Preserving Mass Delusion -- The Palestinian Narrative
|A makeshift shrine dedicated to Yasser Arafat days before his death in 2004. Photograph: Kevin Freyer/AP|
"There is not really enough space in any museum to adequately display Arafat's legacy."
"He brought unity, national pride, freedom and fight to the Palestinian people, and people really miss him."
"The Yasser Arafat Museum displays the Palestinian experience. It is the only venue in Palestine that presents the Palestinian narrative of events from the last century."
Mohammad Halayka, director, Yasser Arafat Museum
"We want to show the whole story of the Palestinian people, from the dawn of the 20th century until 2004. This story is of 100 years of conflict and dispossession, [but] also the role of Arafat, who is the main figure in this Palestinian journey."
We have kept it [Arafat's Ramallah bedroom] exactly as it was."
"I am totally convinced his death was not a natural death and most likely he was poisoned. Israel assassinated Yasser Arafat."
"The Arafat archive, which is probably the only coherent and comprehensive archive, was subject to several blows in Beirut and later in Gaza. The same goes for his belongings."
Nasser al-Kidwa, Arafat nephew, Fatah Central Committee member
He was visually unprepossessing, in fact a bit of a cartoon figure with his stubby facial hair, his thick lips and wide, blubbery face, his love of appearing in a guerrilla uniform, presenting himself as a righteous fighter for Palestinian justice. He was a nasty little man, a lover of violent solutions which solved nothing; a primal instigator of mass murder, inciting Palestinians to 'resist' the presence of a Jewish state; motivated by hate more than his idea of a nationalism that existed on a feeble platform of 'heritage' in Palestine.
But he remains a hugely respected figure for the Palestinians who appear to genuinely mourn his absence with their sincere adulation of the man who became their legend. He was indeed legendary for his violent exploits, masterminding and encouraging suicide attacks against Israel and Israelis, fomenting a new kind of guerrilla threat through the hijacking of airplanes and ships, holding passengers to ransom to focus the world's attention on himself and his aspirations as someone who outperformed Fidel Castro as guerrilla extraordinaire.
However, people feeling themselves under duress informed they must make sacrifices for their ideological movement of the destruction of Israel leading to repossession of land they claim for their own are zealous in their strident demands and threats, proud to make them holding the world to attention and forcing the nation under threat to become a military occupier to preserve their own existence in a wholesale hostile geography. And so, what could be more fitting than a tribute museum to their vaunted hero.
Symbolism is far more impressive than simple truth and reality which have a way of undercutting the dramatic flair for which he was famous. And so, a sub-machine gun is poised alongside a copy of the Koran on the desk in his office, preserved for posterity over a pile of papers. Nearby, in a guards' room leaning against the wall is an AK-47, signifying the Palestinian struggle that has no end. The revolver he was accustomed to wearing on his hip in a holster is displayed separately in a case. Recalling his appearance at the United Nations General Assembly, setting a bold new assertion of presence in that hallowed chamber; gun in one hand, 'olive branch' in the other.
|Photo -- Reuters|
The Yasser Arafat Museum's director, Mohammed Halayka explains that the artefacts, though numerous, yet lack completeness, since there are many other important documents and possessions of Yasser Arafat's that they have been unable to access. They are under Hamas control, remaining yet in the Gaza office that Arafat used, and closed to museum officials in reflection of the harmonious relations between Fatah and Hamas. Arafat's nephew adds that many other objects have been quite simply 'lost'. Among them their hero's original Nobel Peace Prize certificate; in its place is a reproduced copy obligingly supplied by the Nobel committee.
Within, among the displays there is also footage of significant events, including the "nakba", the catastrophe that struck Palestinian Arabs when Israel declared itself a state subsequent to the United Nations' declaration on Partition, a welcome invitation for Israel to proceed with its nascent state, a blow to Palestinian aspirations to rule the entire geography in perpetuity. When the 1948 war erupted with adjoining Arab nations assembling their militaries for a joint assault against the fledgling State of Israel, an estimated 700,000 Palestinians fled.
They were assured by the attacking nations that in short order they could return, once the Jews had been defeated and ousted from the geography. Life held many repeats of that failed joint attempt to destroy Israel, all adding to the festering hatred of the Palestinians in exile for the Jewish state and those who lived therein, despite that the Palestinian Arabs who had refused to leave, were now entitled to stay, as citizens of Israel. And the 800,000 Jews expelled from Arab lands were absorbed in their new country of universal Jewish haven.
Yasser Arafat, though he was a co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize had no real intention of formalizing and finalizing the Oslo Accord that would have resulted in a Palestinian state. Surrendering to the reality of a Jewish state and living alongside it with a Palestinian state was simply unacceptable to a conflict-ridden and -absorbed people demanding everything for themselves, and employing all means possible to inflict enough harm on Israelis to persuade them that departure from the land was the only means by which they could preserve their lives.
Palestinians inflicted themselves on Lebanon, and lived in 'refugee camps' throughout the Arab world, attacking Israel from those vantage points, including Jordan. Black September represented the Jordanian military clashing with Palestinians who were attacking Israel from their refugee camps. Fleeing Jordan, the militants settled in Lebanon. And when the Palestinian attacks out of Lebanon became too onerous for Israel to ignore, the Israeli military entered Lebanon to oust them from that vantage point.
The wall erected by Israel to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers did just that, while being condemned the world over as an apartheid wall. Yet now Lebanon, accustomed to terrorists in their midst as they are, with Hezbollah manipulating the government, is in the process of building a tall, wide concrete barrier to separate one of the more militant Palestinian refugee camps within its borders, to keep the terrorists within the camp away from Lebanese who never accepted the presence of Palestinians among them, holding them in contempt, denying them citizenship, just as all other Arab states with the exception of Jordan have done.
Rumours that Arafat and his cronies siphoned millions in aid funding from international sources that was always meant to support the Palestinian need of basic amenities and civil structures besmirched his reputation, but though the outside world and Israel in particular felt confident in that assertion, the Palestinians themselves coming to the same realization, all is forgiven in the adulation of a dead hero. In 2003, Forbes magazine listed the Arafat fortune at minimum at $300-million, while other estimates go as high as $1-billion.
As for his death a dozen years ago in France, the cause remains unsettled, although French doctors claim that Arafat died of a hemorrhagic stroke on November 11, 2004. His flu-like symptoms had continued to puzzle examining physicians. A military jet carried him to France once Egyptian and Jordanian doctors had failed to diagnose his failing health condition. Arafat's wife continues to insist that he died of poisoning, from something like Polonium, accusing Israel of having poisoned her husband, a stance that the Museum gives credit to for his death. Rumours are that his death was attributable to a claque within Fatah.
However, that doesn't represent the only inconsistencies with the truth about the man. The museum claims him to have been born in Jerusalem's Old City. One of the displays at the museum is a replica of a dwelling overlooking the Al Aqsa Mosque, identifying it as the home of Arafat's grandfather, and precisely where they claim the Palestinian hero had been born. Even while most historians say unequivocally that the man was born in Egypt, and only arrived in Jerusalem after his mother died, when he was four years of age.
"This is the house where he was born The stones are real. We brought them from the Old City, even though the house no longer exists", authoritatively insisted museum guide Dana Abdein. The Palestinian "cause" began before the creation of Israel in 1948, and Arafat was involved in it s a teenager; it became his destiny, to lead the Palestinians into the land occupied by Israel, as a conquest for Arabs and Islam. In this he failed, while managing to retain the adulation of those whose lives he made poorer through his campaign of hatred and violence.