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THE “CURSE” OF 1948: Yasser Arafat's language of coexistence

London - published on 22 September 2003
Beyond Images Briefing 70

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Mr Arafat's view of Israel

This Briefing highlights the views expressed by Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat in a recent speech on ‘Naqba Day' – 15 May 2003, the anniversary of Israel's Declaration of Independence in 1948 (‘Naqba Day' means “day of catastrophe” in Arabic).

Mr Arafat's speech was reprinted in Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (the Palestinian Authority daily) on May 16 2003 , and is translated verbatim in Special Dispatch Number 515 dated 3 June 2003 , from MEMRI –

Here are some extracts:-

…. On The Creation of the State of Israel

Mr Arafat: “... the great imperialistic Zionist conspiracy against our Arab nation and our homeland Palestine , which began with the Zionist Congress in 1897 in Basel , Switzerland , reached its accursed peak on May 15 1948 . On this accursed day, the state of Israel was established by force of arms, as [the result of] imperialistic conspiracy, on the ruins of our homeland Palestine . Our people [were] strewn from our homeland, in exile, in the Diaspora, and in the refugee camps by massacres….”

…. On the continuing Palestinian struggle:

Mr Arafat: Our people do not accept humiliation, contempt, submission, obedience, enslavement, and imperialism in the places holy to Christianity and Islam…. because it is a believing people and noble people and in its blood flows the blood of faith and honour, love of the homeland and love of the nation [that increases] as the conspiracy expands… Palestine is our homeland, the land of the battlefront and the holy land….”

…. On the Palestinian Right of Return:

Mr Arafat: “ Palestine is our homeland. It has no substitute and we have no other homeland. Every Palestinian refugee looks forward to the day when he will embrace the homeland and restore its identity and the honour of the citizen in his homeland Palestine ”

…. On the Palestinian martyrs who “improve the land with their blood”

Mr Arafat: “In the cities of Palestine, in its refugee camps, in its settlements and villages, its plains, mountains, its gloves of trees, and its coasts, over 70,000 martyrs and wounded have fallen defending the homeland's freedom and independence and the places holy to Islam and Christianity…. They are among the martyrs and the saints, who are the best friends of the martyrs who improve the land with their blood for the sake of independence….”

…. On future war in Palestine

Mr Arafat: “… The political truth with which none disagree today is that war will break out in Palestine and peace will begin from Palestine , the independent Palestinian State whose capital is Jerusalem …”

… Fighting the “conspirators” with the soul and with blood

Mr Arafat: I call on our people and our noble Arab nation to close ranks for the return of the occupied territories for the sake of our freedom and our defence of the places sacred to Christianity and Islam in the blessed land…. I instruct you to protect this responsibility and defend it with your soul and with your blood…”

The mindset of Mr Arafat:-

So, in the mind of Yasser Arafat:-

  • the day of Israel 's creation, 15 May 1948 , is an “accursed” day

  • Israel was founded by conspiracy, violence and massacre

  • Israel expelled the Palestinians, and “every one of them” wishes to return

  • Palestine is the “land of the battlefront” where war “will break out”

  • Palestinian martyrs “improve the land with their blood”.

Mr Arafat plays occasional lip service to peace (in this speech he calls for a “land for peace” deal with Israel ) but this is meaningless given his view that Israel is an illegitimate state violently implanted in the land by “conspirators”. How can he advocate peace and at the same time hail the “martyrs” (i.e. suicide terrorists) for “improving the land with their blood”?

He chronicles Palestinian misfortune while completely ignoring the responsibility of Palestinian leaders since 1947 (including himself) for perpetuating that misfortune through their self-destructive decisions.

Our conclusion

Mr Arafat's language is not the language of coexistence, but the language of war and confrontation.

He perpetuates Palestinian self-pity and their sense of victimhood, while not giving any indication as to how the Palestinians can make peace with Israel .

Israel 's government and the vast majority of its citizens consider Mr Arafat, and the power he still holds, to be obstacles to peace and to an improvement in the situation of the Palestinian people. Mr Arafat's Naqba Day speech illustrates the unbalanced and uncompromising nature of his views.