Thursday, November 11, 2004

Chicago Tribune Interview/Reaction to Arafat death 11-11-04

Chicago Tribune
Yasser Arafat 1929 -- 2004
News echoes through areaPalestinians, Jews in Chicago wonder what future holds
By Deborah Horan and Ron Grossman, Tribune staff reporters. Tribune staff reporters Stephen Franklin and Gina Kim contributed to this report

Published November 11, 2004

Although news of Yasser Arafat's death was expected eventually, it still seemed unbelievable to some in the Chicago area when it came Wednesday.

"I think since Nov. 4, I've heard it six times. But apparently, this time it's true," said Ray Hanania, who learned of the death while listening to the radio on his drive home to Orland Park."People had him dead a week and a half ago. To me it symbolized his life. He was able to elude death and his enemies."

To some local Palestinians, Arafat was more than a besieged leader trapped by Israeli tanks inside his West Bank offices. For them, he was a revolutionary who represented a continuing struggle.

"He was, in my mind, George Washington," said Hanania, former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. "He symbolized the Palestinian movement in my eyes forever. Now that he is gone, I am apprehensive about what is going to happen. Is there anyone strong enough to take his place?"

While Arafat's health deteriorated this week, talk up and down Harlem Avenue, where Arabic script competes with English, was all about a world without him.

Palestinians here asked the same questions as those around the world: Would violence break out among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza? What would Israel do? Who among the Palestinians' leaders would step forward?

Many Palestinians interviewed earlier this week doubted that Arafat's departure from the political scene would change the dynamic of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Under siege, Arafat had not ruled effectively for years, they said."

The reality is that for years he has been a sick old man imprisoned in the rubble of his headquarters in Ramallah," said Ali Abu Nimah, an activist with the Arab American Action Network, a Chicago-based community group.

But not all Palestinians were sad to see Arafat go."I didn't like him. He is no good for his people," said Jimmy Ayyash, 54, a Bridgeview restaurant owner who has been in the U.S. for 34 years. "They need a new leader to make peace because the Palestinians are suffering too much."During Arafat's illness, many Chicago-area Jews wondered what would come of the badly tattered hopes for peace between Israel and the Palestinians."

In the Jewish tradition, we are never joyous at the loss of human life," said David Abell, a spokesman for the Chicago Area Friends of Yesha, a group that supports Israel's settlers. "But when that human life represents true evil, as in the case of Mr. Arafat, the father of modern day terrorism ... humanity can breathe a sigh of relief that his evil has been removed from this world."

Steven B. Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, spoke of Arafat as a "major impediment to peace," and the hope that "a new leadership emerges that can become the partner that Israel needs to make peace."

But Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network, sees Arafat's death as just one of thousands."

Arafat was a great man. Yes, Arafat was an icon," he said. "We're saddened by his death, but we don't ignore the fact that this is not an issue of individuals, it's an issue of a people who have been oppressed and occupied for 55 years."
Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

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