Week 49 – Yasser, Yasser

Last Wednesday, 11th November, marked the fifth anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, or Abu Ammar as he is more affectionately known amongst Palestinians, ex-President and global symbol of the Palestinian struggle for freedom.  I went to the Muqaata (Palestinian Presidential compound) in Ramallah for the anniversary commemorations, and was completely overwhelmed by the endless sea of people I found myself surrounded in.  Everywhere I turned were colourful flags being waved in the sky, and black and white keffiyahs proudly wrapped around necks, as well as the kebab and falafel stalls which lined the road outside.  Think = Notting Hill Carnival.
I also used my time in Ramallah this week to visit Neta, an Israeli friend of mine, who lives there with her Palestinian husband and family.  As she once told me, she was the first Israeli to become involved in pro-Palestinian activism.  Certainly something to be proud of.
Neta told me her own experiences of the Muqaata, which were very different to the scenes on Wednesday.  She was inside, with Arafat himself, when the Israeli army had the Muqaata under siege, back in 2002.  At the time, the Israeli Occupation Forces had the whole of Ramallah under curfew, with tanks stationed in the city’s streets, ready to shoot at any Palestinians who dared to so much as peek out of their front door.  But Neta walked the streets during these curfews, dodging checkpoints and bringing in international activists.  Somehow, they managed to get in to the Presidential compound, despite the fact that it was surrounded by Israeli tanks.
I’ve faced Israeli soldiers many time during my time in Bil’in, but it is still hard for me to imagine the reality of living through an intifada.  Nevertheless, with the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people increasing every day, sometimes it feels as if another uprising is not so far off the horizon.
On Friday, the weekly demonstration in Bil’in was dedicated to the memory of Arafat.  The whole village was out – this was clearly a man that was close to their heart.  The stones that were thrown, to the disagreement of the leaders of the non-violent resistance movement here, were only a symbol of this passion.
If there is to be another uprising, it must be a popular struggle that is non-violent and creative, unless we want to witness another massacre in Palestine.  With examples like the pulling down of the Apartheid Wall at Qalandia starting to emerge, it seems that there is a light at the end of the tunnel after all.
Since Arafat’s death, Mahmoud Abbas has been in power.  With none of Yasser’s charisma, and his strategy of negotiating with Israel leading nowhere, it seems that the Palestinian Authority have run out of ideas.  Now, it is time for the people to rise up.

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