Friday, November 12, 2004

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE News interview 11-12-04

U.S. National - AFP
Palestinians in US recall Arafat as a unifier, symbol of nationhood
Thu Nov 11, 7:40 PM ET

CHICAGO (AFP) - For many Palestinians living in the United States the late Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) was an indefatigable crusader who kept the cause of Palestinian nationhood alive for decades.
AFP Photo

Palestinians in communities across the United States -- from New Jersey to Texas, Florida, Illinois and California -- prepared to mark Arafat's death with services and memorials.
In Washington, the Palestinian Mission set out a condolence book.

Palestinian-American Ray Hanania recalled how he and his family gathered in front of their television set to watch Arafat address the United Nations (news - web sites) general assembly in 1974.

"We were second-class citizens. He forced everybody to respect us," said Hanania, whose parents were Palestinian refugees.

"He took the Palestinians out of oblivion and shoved them in everybody's face," he said.
Rima Nashashibi saw the process first hand.

"Palestinians were invisible in 1968," recalled Nashashibi, who was born in Jerusalem and bounced between Israel and the United States before settling in Orange County, California.
Arafat "put them back on the map. He kept the struggle alive, and generated world-wide support for the Palestinian cause."

The guerrilla leader-turned-statesman was a powerful symbol to generations of Palestinians overseas, even if some were critical of some of the policies and the leadership style he favoured in his later years.

Arafat "was the dominant image, the dominant name for young Palestinians," said Nihad Awad, the executive-director of a prominent US Islamic advocacy organisation, the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Islamic-American Relations.

"He was the Nelson Mandela of the Palestinians," he said.

As a young man Awad was struck by Arafat's dedication to the project of Palestinian self-determination.

"You never saw him out of uniform. He gave his personal life for the cause," Awad said.
For Taleb Salhab, director of an Arab American center in Orlando, Florida-based Arab American Community Center, Arafat's passing is the "end of an era. He's the only leader we have ever known."

The row over Arafat's final resting place left some in the US community with a bad taste, another unwelcome reminder of their statelessness.

Arafat "cannot even have a funeral in his own country," said Ali Abunimah, a Chicago-based activist with the Arab American Action Network, an immigrant advocacy group, referring to Israel's refusal to let Palestinians bury Arafat in Jerusalem.

"It's emblematic of the conflict. They're denying this great Palestinian symbol the right to be buried in his own country," he said.


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