Students React to Arafat's Death
SF State Reacts to News of Arafat’s Death
November 10, 2004 12:57 PM
After nearly two weeks of rumors and speculation regarding the deteriorating health of PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, Palestinian officials announced late Wednesday, Nov. 10 that the 75-year-old leader had died in a military hospital outside of Paris.
According to reports from the Associated Press, Arafat died at 3:30 a.m. after slipping into a coma from which he never recovered.
Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat confirmed Arafat’s death at a press conference in Arafat’s demolished headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah,. Some Israeli newspapers, including the English-language daily Haaretz, had already reported earlier in the day that Arafat had died.
Revered by many Palestinians as a hero, yet frequently derided by Israeli officials and many Western nations as a terrorist, Arafat’s legacy and his death will undoubtedly have an enormous impact on the continuing violence and stalled peace process in Israel and the occupied territories.
While Palestinian officials have scrambled in recent days to reorganize their leadership in the case of Arafat death, the lack of a hand-picked successor could jeopardize Arafat’s often-expressed dream of a Palestinian state.
However, many Palestinians and Jewish students at SF State say they feel that Arafat’s death could also spark new hope for an end to the fighting and an eventual reconciliation in the region both look upon as their ancestral home.
“Arafat is a symbol of the Palestinian struggle,” said Charlie El-Qare, president of the SF State-based General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS), in a statement issued on Nov. 10.
El-Qare went on to discuss his thoughts and hopes for the future.
“I hope that Israel will not choose to miss this opportunity to make peace,” El-Qare said. “I hope that the U.S. and Israel will return to the bargaining table and not continue (Israeli Prime Minister Ariel) Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal plan.”
Other Palestinian students at SF State also expressed their concerns and hopes.
Musa Yasin, a 21-year-old political science major at SF State, expressed his hope that Arafat’s death may help revive the peace process by bringing new leadership to the Palestinian people.
Yasin said he was born in the U.S., but has often traveled with his father to the small town of Yabroud, in the occupied territories, where his family comes from. The last time he visited relatives in the region was in 1994, when the peace process looked hopeful and travel was much easier then it is today.
“After [Arafat] being in power for so long, after the last 6 to 8 years, when the relations started going down hill, it came to the point where we need someone else to start a new peace process,” said Yasin.
Ramiz Hasan, a 23-year-old dual major in political science and criminal justice, said he looks forward to new Palestinian leadership, but worries that it may take time for a new leader to emerge.
“There is a great possibility for a struggle for power,” said Hasan. “I think the Palestinian people should hold elections and find their new leader and I don’t care who the West thinks is good or not. We don’t need a puppet.”
Hasan acknowledged though that any new leader would have to work with all sides, including Israel and the West, to find peace, but stressed that the needs of Palestinians must come first.
“What the Palestinians need is peace and security, and to live with their Israeli neighbors,” said Hasan. “He has to have legitimate support from the people as a whole. The new leader has to work with the Western powers in order to find a solution.”
Last week in the Cesar Chavez Student Center, Janan Eadeh, secretary of the General Union of Palestinian Students (GUPS) speculated about what might happen should Arafat die.
“If he dies, there’s going to be a lot of chaos,” said Eadeh. “I’m not looking forward to that.”
But Eadeh too pointed out that Arafat’s death could have a long-term, beneficial effect in the Middle East if a new leader emerged who could bridge the conflict and help both Israelis and Palestinians achieve a peaceful settlement to their long-standing disputes.
In an email on Nov. 5, SF State political science professor Nicole Watts said she was also concerned about what could happen after Arafat’s death.
“Because Arafat has maintained such a high degree of control over the Palestinian Authority and because he has not specified a process by which leadership should be transferred after his death or ‘retirement,’ his death or incapacitation will create a certain level of crisis,” Watts wrote in a written response to an interview request.
Like Eadeh, Watts too sees some hope that Arafat's death might spark a change in Middle Eastern politics.
“Over time, it is possible that Arafat's passing could allow other leaders to begin establishing new and more productive relations with Israeli authorities and the U.S. New leadership could also re-engage ordinary Palestinians, many of whom have become increasingly disillusioned with the current Palestinian leadership," Watts wrote.
After a cancelled class in the international relations department last week, SF State international relations Professor Dwight Simpson sat in with a group of three students at an impromptu round-table discussion on Arafat’s illness. The students and Simpson talked about future prospects for peace in a region all too often torn by terrorism and strife.
Diana Turken, a 22-year-old English literature major and a Jewish American student, expressed her support for Israel’s reaction to Arafat’s illness and the agreement two weeks ago to allow the Palestinian leader to leave the compound where he’s been surrounded by Israeli military forces since the latest Intifada began. However, Turken said she had little confidence that Arafat could have ever brought peace in between Israelis and Palestinians.
“I don’t think Arafat is a very good leader for the Palestinian people,” said Turken. She also speculated that Arafat might become a martyr.
Simpson and each of the students also said that they wondered about who might fill Arafat’s position as leader of the Palestinian people.
“I’m very worried about the future,” Simpson said. “In the absence of Arafat, who still has a substantial following, who’s going to fill the power vacuum?”
In her email, Watts too expressed concern about who might succeed Arafat.
“It is also very likely there will be a struggle for Palestinian leadership between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority; this could potentially be quite violent and make life all the more miserable for ordinary Palestinians,” Watts wrote.
But beyond the worries, most Palestinian students at SF State seem to focus on a brighter future for both Palestinians and Israelis.
“The only thing that we have is hope,” said Yasin. “Once hope dies, we have nothing else.”
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