Rebel Arafat died as he lived

Published 6:42 am Wednesday, November 17, 2004

By Staff
Every Sunday in our church, during the prayers of the people, we pray for peace in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is last on our list of petitions, but we pray for the country each week just as we pray for our fellow parishioners, friends and neighbors who are ill, for the safety of American soldiers, for the victims of terrorist attacks, for our nation's leaders, and for the safety of travelers.
Perhaps that is why, in a week of headlines that included a verdict in Scott Peterson's murder trial and a general exodus of first-term Bush administration officials, the story I found most fascinating was Yassar Arafat's death and burial.
In the days before his death, the media focused on how successfully Arafat's wife and former secretary kept people from him and speculated about who would control his personal fortunes.
If you happened to be tuned in to one of the news channels as Palestinian officials attempted to bury their leader, you saw the mob - thousands of men who stormed Arafat's compound in Ramallah, carrying and sometimes shooting rifles, struggling to get close enough to their leader's casket to touch it.
Two years before Israel was created, then 15-year-old Arafat was smuggling arms to be used against British troops and Jews. In 1965, he began leading guerilla attacks on Israel, and his actions won him the chairmanship of the PLO in 1969.
While he spent most of his life fighting against the Jewish state, he did in his later years publicly accept Israel's right to exist. Or, as one critic wrote, he spoke in English of Israel's right to exist and in Arabic of the need to wage war against the country.
In 1993, he signed the accord on Palestinian autonomy, and the following year, he shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres.
For the past three years, he has effectively been held prisoner in his Ramallah compound, until being moved to a hospital in France where he died last week. Though his successors tried desperately to conduct an orderly funeral, the burial of the rebel leader drew a rebellious crowd - hence the captivating news coverage.
Contrast that, if you will, with the images of the American events following Ronald Reagan's death. Remember the people who stood in an orderly line for hours in California and in Washington to parade past his closed coffin and bid him a fond farewell.
Newsweek's headline this week asks the question "Could Arafat's death … bring a new chance for Mideast peace?"
If last week's funeral is any indication of "Life After Arafat," it looks as if peace is still a pipedream in the Middle East and "the peace of Jerusalem" will be on our prayer lists for a long, long time.