In his farewell

(12 November 2004) -- Yasser Arafat took us by surprise by not surprising us. It is as if the match of the ill person and the sick text had predetermined the picture of the end, and prevents the tragic hero from making his mark on destiny. There is no miracle, or surprise this time, ever since the tragedy, depicted as a long television soap opera, became a daily, familiar and normal tragedy!

Yasser Arafat prepared us, gradually, for his continuous farewell on more than one occasion; he got us accustomed to an unusual, undeclared death -- a strike by a jet fighter, or a crash of a civilian plane in a desert. However, he used beat death to life, and we lived with him a journey during which we got addicted to go after a goal glittering with the beauty of the impossible.

From one exile to another, the issue always diverted and came close from the core of the matter -- with eloquence of banners in blood, we said enriches the idea, refreshes the memory, and lifts the boundaries between reality and myth. We were in need of an epic, some of its chapters we accomplished. However, the myth is in need of reality, will the legendary pass the test of working with the on the ground reality?

It is he, Yasser Arafat, who could tame contradiction in the exiles, with a mix of pragmatism, religion, and metaphysics. He turned, with his extraordinary dynamism, identifying between the personal, the public, and workaholism, from a leader to a shining symbol.

He did not practice engineering to pave roads but to open them through mine fields. History may need much time to organize the life of this man -- the phenomenon. However, it will acknowledge, with distinction, his ability of survival as of now; and as of now, it will stop at his miracle/adventure: lighting fire in ice. He led a counter-revolution; perhaps it came too soon or too late. Alternatively, because the regional balance of power do not allow for lighting a match close to the oil fields -- or to Israeli security!

He did not win in military battles; neither at home nor in exile. However, he was victorious in the battle for national existence, putting the Palestinian cause on the regional and international political maps, creating an identity for the forgotten Palestinian refugee, instilling the Palestinian reality in human consciousness, convinced the world that war starts in Palestine, and peace starts in Palestine.

Yasser Arafat's kufiya (headwear), worn with symbolic and folkloric care, became the moral and political guide to Palestine. However, with his embodiment of all issues, he became dangerously necessary in our lives -- like the head of a family who does not want his children to grow up so that they do not fend for themselves. Therefore, he prepared us, on more than an occasion, to be accustomed to the idea of fear from becoming orphans, and fear from the death of the idea if he is physically absent. Inasmuch as he dueled with death and survived, the Palestinian subconscious was filled with some mythical feeling that Arafat may never die! As such, his legend came close to the metaphysical.

However, surprises were brewing somewhere else. This symbolic creature, coming from Greek epics, needed to lessen the burden of his legend; because the country needs building and administration, and to be rid of the occupation through new means. He is now exposed before all, susceptible to touch, whispering, and accountability. Unfortunately for the hero, he must overcome the enemies in unfair battles on the one hand -- and preserve his image in the public imagination from its internal protrusions.

However, he who is saturated with Salaheddine's negotiation culture, Omar's forgiveness, did not come on a white horse, nor walking before a camel -- there is no place for steeds and camels in modern times. He came to his new reality on the back of the Oslo Accords, which security essence is not overly optimistic. But he came back, with a joyful thought in his mind; not even Moses returned to the "Promised Land"!

It is a first step towards a state, he says, and knows that Palestine is still there: in the issues pending the negotiations of the final status -- Jerusalem, the right of return, and other thorny issues. The road there does not go through Oslo, but through the references of international legitimacy.

He knew that those references are no longer valid in a unipolar world, which sanctified Israel, which inspires the White House with its divine instructions! He also knows that presidential protocols, identity cards, and passports, mean nothing to Israeli officials other than a necessity to distract those denied independence with fast, symbolic meals that do not satisfy the hungry identity. He also knows that he returned from exile to a prison furnished with the image of things, not their reality, and that he needs permission to move from the prison in Ramallah to the prison in Gaza. Red carpets and anthems do not hurt --

From there, the president's crisis, his political and moral disease started. This great detainee, governed by harsh Israeli conditions, cannot move towards the Israeli understanding of the peace process, and cannot go back to the traditional struggle. It is no consolation that the one who regretted Oslo and betrayed its consequences is the "Israeli partner", who is no longer a partner. What to do then? Nobody disagreed on the Palestinians' right to resist. This brought about the second Intifada as a natural expression of their nationalist will and persistence to revive hope in a real peace that realizes freedom and independence for them. However, too many questions have been asked in what pertains the means that should serve this goal. The Palestinians avoided the danger of being lured to the military scene, which Sharon drooled over, to launch his war on the Palestinian entity in the context of the global war on terror; since America disregarded borders between the concepts of terrorism and resistance!

Yasser Arafat can only bet on a destiny that does not comply, and on a miracle that does not subdue to this era. The Muqata, his headquarters and his only home, is collapsing over his head, room by room, as he reiterates in a prophetic tone: "martyr, martyr, martyr," which sends a passing feeling of goose bumps down the spine of Arab enthusiasm. However, repeating the news of the crisis makes it normal. As such, Arafat's siege became a familiar thing -- three years of poisoning life; three years of breathing rotten air; three years of American scorn, "he is no longer of any relevance"; three years of Israeli endeavor to strip Arafat of his credibility and the credibility of his symbolism. The Palestinians always symbolize: the siege of the president symbolizes our siege; his suffering symbolizes our suffering. He is with us. He is in us. He is like us. We love him because we love him. We love him because we do not love his enemies.

He did not surprise us this time. He prepared us for goodbye. The besieged broke out of his blockade to meet death in exile, to feed the legend. He gave us the time to train for grief. In each of us is a piece of him. He is the father and the son: the father of a complete piece of the Palestinians' history, and their son, whose rhetoric and image they helped form.

We do not say farewell to the past with him -- but we enter, from now, in a new unknown period of history. Will we find the present, before we fear tomorrow?

*MAHMOUD DARWISH is a prominent Palestinian poet.

Source: Al-Hayat newspaper

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