With hearts full of sorrow, we, members of Al-Awda– the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, express our deep sadness at the death of Yasser Arafat, President of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. We hold the government of Ariel Sharon responsible for the suffering he endured especially in the last three years of his life, ultimately leading to his death.
President Arafat’s pivotal role in advancing the cause of Palestine and its people defies words. Abu Ammar, along with other Palestinian leaders, were the primary architects of the modern Palestinian national movement. It was under their capable leadership that the PLO was transformed into a broad-based national framework, a front of national resistance groups who were driven by an irresistible desire to return to a free Palestine, and who were actively engaged in the struggle to recover Palestinian rights.
Under Arafat’s leadership, the PLO succeeded in defining the Palestinian cause as one of a nation determined to take matters into its own hands; a people made up of refugees whose continued existence is organically, naturally and historically tied to the land of Palestine. In fact, the PLO, as the embodiment of Palestinian identity and hopes, went beyond the role played by traditional national liberation movements. The PLO fought to restore the national rights of the Palestinian people and to end the colonial occupation of Palestine. It also took it upon itself to reconstitute the shattered Palestinian identity, society and culture while, simultaneously, securing substantial international political and diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause.
Abu Ammar personified the Palestinian struggle to the extent that the two became inseparable in the eyes of many. The man who dedicated his entire life to Palestine simultaneously shaped and was shaped by the Palestinian struggle in all of its stages.
Most of all, Arafat embodied and personified the unmatched Palestinian will to resist oppression irrespective of the cost of such resistance. He personified the Palestinian revolt in the face of overwhelming odds. When Palestinian forces at the Jordanian village of Karama came under Israeli assault in April of 1968, Arafat and his comrades insisted on standing their ground. By doing so, they transformed the Battle of Karama into a turning point in the history of Palestinian and Arab resistance against Zionism and imperialism.
Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with his political tactics or leadership style, one thing is clear: Yasser Arafat never retreated on any of the core Palestinian objectives, namely independence, the right to return and a free Jerusalem. And for his steadfastness, Abu Ammar paid dearly.
In 1982, Arafat resisted military and political pressures to abandon the Palestinian struggle. Instead, he led an alliance of Palestinian-Lebanese-Syrian resistance to Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. Rebuffing offers of safe passage out of the besieged city of Beirut, Abu Ammar insisted on staying with his people and fighters. In fact, after leading and personally participating in thwarting Israeli attempts to occupy Beirut during the fateful summer of 1982, Arafat was the last person to leave the city after ensuring the safe departure of his forces.
During the summer of 2000, Arafat came under intense pressure at Camp David to accept US-Israeli dictates with regards to Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugees’ right to return. However, the Palestinian leader refused to sign or endorse any agreement that fell short of minimal Palestinian demands. Arafat paid a heavy price for his refusal to surrender his people’s rights. A campaign of killing and terror was unleashed against the West Bank and Gaza, culminating in the reoccupation of major Palestinian cities and towns, and the imprisonment of Arafat in the few parts of his Ramallah headquarters which escaped Israeli destruction. Despite repeated offers by Israel to ensure his safe passage to another country, Arafat chose to remain in his destroyed headquarters and with his people, fully aware of the devastating effects the non-sanitary living conditions were having on his frail health.
This is a day of grief and sorrow. However, our grief for Abu Ammar should not be mistaken for resignation and despair. The Palestinian people have a long, existential struggle that transcends individuals. For, this is what Abu Ammar had always taught us.
This is also a day of unity for Palestinians and all people of conscience; unity in sadness, but also in determination to continue the struggle for which President Arafat has paid with his life.
We reiterate our determination to challenge any attempts by Israel or the US to impose a leadership on the Palestinian people that suit their interests and designs. The Palestinian people will not forgive those who may try to surrender their fundamental rights, first and foremost the rights to return and compensation.
We call on the Palestinian people to move forward with the establishment and implementation of a national unity program within the framework of a unified national leadership that encompasses all segments of the Palestinian people, including those living in the Diaspora.
As we bid him farewell, we will especially remember Abu Ammar for his refusal to abandon the Palestinian refugees’ right to return to their original towns and villages. Throughout his life, President’s insisted that only the Palestinian people had the right to define the objectives, strategies and tactics of their struggle, without any external interference. This is a message which many within the Palestinian movement in North America would like to see the Palestine solidarity groups adopt and adhere to.
Long Live Palestine
Long Live the Palestinian People