Photostory: Palestinian Youth at Yasser Arafat’s Memorial

The poster on the right says, “National unity is our strongest weapon in order to free our land and set up our independent state.” On the left is Declaration of Independence, signed in Algiers on November 15, 1988. (Rima Merriman)

National unity was a theme of the commemoration of Yaser Arafat’s death on November 11, 2006. Many people came from various parts of the occupied Palestinian territories for the commemoration, those who were able to get past the checkpoints. Predictably, there were bottlenecks at Huwwara (Nablus) and Qalandiya (Jerusalem). Nevertheless, busloads of school children were ferried in and several scout groups had prepared to march. The main ceremony took place in Al Muqata’a, close to where Arafat is buried.

At the commemoration, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Troops distributed a pamphlet with the following text:

“The Almighty says, ‘It is allowed for those who face injustice to fight and God is capable of giving them victory.’

“Our people who are standing firm and enduring, the people of Abu Ammar, the symbol of martyrdom: On this eternal day, the gang of Olmert continues to go down the path Sharon drew, one massacre after another; from Beit Hanoun to Jenin and Al Yamoun, from Gaza to Hebron, this occupation has killed our people and has destroyed our infrastructure. Our enemy is under the illusion that this will seep our will, but on this day we remember our leader who remains ever-present among us, a true revolutionary who preserved the unity of his people, a symbol of endurance and stubbornness, faith, persistence and resolve.

“Abu Ammar, we renew our covenant with you. We will continue to move, crawling, towards Jerusalem and holy Al Aqsa. We will be the independent Palestine for which you strove. Our guns will always be pointed, not at our own people, but at the occupation that is raping our land, and we will be like you, ever vigilant for our unity.

  • We demand that the Palestinian leadership investigate in a serious way the circumstances of Abu Ammar’s death; we will not rest until his death is avenged.
  • We bless the renewed efforts to form a unified government that will keep the interest of the Palestinian people on top of its agenda.
  • We assure our people that the massacre of elders and our children will not go unpunished.”

    Boys with a poster that reads “Manhood demands that we prepare our bodies to become a bridge through which our comrades can pass.” (Rima Merriman)

    The writing on the blackboard says, “Together until we get to holy Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine.” (Rima Merriman)

    The banner says, “Ministry of Education and Higher Education, Bint Al-Azour High School.” (Rima Merriman)

    This large banner reads, “The Right of Return is a sacred right; The Palestinian revolution came into being in order to prevail; The Palestinians are not pawns in anyone’s small or large pocket in the region; We will not rest until our prisoners are back with their families in an independent Palestine; The Palestinian revolution is the significant number in the equation of the Middle East; War erupts from Palestine and peace begins with Palestine”. (Rima Merriman)

    Scout troop participating in the memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Scout troop participating in the memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Scout troop participating in the memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Busloads of schoolchildren were brought in for the occasion. (Rima Merriman)

    Children’s drum corps participating in the Arafat memorial commemoration. (Rima Merriman)

    A young Fatah activist rides a horse in Arafat’s memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    The next day, on my way back home from work just now, I stopped by Al Muqata’a, where the ceremony took place and where a memorial for Arafat is under construction. Actually a group a children I came across who were having a scuffle insisted on taking me there. These kids are very politicized already. One, in the tenth grade, was pro-Fateh and would answer each question I asked him accordingly. How were his teachers now that he was back in school, as the teacher’s strike was lifted a couple of days ago? Well, the Fateh teachers are alert and exciting; the Hamas teachers are half asleep! Another much younger boy asked me to take his photo with Arafat, but without Abbas. When I asked him why, he said because he had heard that Abbas is in cahoots with the Americans.

    Boys at Arafat’s memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Al-Muqata, where a memorial for Arafat is under construction. (Rima Merriman)

    A young boy who wanted his picture taken with Arafat, but not Abbas. The words on the poster tranlslate as: “The flame of freedom/The banner of glory/The shield of resistance/The hero of peace.” (Rima Merriman)

    While national unity was a theme of the commemoration, this morning, as I was walking the same path as I did yesterday, I was shocked to find that the two posters of Arafat that I took had been torn. It seems that Arafat’s memory and the show of unity notwithstanding, there is a deep well of disillusionment with what he promised and never achieved.

    Torn poster from the Arafat memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Torn poster from the Arafat memorial. (Rima Merriman)

    Rima Merriman is a Palestinian-American living in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.