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2005 blog


Rabbi's reflections on Arafat
reprinted in Congressional Record
,  Feb. 15, 2005

U.S. Rep. Thelma Drake, a freshman Republican representative from Virginia, placed in the Congressional Record on Monday, Feb. 14, an article by Rabbi Israel Zoberman reflecting on the career of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In remarks printed in the Congressional Record, Drake identified Zoberman as the spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach. The son of  Polish Holocaust survivors, he grew up in Haifa, Israel, before immigrating to the United States.

Rabbi Zoberman's article, as it appears in the Congressional Record, follows:

The final departure of Chairman Yasser Arafat is of one who eluded death many a time. During Israel's 1982 incursion into Lebanon to remove the menacing PLO mini-state within a state it was, ironically, Ariel Sharon, then Defense Minister, who ordered a sniper who ``had'' Arafat not to kill him. This is an opportunity to reflect on a man who could have made a critical difference and yet was not able to seize a unique offer granted him for radical self-transformation as well as a collective transition for his long-enduring people. How redemptive it would have been to break the deadly cycle of Palestinian missed opportunities! 

In a fateful moment of truth in 2000 Arafat rebuffed former Prime Minister Barak's most forthcoming offer that would by now have guaranteed statehood in a favorable context to his frustrated people. It also would have prevented the flow of calculated bloodshed which the stubborn refusal and far-reaching blunder in judgment brought about. For the past four years Arafat unleashed with a nod of approval an unparalleled torrent of terrorist suicide bombings against Israel's civilian population that no nation would have tolerated for that long, and then many even decried the erection of a defensive barrier. 

Arafat, the father of contemporary terrorism, was already uninhibited early on in his choice of terror as a means to accomplish political goals. For example, he was behind the 1974 school children massacre in Israel's northern town of Ma'alot. Ultimately he was unwilling or incapable to lay to rest the Palestinian case and cause, assuming the normalcy of civil life that his own people might be rehabilitated and build the political, economic and social infrastructure necessary for the emergence of their democratic society and a viable state that would not threaten Israel nor Jordan from which his troublesome cohorts were evicted by the late King Hussein in ``Black September'' of 1970. Unlike the likes of South African Nelson Mandela who knew how to leave and live with a painful past, charting a new course for the sake of his people, Arafat would not shed his ubiquitous military uniform and the old persona of violent defiance. He thus allowed the terrorist within him to win over the peacemaker he triumphantly became for a brief time following his ``resurrection'' by Israel from obscure exile in Tunisia. How sad that the honor of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize could not keep him in check. 
Admittedly, I was among those who applauded Arafat when he and his peace partner, Yitzchak Rabin of blessed memory, shook hands in the South Lawn of the White House on that bright day of promise in September 1993. I wanted to believe that Arafat, whose hands were stained with the blood of so many of my brethren, could rise to the precious opportunity to redeem himself and restore dignity to his people while bringing peace to a beleaguered Israel. 

At this new crossroads of the post-Arafat era, will the Palestinian Authority wisely reach out to refashion itself sans the oppressive, conflict-ridden and corrupt style of its deceased leader, allowing its permanent neighbor Israel to be a blessing to her?                  
Donald H. Harrison