Ghassan Tueni's Tribute to Arafat: A Man Larger than Life
Defiantly, Yasser Arafat screamed down the telephone "I'm a martyr, a martyr, a martyr," when the Israelis tightened the noose around his Ramallah headquarters three years ago. It was the last time Ghassan Tueni spoke to the Palestinian president, now fighting for his life in a hospital in a Parisian suburb.
An Nahar's editor-in-chief devoted a front-page editorial Sunday to the Palestinian president, lamenting a seemingly irreversible death "of a president of a state he fought for, but has not yet seen the light."
"It is though, he knows his state will be created after his passing," wrote Tueni, before divulging a little secret he had shared with Arafat, as a tribute to the Palestinian leader's refusal to accept religious barriers.
In 1974, as Arafat prepared to travel to Pakistan for an Islamic summit meeting, he asked Tueni to approach Elias IV, then Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, to lead a Christian delegation to the conference.
Arafat insisted that since the theme of the summit was the "liberation of Jerusalem," it was natural for Arab Christians to step forward as stakeholders.
At the summit, an Arab leader voiced objection to the appearance of Elias IV, a cross on his chest and a scepter in hand, and Arafat insisted that the patriarch speak on behalf of "Palestine."
And so it was. The patriarch spoke of the "sanctity of the Palestinian cause and how it would lose piety if Arab Christians were excluded," recalled Tueni.
"The Lebanese civil war was Arafat's first tragedy," Tueni opined. In his view, the Palestinian leader wanted Lebanon's Christians to adopt the Palestinian cause.
But Israel, pursuing its 'promised land' ambitions, shot down his aspirations, "mobilizing whoever it mobilized to transfer its war on the Palestinians to Lebanon."
Tueni recalled that key Arab intellectuals who first anticipated the danger of the creation of Israel were all Christians: Michel Chiha, Youssef Khazen, Najib Azouri and Gebran Tueni, the author's father and founder of An Nahar.
"Farewell, Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian soil will embrace you, whether or not Sharon approves," Tueni wrote, referring to arguments in Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government against allowing the Palestinian president to be buried in Jerusalem.
But the world will remember, that Arafat's life was the true jihad, not Osama bin Laden and his extremist supporters.
"Left to their devices, they would even murder your daughter, whom you carried as an infant to the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem so she may be blessed by Christ, while you recited the Koran," Tueni wrote addressing Arafat.
He concluded: "Indeed, you were right. You are the martyr, the martyr, the martyr."