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Yasser Arafat
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Yasser Arafat
Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini

Born: August 24, 1929 in Cairo, Egypt
Died: November 11, 2004
Father Died: 1952 (Arafat did not attend the funeral)
Founded Al-Fatah: 1958
Elected Chairman of the PLO: 1969
Independent State of Palestine declared: November 15, 1988
Married Suha At-Taweel, a Palestinian Catholic (converted to Islam first): 1990
Oslo Accords: 1993
Signed the Cairo Agreement: May 4, 1994
Daughter Zawha born: July, 1995
Nobel Peace Prize: 1994 (with Yitzhak Rabin)
Elected President of the Palestine Authority: January 20, 1996

When Yasser Arafat was five his mother died and he was sent to live with a maternal uncle in Jerusalem - at the time, Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine and under British control. Arafat has revealed little of his childhood to others, but he has told people that one of his earliest memories was of the door to his uncle's home being broken down by British soldiers who proceeded to smash furniture and beating members of his family. When he was nine he was moved back to Cairo to be with his sister and where he spent the rest of his childhood.

By the time he was seventeen Arafat was involved with smuggling arms to Palestine for use against both British soldiers and Jewish settlers. At the age of nineteen open warfare broke out between Jews and Arabs, so Arafat left his university studies at the University of Faud I (later renamed Cairo University and where he had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood) to join the fighting in Gaza. In 1958 he and some friends founded Al-Fatah, a network of secret cells which advocated armed revolution against Israel.

Yasser Arafat is best known as the leader of teh PLO, but the Palestinian Liberation Organization was not founded by him. Instead, it was originally created by various Arab states in 1964 and Arafat managed to taken control in 1969 after the those states were defeated by Israel in the Six Day War. After this point the PLO would have an independent voice, no longer merely a mouthpiece for other Arab states. One consequence of this was that some Arab governments saw the independent military force of the PLO as a threat. In 1970 King Hussein of Jordan launched a military attack on PLO guerrilla camps along the border with Israel, killing many Palestinians and expelling the survivors.

When Arafat took over the PLO, he did so by trying to unite his al-Fatah organization with a wide variety of Palestinian commando groups. This decision meant that the PLO was destined to be an organization continually torn by internal strife. Although al-Fatah was committed to setting aside ideological differences in favor of Palestinian nationalism, other groups within the PLO were not.

After his expulsion from Jordan, Arafat set up shop in Lebanon. At the time Lebanon was a very weak nation and Arafat was able to rule an area almost as if it were an independent state. Arafat also played a major role in the Lebanese civil war - in fact, many Lebanese Christians argue that the PLO is responsible for the deaths of thousands of Christians.

Twice Israel invaded Lebanon in order to drive the PLO out, once in 1978 an then again in 1982. The first invasion led to the creation of an Israeli-controlled security zone on Lebanese territory; the second was an expansion of the first that didn't survive long. Despite the failures, Israel was able to get Arafat to leave Lebanon and live in exile in Tunisia. During this time Arafat received extensive support from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, support which was instrumental in the launching of the first Intifada in December, 1987.

On December 13, 1988 he gave a speech before the UN where he formally renounced terrorism and accepted the right of Israel to exist - but the PLO charter did not change these provisions until many years later. In 1993 Arafat signed the Oslo Accords with Yitzhak Rabin in the hopes of achieving peace - for their efforts they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994. One of the provisions of the Accords was elections in Palestinian-controlled areas, and Arafat was elected President of the Palestine Authority in 1996.

On October 29, 2004, Yasser Arafat was flown to a hospital in Paris, France, for medical testing and treatment. He had been suffering from an unidentified illness for some time and Israeli authorities lifted his ban on travel away from his West Bank headquarters so that he could seek better medical care elsewhere. After a couple of days of treatment, he apparently slipped into a coma. For several days reports kept coming out of Paris that Arafat was alive, then dead, then alive again - it didn't appear as though anyone knew what was going on.

Rumors as to what was really happening were rampant. Some speculated that Arafat was brain dead, but was being kept alive by machines while his wife tried to gain access to his billions that had been siphoned off from international aid programs. Others said that his true state was being kept quiet while Palestinian leaders fought amongst themselves for who would come out on top afterwards. Arafat's official death was reported as 3:30 a.m., November 11, 2004, in a French military hospital.


"I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand." (November, 1974, while speaking at the United Nations)

"Those who call us terrorists wish to prevent world public opinion from discovering the truth about us and from seeing the justice on our faces. They seek to bide the terrorism and tyranny of their acts, and our own posture of self-defence."

Also Known As: Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini

Alternate Spellings: none

Common Misspellings: Yassir Arafat

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