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The Life of Yasser Arafat


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• Part 2: The End of an Era

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PLO Leader Yasser Arafat Dead
The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict

Part 1: Hope and Violence

Yasser Arafat, the controversial, visible, and vocal leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, died of an undisclosed illness on November 11, 2004, at a military hospital outside Paris early this morning. He was 75.

The longtime leader of his people went through power struggles with his own people, the Israeli people and government, and with the world. Through it all, he remained committed to delivering to his people something that they continue to be denied—a homeland of their own.

Arafat was born in 1929, in Cairo, Egypt. He was the fifth child of a Palestinian businessman. When he was 4, young Yasser was sent to Jerusalem to live with his uncle. He was still there in 1948, when the state of Israel was created. (After the atrocities committed against Jewish people during World War II, several nations decided to give the Jewish people a new homeland. Israel was created from lands formerly belonging to other countries and peoples. Among the people who lost their homeland in this process were the Palestinians.) When he was 16, Arafat created the Palestinian Students' League. He was back in Cairo at this time and continued to work all his adult life to try to regain a homeland for his people.

In 1965, Arafat formed a group called Fatah, an underground guerilla movement whose goal was to regain Palestinian territory by fighting Israel. This marked the first in a series of actions that gained him the respect of many Palestinians, the distrust of others, and the enmity of nearly every Jewish person in the Middle East.

Two years into the existence of Fatah, Israel struck back against its Arab neighbors, seizing territory surrounding its borders. Among this territory were the Sinai Peninsula, the Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Golan Heights. (Click here for a map.)

Two years later, Arafat was named the head of the PLO. From that point forward, the mission of the PLO was to lead a campaign of terror against Israel, in an effort to convince the Israelis that they weren't wanted—or safe—in their newly acquired territories. Methods included kidnappings, hijackings, and bombings. Hundreds of people died, Israelis and Palestinians, through the years.

These efforts were not entirely successful; in fact, Arafat was almost captured early in 1972, in Lebanon, where he had taken up residence. He escaped to Tunisia, though, and regrouped there. Later that year, members of Fatah captured Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games, in Munich. A botched rescue attempt resulted in the death of all of the athletes, and their captors.

If people around the world hadn't been paying attention to the Palestinian-Israeli struggle before, the Munich massacre made them sit up and take notice. In 1974, Arafat addressed the United Nations, something that he had been wanting to do for many years. He gave his speech holding an olive branch and a gun and impored the U.N. to "not let the olive branch fall from my hand."

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