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Merci La France: We Will Be Forever Grateful

Merci La France: We Will Be Forever Grateful


By Ramzy Baroud

By honoring President Yasser Arafat, France has honored every Palestinian man, woman and child. For this we will be forever grateful.

Even President Jacques Chirac may not realize how deeply appreciated were his gestures toward President Arafat and his just cause. His endearing utterances have strengthened the bond of friendship between France and Palestinians for years to come.

Just before Arafat’s body was transported to the airport on its final journey to Cairo then to Ramallah, Chirac insisted that political correctness doesn’t stand in the way of moral uprightness. “I came to bow before President Yasser Arafat and pay him a final homage.”

Draped in the Palestinian flag, President Arafat’s body departed France in the presence of the country’s Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin. The solemn scene is reminiscent of Arafat’s first official trip to the West, also to France after the Palestine Liberation Organization opened its office in Paris in 1975.

Former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing was one out of many who spoke with kindness about Arafat’s legacy. “His complete life was mixed wholly with the Palestinian cause. My feelings are of sadness at the departure of someone who presented an idea, an inspiration.”

Indeed, it was Arafat the idea that most of us have and still mourn. He proved that it was still possible to speak of a “peace of the brave” when his nation was only expected to cave in to a humiliating defeat. He and his people defied the odds and proved that neither Diaspora nor slow genocide could render them “irrelevant” as Bush has repeatedly suggested. Thanks to the courage of France and its leadership, Arafat remained relevant to the end.

This was neither the first nor the last bold stand to be taken by the French in support of the just cause of Palestine and just causes everywhere. They clashed with the world’s only superpower repeatedly, most memorably over the unwarranted invasion of Iraq. Now, only a fool would argue that France was not right all along.

Yet what was overwhelmingly touching in France’s token of friendship to the Palestinian people, is that it came when much of the international community was absolving itself from its legal and moral responsibility. Even among Arab governments, there is a prevailing sense that the conflict is a political liability, thus the Arab-Israeli struggle has quietly evolved into a struggle solely between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

As far as the Bush administration is concerned, neither morality nor international legality is a factor in this conflict. Thanks to the political extremism of President Bush during his first term, a peace opportunity was squandered.

A man who had the legitimacy and clout to reach an historic agreement with Israel on the basis of international law was to be confined to a battered office in Ramallah, surrounded by Israeli tanks amid active Israeli threats to murder him.

Bush lacked the courage to challenge the rogue act of the pariah state. In fact, he supported it, compromising therefore on the reputation of his country whose image has been tainted like never before. Even then, French officials refused to be intimidated or coerced. Arafat was the elected leader of his nation and they treated him as such, with the dignity and respect he deserved.

Knowing all of that, Chirac’s words were of little surprise: “France will continue to tirelessly act for peace and security in the Middle East and will do so with respect for the rights of the Palestinian and Israeli people.”

At that moment, every Palestinian, especially refugees longing to return, felt the warm embrace of France and its people. It proved that, after all, the spirit of revolution that France helped define many generations ago has prevailed over the rhetoric of hate, mindless wars and inexcusable kidnappings. Beside his resting place in Ramallah, Palestinians raised the French flag, a simple and profound expression of their gratitude.

For your courage and tenacity, for refusing to follow the crowd and for steadfastly abiding in the principals of freedom, equality and brotherhood, for granting our leader the respect he deserved in life and death, for honoring the Palestinian people as you have, I wish to humbly say on behalf of all of my people, “Merci la France”.

*************

— Ramzy Baroud is a veteran Arab-American journalist. A regular columnist in many English and Arabic publications, he is editor-in-chief of PalestineChronicle.com

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