- Title: Yasser Arafat museum opens in West Bank, leaves open questions
- Date: 10th November 2016
- Summary: RAMALLAH, WEST BANK (NOVEMBER 10, 2016) (REUTERS) VISITORS AT MUSEUM PALESTINIAN FLAGS FLUTTERING
- Embargoed: 25th November 2016 15:42
- Keywords: Yasser Arafat Palestinians Israel museum
- Location: RAMALLAH, WEST BANK
- City: RAMALLAH, WEST BANK
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Arts/Culture/Entertainment
- Reuters ID: LVA00257V2Q8L
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Twelve years after his death in Paris at the age of 75, the Yasser Arafat Museum opened its doors in Ramallah on Thursday (November 10), attempting to flesh out some of the facts behind a divisive figure who remains something of an enigma long after his demise.
The museum's opening was attended by a number of dignitaries including Arafat's successor Mahmoud Abbas and Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.
Abbas spoke of Arafat's lasting legacy and described him as 'one of the greatest men of Palestine'.
"This museum and the belongings of the martyr, Abu Ammar, are a witness to the loyalty and a light for future generations, to get to know the history of a man, one of the greatest men of Palestine and the world in the 20 and 21st century,'' said Abbas.
Arranged along four corridors over two floors, the museum takes visitors through a potted history of the Palestinian liberation movement: the exile in Tunisia and Lebanon, the return to the West Bank, the shared Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, and the violent first and second uprisings against Israel.
The corridors lead to the inner sanctum of Arafat's besieged life in the Muqata, the Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah, where he was holed up for nearly three years in a pokey bedroom.
Arafat's body is now buried in the Muqata compound.
While revered by many Palestinians, Arafat was a thorn in the side of several Arab states and a ruthless killer in the eyes of Israelis.
The museum largely lauds his legacy, while spending little time on those who stood by and with him, including his wife, Suha as well as Abbas.
"We are here today to trace the journey of a country through its leader, to the revive the memory of a man after it has became a representation of a homeland. The homeland that he lived for and died for. The Occupation can take away a land, it can demolish houses, it can kill, besiege, imprison, However, it cannot take a memory away, it cannot erase a journey nor kill the story,'' said Aboul Gheit to an audience at the museum's opening.
The museum begins at the start of the 20th century and charts the rise of Palestinian nationalism, the struggle for international recognition, the confrontation with Zionism and with Israel after the state's founding in 1948.
Archival photos and videos mark high and low points: handshakes with then-U.S. President Bill Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak; bulldozers knocking down parts of the Muqata, which Arafat barely left during an Israeli siege from 2002-2004; a landmark 1974 address to the U.N. General Assembly.
Palestinian attacks, including the killing of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the hijacking of airplanes throughout the 1970s and deadly suicide bombings during the second intifada (uprising), are covered in a purely factual way.
But many Palestinians say they draw hope from a man some describe as a 'brother'.
"It is a great honour for us to always remember a brother of ours, a father of ours, he left us, however his spirit did not leave us, it is here with us, all the time, every hour, every minute,'' said Palestinian visitor Ahmad Sawafta.
"The museum is patriotic and whatever we do to represent this straightforward leader, it will not do him justice,'' added another visitor Mohammed Al Zuniadi.
Yet while lots of background and history are provided, several elements of Arafat's life remain a conundrum.
The museum relates that Arafat was born in the Old City of Jerusalem on August 4, 1929, and was later taken to Cairo.
But historians say the evidence suggests he was born in Cairo and brought to Jerusalem at the age of four, when his mother died. Others believe he was born in Gaza, the Palestinian territory on the Mediterranean coast.
And his death, too, remains somewhat mysterious. French doctors say he died of a haemorrhagic stroke on November 11, 2004, around two weeks after coming down with flu-like symptoms. He was flown to France in a military jet after Egyptian and Jordanian doctors failed to identify the health problem.
But Arafat's wife always maintained he was poisoned with something similar to Polonium and the museum gives that as the explanation for his death, saying it was carried out by Israel. Israel has denied any involvement.
Since his death, Palestinian affairs have fallen into further disarray. Deep splits have emerged between Fatah, the party of Arafat and Abbas, and the Islamist movement Hamas that rules Gaza. That has made efforts at Palestinian unity and statehood via negotiation with Israel more complicated.
But many here view the museum as a testament to Arafat's work and the Palestinian movement as well as his dedication to the Palestinian cause.
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