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Thursday, November 11, 2004

A quick blast of the hippy wouldn't hurt, would it?

I haven't forgotten about my short story, I know I owe you all part two. I'm aiming to be back later today to complete the tale. As a hippy experiment in writing a short story in one blog entry, it's already a failure since I've broken it in half, but I'll still finish it. As if you had a doubt.

The reason I'm here now is to share with you a brief personal recollection of Yasser Arafat, who died last night in Paris.

Let me be more accurate, his death was announced in Paris overnight last night. We actually don't know for sure when he died. The rumours of his death have been circulating for days, and anything is possible.

Yasser Arafat was a boogeyman of my youth. His organisation was behind some rather nasty terrorist outrages, like machine-gunning airports, hijacking planes and killing Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in 1972. Regardless of the reasons, violence is still violence and there is never any excuse for it.

Arafat eventually publicly renounced terror, though there are some who say he never really did and was behind some of the recent attacks on Israel. He won the Nobel Peace Prize and came closer to a Mid-East peace settlement than anyone could have expected.

Whether you see him as a good man or a bad man, or perhaps a bit of both, his impact and role in the Mid-East can't be denied or underestimated. This hippy thinks he fundamentally meant well and his intentions were for the greater good of the Palestinian people.

The Palestinians don't have it easy. Even committed Zionists wouldn't argue with that very simple fact. They might dispute the reasons behind it though.

I'm not an expert in Mid-East politics, I'm barely a spectator, but Arafat's death will definitely effect the future course of events there in ways we can't predict. Perhaps it will clear the way for a more measured approach and a lasting agreement or maybe it will just make things worse. I'm sure their are experts ready to argue either side quite convincingly. Only time will tell.

I suppose I was as emotional as anyone was the day that Arafat, Yitzak Rabin and Bill Clinton appeared on the White House lawn to sign the peace agreement that wasn't. It was a sight few of us could have ever expected to see, but it left people thinking that perhaps there was hope for the future.

Oooops. Nevermind.

I didn't actually meet Arafat, but I've been in his presence. As a cameraman working in London in the late 90s, I had the opportunity to "doorstep" him several times in one day. He was here for some meetings relating to the "peace process".

My strongest recollection of the man was outside Number 10 Downing Street, where I, along with a couple hundred other journalists watched as Yasser arrived to meeting with Tony Blair.

Before entering Number 10, Arafat and his entourage stopped to address the press. I remember zooming into a close-up on Arafat, awaiting his statement. I was monitoring the audio with an earpiece and could clearly here him speaking, but his lips were not moving in synch with the words I was hearing. I thought something was wrong with my equipment.

Only nothing was wrong with my kit, someone else was speaking. Arafat's lips were trembling involuntarily so bad that I thought he was speaking. He wasn't, he was just ill. The rumour was Parkinson's disease, though I'm not certain if it was ever announced as confirmed.

I realised that day, around 6 years ago, that Mr. Arafat was not a well man or very long for this world. It's impressive he made it 75 years considering what the last couple of years have been like for him. He was confined to a few offices in his compound, the Israelis keeping him a virtual prisoner.

Whether you love him or loathe him, you can't deny that he is the father of the Palestinians and their dream of one-day having a homeland they can call their own. His legacy will live for many years to come.

On my next visit to the blog, I'll finish part two of that short story. Don’t worry, it's all in my head already, I don't want to leave you all hanging too long!
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