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Gush Delegation at Arafat Funeral

Gush Delegation at Arafat Funeral

A delegation of Gush Shalom, took part in Yasser Arafat’s funeral at the Mukata’a in Ramallah.

The delegation passed the well-organized Israeli army checkpoint in Beitunia and was conveyed from there to Ramallah in vans bearing the designation “Official Delegation”.

Masses of Palestinians beleaguered the gates of the compound and the Palestinian Police succeeded only with great difficulty to make it possible for the delegation to enter. The activists were almost crushed in the process and one of them, Yehoshua Rosin, was slightly wounded. He was promptly treated by the Red Crescent.

Because of the crowding, the delegation was soon scattered among highly emotional mourners, numbering more than a hundred thousand. Only a few of them actually made it to the graveside. Senior officials of the Palestinian Authority invited them to the first row and placed them among the ministers and religious leaders.

Delegation members wore prominent Gush Shalom stickers, consisting of the flags of Israel and Palestine. During the afternoon, hundreds of Palestinians approached the activists, shook their hands and expressed their gratitude for their coming to share their bereavement. It will be remembered that throughout the last year of his life Yasser Arafat wore the two-flag emblem of the Gush on his jacket.

The order of the funeral was shattered when the grief-stricken mourners let their emotions free reign. Thousands of rounds of ammunition were fired into the air by mourners and some people were slightly hurt by ricochets, as well as the heat and the crowding. In spite of that, the attitude towards the Israeli guest was throughout warm and cordial.

“Gush Shalom” is the only Israeli organization that published a statement expressing sorrow at the passing away of the Palestinian ‘Father of the Nation.’”


Yasser Arafat’s coffin arrives by helicopter.

GUSH SHALOM - pob 3322, Tel-Aviv 61033 www.gush-shalom.org/

1] Rejoice not.. 2] The vitality of the source eyewitness report from the funeral 3] Missing Arafat Avnery interviewed by Ari Shavit 4] Gush ad in Ha'aretz

~~~ 1] Rejoice not..

Uri Avnery

"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth, Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him." This biblical injunction (Proverbs 24:17) is one of the most profound Jewish moral tenets.

In this connection, Israel is very far from being a "Jewish State", as it likes to define itself. The disgusting filth poured out over Yasser Arafat during the last few days in practically all the Israeli media makes one ashamed to be an Israeli.

The demonization of the Palestinian national leader, which has been the center-piece of Israeli propaganda for decades, continues even after his death. It seems that 37 years as occupiers have bestialized our society and left it bereft even of common decency. Ministers and fishmongers, TV icons and university professors, "leftists" and outright fascists tried to outdo each other in utter vulgarity.

Never was the huge gap in the perceptions of the two peoples more striking than on the day of Arafat's funeral. While Israeli commentators and "experts on Arab affairs" - almost all of them veterans of the various intelligence agencies - described the late leader as a veritable monster, the epitome of cruelty, viciousness and corruption - a hundred thousand grief-stricken mourners in Ramallah exploded in a burst of emotions that nearly threw the funeral into pandemonium. If the Israeli army had not surrounded and isolated all Palestinian towns that day, more than a million people would have been there.

Gush Shalom, the only Israeli organization that openly mourned alongside the Palestinian people, decided to send a delegation to the funeral. All of us activists, women and men, wore on our breast a big sticker displaying the Israeli and Palestinian flags. The sheer pressure of the multitude split us up among the crowd. Throughout the hours of the funeral, we felt completely safe, even when thousands of shots were fired around us into the air to express grief and bereavement. We encountered hundreds of expressions of gratitude and friendship from Palestinians of all ages and stations in life.

I was in the middle of the melee when the helicopter bearing the coffin arrived from Cairo. Standing beside the grave among the Palestinian ministers, religious dignitaries and diplomats, I was vividly aware of the intense emotions of the huge crowd around us when the helicopter touched down. I remembered the scene of Gamal Abd-al-Nasser's funeral in 1970, when the masses surged forward and literally captured the body of their beloved leader from the soldiers, and felt that this was going to happen here at any moment. And it did.

No Arab leader - and very few world leaders - evoke such profound love and admiration among their people as this man, whom Israelis consider a veritable monster in human form. The Palestinians trusted him, relied on him, let him make all the big decisions that demanded courage, derived from him the strength to defy the intolerable conditions under a brutal occupation. Now, suddenly, incredibly, they found themselves alone, like orphaned waifs, in a world changed by the death of a man who left a huge gap behind him.

What will happen now? Arafat has brought his people from the edge of oblivion to the threshold of independence. But the battle for liberation is still far from over. The new leadership will have to face all the problems that confronted Arafat, without the towering authority of Arafat.

Abu Mazen, Abu-Ala and their colleagues are upright, decent people. I have known them for years, mostly from meetings with Arafat. But they have no deep roots in their people. It may be years before a strong leadership emerges.

At the moment, the Palestinians are united in their resolve to show the world that they can overcome this crisis in a civilized and responsible manner. This could have been a chance for Israel (and the United States, of course) to open a new chapter in relations with the Palestinian people.

What could have been done? Well, there should have been a show of goodwill with such gestures as the mass release of Palestinian prisoners, including the much respected Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, who has been sentenced to serve five consecutive life sentences. Sieges should have been lifted and army operations at least reduced. Peace negotiations should have been announced for the near future.

The first test was, of course, the funeral itself. Arafat should have been buried in Jerusalem, according to his wishes. His interment in Ramallah will only strengthen the resolve of the Palestinians to fight until they are able to re-bury him there. The Minister of Justice, Tommy Lapid, an extreme rightist posing as a liberal, reached new heights of vulgarity when he declared that "Jewish Kings, not Arab terrorists, are buried in Jerusalem". Well, Menachem Begin, a terrorist who became a "king" and was buried in Jerusalem, could have served as a precedent.

But the most important thing is to enable the Palestinians to hold elections within 60 days of the death of the President, as their constitution demands. Actually, my last conversation with Arafat, a few weeks ago (when, by the way, he looked quite healthy) concerned elections. We agreed that they are impracticable while the Israeli army routinely assassinates potential candidates and makes movement between towns and villages almost impossible. How will candidates - if they remain alive - canvass their voters? How will they distribute material, hold meetings and debate policies, with tanks in the background and helicopter gunships hovering overhead?

This situation must be changed at once. All troops must be withdrawn at least from the areas under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (so-called Areas A and B, according to the Oslo agreements), freedom of movement restored, the assassination campaign stopped and, most importantly, international observers invited .

Will this happen? Probably not. Ariel Sharon has absolutely no interest in sitting opposite a democratically elected leadership enjoying international legitimacy and respect, perhaps even weakening his control over President Bush and obstructing his plan for the annexation of most of the West Bank . He will do everything to prevent elections, and, of course, blame the Palestinians.

As always, it is advisable to ignore what Sharon says - and pay close attention ~~~

2] The vitality of the source - eyewitness report from the funeral

Going to Ramallah through the Bitunya Checkpoint gives the clear feeling of entering a prison. We had to go by foot through a complicated system of high walls, barriers and security checks. At least this day we were not refused entry altogether, as we had become used to in the past years.

The soldiers looked at us with a kind of grudging respect as we lined up to sign the legal waiver. ("Knowing the dangers I declare that from my own free will I take all risks upon myself, and give up any claims whatsoever towards the state of Israel, the Ministry of Defence and their employees and soldiers in connection with any bodily damage or death, caused by my presence in the closed area.") Activist Edith Ohri took the soldiers by surprise by adding "except if I am shot at by the Israeli army" in a handwritten reservation.

We were through but without means of transport - the Gush Shalom bus from Tel-Aviv and the bus with Jerusalem activists had to be left behind at the military parking lot. But a phonecall to our Palestinian contacts soon brought a convoy of vans, bearing posters of Arafat and the inscription "official delegation" taking us and a group of Arab dignitaries from the Galilee to Ramallah's city center. Nearly every passing car sported an Arafat poster, and the small children at the street corners were selling them: Arafat smiling, Arafat saluting, Arafat and the Jerusalem mosques, Arafat with president Chirac and the crossed flags of Palestine and France...

On the radio, we heard reports from Cairo, where diplomats and world leaders were paying hommage to Arafat in a rather sterile ceremony. At the gates of the Muqata - a place well-known to us from our visits to the beleaguered Arafat - there had already gathered a considerable crowd, though it was still hours before the helicopter could be expected. Our identity as Israelis was manifest from the round two-flag stickers we all wore, and which were very much sought after by the Palestinian youths; we were prepared for that and distributed quite a lot.

We were treated as VIPs, and the Palestinian police made valiant efforts to let us in, through the narrowly opened gate, while keeping the rest of the crowd out. The youths around us would have none of that, and that the fact that so many of them wore our stickers made it difficult for the police to distinguish. The crowding became unbearable; some of us had gotten in, others decided to give up the privilege and stay outside. The youngsters however were relentless. Some started climbing over the gate itself, others made risky acrobatic feats of clambering via the half- ruined buildings (reminders of Israeli bulldozers). It became a wild melee between police on the one side and the ever increasing number of Palestinian youngsters trying to get in. Outnumbered and not using other means than their bare hands the police were eventually unable to prevent the gate from being forced open.

"With our blood and souls we'll redeem you Abu Ammar!" chanted the crowd pouring in. Palestinian national flags were waved in enormous profusion, among them a French and a Canadian flag of international volunteers and the banner of an Italian trade-union. Women in traditional clothes, who were there too, were seen crying. Forward we marched through past the multi-storey Arafat banners covering all buildings. The grave had been dug at the far end of an open space within the compound - all buildings which had been there having been razed to the ground by the IDF in 2002. Now this space, the size of several stadiums, was filled to the absolute limit. People were clinging to the tops of trees, and every building all around was covered with swarms of onlookers. Suddenly, fingers were pointing into the blue sky, where some had already discerned approaching black dots: "He is coming! He is coming!" It was a surrealistic moment, the helicopters bringing Arafat's coffin down from heaven. "Yasser, Yasser", came the cry from tens of thousands of throats. A lot of shooting in the air, and the smell of cordite. Though not fond of this ritual, we realized its meaning after two years in which the Israeli army adopted the habit of shooting to death any Palestinian seen with a gun.

The people who saw it on live broadcast saw it better than we: the crowds surging to the opening helicopter doors, straining to touch the coffin. But the emotional spontaneity did not become chaos, and some time later a car with the coffin and green-uniform exultant police sitting on top passed near where we stood.

Indeed, some of the planned ceremony did not take place, but we have witnessed something much more meaningful: the vitality of the source upon which Arafat's leadership drew, the love of an oppressed people for the symbol of their struggle to be free. Without grassroots struggle there would never have been the Palestinian Authority, and the people now in charge know that for a new mandate, that is where they have to turn.

Adam Keller & Beate Zilversmidt

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