s mausoleum, thousands of Palestinians gathered Thursday to commemorate their deceased leader. The crush of waving flags flashed red, green, black, white in the sunlight.
Security forces struggled to control the crowds as they poured into the walled compound. At the front, in between giant superimposed posters of Yasser Arafat and current President Mahmoud Abbas
standing together, Abbas and Nasser al-Qudwa, Arafat’s nephew gave their speeches. Abbas reiterated the need for Israel
to pull settlements
out of the West Bank
, and al-Qudwa spoke of reconciliation with Hamas
organized much of the gathering in Ramallah
, busing in its members from across the West Bank. In Gaza, Hamas members, perhaps concerned that it would transform into a Fatah rally, banned commemorations of the PA chairman. Those that did celebrate – through a private film screening – were arrested.
But for most Palestinian civilians, the day was more than a political show. It was a dedication to the person still widely considered as their greatest leader. This is the sixth anniversary of the former Palestinian Authority
Chairman’s death, but the yearly ritual has not lessened in its fervor.
“For Palestinians it is a sacred day, he is a great leader. The only leader everyone loves,” says young teacher Ikram Hamad. Looking around herself, Hamad confirmed, “this is not just a Fatah rally. There are members of Islamic Jihad
, Hamas mediators and all others here.”
“We are not here to party or eat food. We are here to refresh the love for our leader in our hearts,” said 26-year-old Saqer Haddar.
Children, who were too young to walk when Arafat died, donned the checkered kuffiyeh
(head-dress), and followed the young men excitedly in chants and shouts.
“He is still in our hearts,” says Haddar. “When you have children you love them, if one dies he will live on in your heart. He is always in our hearts. We never had a leader like this. He died for us.”
“He was the savior of all of us, he never said no to the people. He was our foundation,” says one young boy shouting over a loudspeaker blasting out poems of the deceased leader.
Arafat spearheaded the Palestinian cause for four decades, leading it through official peace talks at the Camp David
in the United States, and supporting the popular uprising that led to the second intifada
“He was powerful politically, but he used to also walk among the people, without security guards, without anything,” says a 20-year-old student who was arrested for his activity in the second intifada.
In death, the legacy of Arafat is one for every politician to envy. His memory continues to act as a symbol of national unity that is passed down through generations.
“Arafat was great with all parties, the father for all. It is important that on this great day we call for unity,” says Hamad.
On the social networking website Facebook, many Palestinians changed their profile picture to a portrait of Yasser Arafat. Across Ramallah, families and friends prepared vigils and visits to his mausoleum.
At a time when internal politics are in disarray, and the peace process is all but dead, the memory of, or perhaps a rose tinted version of the memory of Yasser Arafat remains alive in the Palestinian consciousness.