Who was Yasser Arafat ?

The controversial leader of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) is still nowadays an inspirational figure for the Palestinian people.  Considered as the father of the Palestinian national movement, when we refers to his name in Israeli society, he is nevertheless considered as terrorist accountable for many terrible acts. Childhood and first commitments Yasser Arafat was […]

The controversial leader of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) is still nowadays an inspirational figure for the Palestinian people.  Considered as the father of the Palestinian national movement, when we refers to his name in Israeli society, he is nevertheless considered as terrorist accountable for many terrible acts.

Childhood and first commitments

Yasser Arafat was born in 1929, but his birthplace -like so much else about him- is controversial. Some sources claim that he was born in Cairo in Egypt, but he claimed that he was born at Jerusalem (القدس). He spent his childhood in Cairo with his six brothers and sisters.

He was very young when he begins to campaign for the palestinian cause and to struggle against zionism. As a teenager, he studied the works of Theodor Herzl and declared “I need to understand my enemy”. He even served a german SS lieutenant and denounced to the Egyptian police, with other young people, Jews belonging to the Zionist movements. During this period he was working for the great Mufti of Jerusalem Amin Al-Husseini and was secretly selling weapons to fight against Jews and English. He later obtained a degree in civil engineering at the University King Fouad I st of Cairo. He left the University to fight against the Jews in 1948, the official date of the creation of the State of Israel. From this period started what the Arabs (especially palestinians) call the Nakba (النكبة) , which mean the tragedy, disaster or catastrophe.

The Nakba occurred during the Arab-Israeli war of 1948 and caused a Palestinian exodus of nearly 700,000 people to other Arab countries. Following the failure of the peace agreements their right of return will not be granted. About 400 villages are abandoned. Nowadays there are now nearly 5 million Palestinian refugees.

The Fatah

It is at the University in Egypt that Yasser Arafat meets those with whom he will found Fatah. From 1956, it’s in Kuwait that Yasser Arafat decides to live. In 1959 he decides to create his own political party called « Fatah » (acronym in Arabic to designate a national liberation movement). This movement has for doctrine the liberation of Palestine, the struggle against the Jewish State and the independance of Palestine from the Arab States. The organization moved clandestinely in Syria and Lebanon in 1964 and decides to take action against Israel from these countries. Fatah build important relations the same year with Algeria, the USSR, China and North Korea. Arab countries like Egypt, Lebanon or Jordan show their hostility towards Fatah at the end of 1965. It was in 1968 that Yasser Arafat knew the beginning of a recognition. Funded and supported by Abdel Nasser as a Palestinian authority, Yasser Arafat organizes internal resistance in the West Bank through series of sabotages and attacks

The Creation of a leader for Palestinian People

Its during these years that the “Che Guevara of the Middle East” takes shape: with its sunglasses, his kheffier and his beard, this one becomes the symbol of the Palestinian people.

In the 60s, another political movement emerged : the Palestinian Liberation Organization, created by the Arab Ligue. Just like the Fatah, its purpose is firstly to liberate Palestine from occupation and the British mandate. First led by Ahmed Choukairy, a syrian, Yasser Arafat takes the lead in 1969.

In 1974 The United Nations recognized the PLO as « the sole legitimate representative of Palestinian people » and Yasser Arafat as the first representative of a non-governmental entity. He is the first to come to the General Assembly of the United Nations to speak about the fate of the palestinian people, and to put forward the « Palestinian question ».

This speech is paramount in the Palestinian history.

The year of 1988 marked a change for Arafat and the PLO. Yasser Arafat gave a speech at the United Nations and said that all involved parties could live together in peace. He undertakes a pacification of the conflict and officially renounces to terrorist attacks. He also recognizes the right of existence of Israel. It’s lead to the peace process of the Oslo agreement in 1993 which allowed for palestinian self-rule and official elections, and also recognizes PLO as the official authority.

On 1st July 1994, Yasser Arafat moved to Gaza and was elected on 20 January 1996 to head the Palestinian Authority with 88.2% of the vote. He was president of Fatah since October 10, 1959, president of the PLO on February 4, 1969, and became president of the Palestinian Authority since July 5, 1994.

Yasser Arafat died on november 11, 2004, in France. He is still one of the leading figures in the struggle for Palestinian independence. His portrait is present everywhere in Palestine (West Bank), difficult not to see ! Koffye has become a symbol of Palestinian liberation. A large modern museum is dedicated to him in Ramallah.

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