The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Arafat is buried, but not the Palestinian people

Nov 22, 2004

A gigantic crowd met Yasser Arafat's coffin in Ramallah on November 12, where his body was brought back to be buried. Television throughout the world broadcast pictures of this crowd, alive with emotion. They turned Arafat's funeral into an enormous demonstration, showing that the Palestinian people are still alive, despite the decades-long attempt by Israeli leaders to pretend that they didn't exist as a people.

In the West Bank and Gaza, the Palestinian people are cut from each other by barriers and settlements, subject to harassing controls and non-stop repression. But they are still alive and proclaimed this to the world.

Yasser Arafat will go down in history as the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) who became the president of the Palestinian Authority. He was the symbol of the struggle of his people for the nation they were denied. During the last years of his life, the Israeli leaders forced him to stay in the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Attacking it, even with tanks, they undoubtedly reinforced his image among the Palestinian people.

Israeli and U.S. leaders declared that the death of Arafat may have opened the door to peace between Israel and the Palestinians. This just perpetuates the lie that they have told over the years, claiming that it was only Arafat's stubbornness that blocked peace. As if the Palestinian territory hadn't been occupied since 1967, colonized by Israel which moved in hundreds of thousands of settlers displacing the Palestinians and attacked them with its army! As if Arafat hadn't accepted almost all the concessions that the Israeli and Western leaders tried to impose on him! No! It was Sharon and his predecessors who, after signing the Oslo accords in 1993 in order to stop the first Intifada or Palestinian rebellion, did everything to violate what was agreed to at Oslo!

The Israeli leaders aren't afraid of Arafat, living or dead. It is the Palestinian people and the people of the neighboring countries that they fear. And it's not just the Israeli leaders who are afraid. We saw it just before Arafat was buried, when his body was brought to Egypt for a ceremony attended by heads of state from throughout the world. This took place at a military club in a Cairo suburb, near the airport on the edge of the desert, far away from the Egyptian masses. The Egyptian leaders, the leaders of the other Arab states and of the great powers obviously feared that if Arafat's body were displayed in downtown Cairo, the popular outpouring paying homage to him would become a gigantic demonstration they couldn't control. This happened when the body of Egyptian nationalist leader Gamal Nasser was displayed in Cairo in 1970.

Nevertheless, Arafat didn't truly represent the interests of the poor Palestinian masses, any more than Nasser represented the interests of the poor Egyptian masses. Nasser represented the Egyptian bourgeoisie which sought to lessen the pressure it suffered from imperialism. Arafat, who himself came from the Palestinian bourgeoisie, wanted to obtain for his class a place in the sun and above all a state of its own. That meant government posts for people like him, rather than the real freedom and satisfaction of the essential demands of his people. In order to get a Palestinian state, he counted more on support by the leaders of the Arab states and the great powers than on the struggle of his people.

The leaders of the great powers understood this and so did the Israeli leaders. The official recognition of the PLO and the homage rendered to its leader afterward, for example, by the Nobel Peace Prize, were a means to assert their control over a man capable of reining in the Palestinian movement. He proved he would serve them, especially when the struggle of the Palestinians in Jordan and Lebanon threatened to engage the masses of these countries, destabilizing their regimes. Arafat worked actively to stop this development. When the leaders of the great powers recognized Arafat and the PLO, they were doing it to control a turbulent movement through him. It didn't mean truly recognizing the Palestinian people.

Despite everything, the Palestinian question is still alive and explosive. The people of the entire region continue to see the Palestinians and their struggle as a symbol of their own situation. The provocative attitude of the Israeli leaders in the occupied territories, just like that of the U.S. in Iraq, only increases the likelihood of an explosion in the entire Middle East. The burial of Arafat does not mean the burial of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians remain unconquered and are very much alive.

Whoever finally replaces Arafat, sooner or later the Palestinians must win recognition of their rights. This is not only in the interests of the Palestinians, but also of the Israelis, whose leaders today offer them nothing but endless war. Israelis, despite their leaders, must find the way to fraternal coexistence with the neighboring people, without walls of separation, without armed control points, without racism and apartheid.