Sunday, October 31, 2004

  • Sunday, October 31, 2004
  • Elder of Ziyon
An absolutely unbelievable display or journalistic bias. -EoZ

By Barbara Plett
BBC correspondent, West Bank

The world watches the unfolding drama as the man who has become the symbol for Palestinian nationalism seems to hover between life and death. Though full of uncertainties, Mr Arafat's life has been one of sheer dedication and resilience.

To be honest, the coverage of Yasser Arafat's illness and departure from Palestine was a real grind. I churned out one report after the other, without any sense of drama.

Foreign journalists seemed much more excited about Mr Arafat's fate than anyone in Ramallah.

We hovered around the gate to his compound, swarming around the Palestinian officials who drove by, poking our microphones through their dark, half-open windows.

But where were the people, I wondered, the mass demonstrations of solidarity, the frantic expressions of concern?

Was this another story we Western journalists were getting wrong, bombarding the world with news of what we think is an historic event, while the locals get on with their lives?

Yet when the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry... without warning.

In quieter moments since I have asked myself, why the sudden surge of emotion?

I suppose there was a pathos about the strong contrast between this and other journeys Yasser Arafat has made.

There was his defiant departure from Lebanon in 1982 after the Israeli army had routed his Palestine Liberation Organisation. He promised then he was on his way to Palestine, and, in a roundabout way, he was.

There was his triumphant return to the Gaza Strip in 1994, when the Oslo Peace Accords appeared to open the window to a Palestinian state. Tens of thousands of people cheered his arrival; they were even hanging from the trees!

Compare that to the few hundred loyalists who came out to watch him leave the West Bank on Friday, waving and calling out one of his favourite sayings: the mountain cannot be shaken by the wind.

But I think this history explains Palestinian emotions better than mine.

For me, it was probably the siege.

I remember well when the Israelis re-conquered the West Bank more than two years ago, how they drove their tanks and bulldozers into Mr Arafat's headquarters, trapping him in a few rooms, and throwing a military curtain around Ramallah.

I remember how Palestinians admired his refusal to flee under fire. They told me: "Our leader is sharing our pain, we are all under the same siege."

And so was I.

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