05 November 2004

Israel Attempts to Dictate Terms of Arafat's Death

And the Israelis wonder why they are so universally despised among Arabs & Muslims? The man is not even dead yet and they doing all they can to strip him of all dignity...


Arafat Funeral Conundrum
By Kathryn Westcott
BBC News

The issue of Yasser Arafat's funeral is already proving to be an extremely complicated one. Problems are arising over where the Palestinian leader would be buried and who would attend the funeral.

Mr Arafat has told aides privately that he wants to be buried near Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.

But Israel would ultimately control the funeral proceedings and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says burial in Jerusalem is out of the question.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid addressed the issue in no uncertain terms when he told Channel 10 television: "Jerusalem is a city where Jews bury their kings. It's not a city where we want to bury an Arab terrorist, a mass murderer."

Israel claims the city as its "eternal and undivided" capital, while Palestinians hope to establish a capital in occupied East Jerusalem. Burial in Jerusalem would be unacceptable to Israel because it could bolster Palestinian claims to the city.

"We have to take into account that his grave could become an attraction for hundreds of visitors every day," a senior Israeli security official was recently quoted by Newsweek as saying. "And we wouldn't want then traipsing through our country."

Alternative sites

Israeli political and security officials would prefer Mr Arafat to be buried either in Ramallah or at his family's plot in Khan Younis in the Gaza Strip.

Israel had designated a plot in Abu Dis near Jerusalem, but it is unclear what its position is on this now.

The West Bank village looks down on the al-Aqsa mosque. It is under Palestinian civil control and home to the Palestinian unused parliament building. But it remains under Israeli security control.

Mr Arafat's supposed burial plot would be beyond a 24-foot separation barrier that Israel is currently building.

But this week, military officials reportedly threw out the idea of Mr Arafat being buried in Abu Dis. This followed foreign Minister Silvan Shalom comments to Israeli Channel 2 that Abu Dis was not in the cards any more. "The possibilities are Ramallah or Gaza," Mr Shalom said.

The reason is not clear. But one of the biggest fears for the Israelis has been that in the event of Mr Arafat's death, tens or even hundreds of thousands of Palestinians would try to march on Jerusalem bearing Mr Arafat's body.

Abu Dis sits about a mile east of Jerusalem's Old City wall, and security officials may fear that crowds would try to break through the Qalandiya checkpoint that leads to Jerusalem.

In 2001, thousands of defiant Palestinian mourners strode through the city's streets brandishing national flags to bury Faisal Husseini, the PLO chief in Jerusalem. They walked through military roadblocks and laid Mr Husseini to rest at a tomb beside his father in the Haram al-Sharif compound.

Abu Dis, could also prove unacceptable to Israel because of its symbolic sensitivity of its proximity to Jerusalem.

At the end of the day, there will be much negotiation between Palestinian and Israeli officials over the funeral plans. But Palestinian officials are reported to have said that they will not negotiate with Israel while Mr Arafat's condition remains unclear.

Foreign dignitaries

Negotiations will also have to address the issue of the foreign dignitaries attending the funeral.

George Joffe from the Centre for International Studies in Cambridge says many dignitaries would want to attend the funeral but would not want to allow Israel to make the decision about whether or not they could attend.

"They would not want to be seen to be recognising Israeli authority over the occupied territories," Mr Joffe told the BBC.

"That's bound to limit dramatically the number of people who can come from the Arab and Muslim world."

Mr Joffe also said that there would also be a question of European statesmen.

"Some of those can't come because the Israelis would find it difficult to accept them."

Mr Joffe predicted that the Americans would play a part in any negotiations about the funeral and would probably try to persuade the Israelis to be "more moderate than they would want to be".

According to Muslim custom, bodies are buried within 24 hours, but in this case it would not be an issue. Palestinian commentators say the issue of where and how Mr Arafat would be buried overrides this.
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/11/05 14:33:32 GMT



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