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The martyrdom of Yasser Arafat / Uri Avnery
Photo: A TRIBUTE TO MARTYRS: PALESTINIAN PLANNING MINISTER NABIL
SHAATH (L) WITH NABLUS GOVERNOR GHASSAN AL SHAKAA AT THE PALESTINIAN
MARTYRS CEMETERY OF SABRA AND SHATILA IN BEIRUT.
If Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon succeeds in murdering
Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, as he wants to, the
Palestinian leader will remain in the collective memory of his
people, and the whole Arab world, like Moses in Jewish memory.
Moses rebelled against Egyptian oppression, led his people
forth from "the house of bondage," led them for 40 years in the
desert, made a new people out of them and brought them to the
threshold of the Promised Land. He did not enter the land itself –
God only showed it to him from afar. That will be told about
Arafat, too, if he becomes a martyr now.
Moses is, of course, a mythological figure. No serious scholar
in the world believes that the exodus from Egypt really happened.
But that is not really important: the mythological Moses shaped
the consciousness of the Jewish people more than any
flesh-and-blood leader of a nomad tribe in the desert could have
The Haggada, the book read on Passover's eve by almost every
Jewish family throughout the world, commands us to feel as if we
ourselves had set forth from Egypt.
The basic Jewish ethos is built on this premise. The text of
Ten Commandments in Deuteronomy 5 explains why on the holy Sabbath
the servants and slaves must be allowed to rest, too: "Remember
that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt."
In the new myth that is being born before our eyes, Sharon is
the Pharaoh and we are the ancient Egyptians. In the story about
the Exodus, the Bible lets God say: "I have hardened [Pharaoh's]
heart and the heart of his servants."
After every calamity that befell him, Pharaoh broke his
promise to free the Israelites. Why? What was God's purpose? He
wanted the Israelites to become hardened by the hardship, before
they started on their long march. This is what is happening to the
So what will happen if an Israeli bullet kills Arafat now?
After Moses, no second Moses appeared, but Joshua, the merciless
warrior who committed genocide. (This, by the way, is also a myth.
Serious scholars do not believe that this holy genocide actually
After Arafat, the heir will not be Abu-this or Abu-that. It
will be Brother Kalashnikov – like the song we used to sing in our
youth, during the fight against the British occupation: "Give the
floor to Comrade Parabellum, Give the floor to Comrade Tommy-gun."
A parabellum was a pistol, a tommy-gun a sub-machine-gun.
There will be no Palestinian Quisling – and if a candidate
could be found, he would be killed the next day, like Sharon's
Lebanese Quisling, Bashir Gemayel.
Dozens of local guerrilla leaders will take over, and they
will start a campaign of revenge that could go on for many years,
not only in the country, but also throughout the world.
The life of every Israeli will become hell. The entire world
will become a Jerusalem-style Ben-Yehuda street. No Israeli
embassy, no airplane, no tourist will be safe.
The dead Arafat will be by far more dangerous than the living
Arafat. The living Arafat is able and willing to make peace. The
dead Arafat cannot. He will eternalize the conflict.
In our days, historians wonder what folly took possession of
the Jewish people 1,930 years ago, causing them to start a
hopeless rebellion against the Roman Empire, bringing utter
destruction upon the Jewish commonwealth in Palestine.
A hundred years from now, historians will ask themselves what
folly took possession of this people, causing it to elect Sharon,
a bloody person who has not done anything in life apart from
shedding blood and establishing settlements.
What folly took possession of this people, causing it
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