Video/Photostory: Arafat is laid to rest in Ramallah

Palestine mourned today as President Yasser Arafat, who passed away on November 11 in France, was laid to rest in the Muqata’a compound in Ramallah. In emotional, often chaotic scenes, thousands of Palestinians came to pay their last respects to “Abu ‘Ammar”. The video, text and images in this article were produced by Maureen Clare Murphy, Arts, Music & Culture Editor of the Electronic Intifada, who is currently living and working in Ramallah.

Despite Arafat’s health rapidly declining in the past two weeks, it still seems as though the reality of his death has not yet fully sunk in.

The scale of the event was moving. Thousands of Palestinians had gathered in the Muqata’a to await Arafat’s final return to Ramallah. A young man named Mohammed tells me that to him Arafat was more than a symbol — he was the father of his country.

In a display of gratitude towards the host country where Arafat spent his last days, a French flag hangs outside a Muqata’a window. Some in the crowd carried French flags as well. Palestinians expressed appreciation for the respect their leader received in France, in contrast to the anger they feel towards Israel, which refused to allow Arafat to be buried at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. His burial site in Ramallah is intended to be temporary, and Arafat will be moved to Al-Aqsa once East Jerusalem, the desired capital of a future Palestinian state, becomes unoccupied. The young man above carries a poster of Jacques Chirac, who visited Arafat in Ramallah in October 1996 to festive crowds lining the streets.

While Arafat was essentially imprisoned in the Muqata’a during the past three years, many felt that their leader had lost touch with the people he was said to represent, and that in recent years he failed to negotiate a fair peace settlement while the Palestinian Authority declined into inaction and corruption. But criticisms were largely put aside today, when Palestinians united as a nation grieving their president. The crowd at the Muqata’a is filled with the young and old, male and female. Some were crying and some were smiling. But the overwhelmeing feeling was that everybody was there together as a people whose national identity was galvanized and put forth to the world by the Arafat they were lying to rest.

Palestinian Authority soldiers carry wreaths from foreign embassies and local organisations to be placed on Arafat’s burial site. The officers were at a loss how to manage the thousands of mourners, and made some nervous at points when they fired bullets into the sky. Towards the end of the event, there were scuffles with the crowds of mourners attempting to view and pray at Arafat’s tomb, filled with soil from the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem.

A young man attempts to place a Palestinian flag on the Egyptian helicopter leaving the Muqata’a. Though Arafat may be gone, Palestinians will carry on his fight for Palestinian statehood. Even when the thousands of posters posted in Palestine paying tribute to Arafat peel and fade away, he will live on in history as the man who brought a people suffering in anonymity to the forefront of world politics.

Related Links

  • Photostory: Ramallah reacts to news of Arafat’s death, Maureen Clare Murphy (11 November 2004)
  • BY TOPIC: Yasser Arafat

    The text, images and video in this article were produced by Maureen Clare Murphy, Arts, Music & Culture Editor of the Electronic Intifada, who is currently living and working in Ramallah. Additional editing by EI’s Design Team; Nigel Parry and Ken Harper.