Yasser Arafat was the historic leader of the Palestinians. For more than 30 years he led the battle for an independent Palestinian state. The son of a Palestinian merchant, Arafat was born probably in Cairo, Egypt, in August 1929. The exact date of his birth is unknown. Starting in 1947, Arafat studied engineering at the university in Cairo. At the time, important changes were taking place in countries throughout the Middle East. In 1948, after the end of the Second World War, the UN approved the creation of a state that could receive Jewish victims of Nazi persecution. The Jewish nation known as Israel was created in Palestinian territory, on the border with Egypt. But the land intended for the new Jewish state was already inhabited, mostly by Arabs, although there was already a significant Jewish population. After hostilities broke out in 1948, over 700,000 Arab-Palestinians were forced to leave their own homes. It was the beginning of a conflict between Jews and Arabs that has stained the Middle East with blood for decades.
The young Arafat immediately embraced the Palestinian cause, uniting with militants who wanted to take back their land. Around 1958 he founded an organization called Al Fatah and became its leader. The objective of Al Fatah was to create a Palestinian state by destroying Israel. Al Fatah’s headquarters were initially based in Kuwait. Sought by the Israelis, Al Fatah led the battle against Israel for more than 30 years, moving from Kuwait to Jordan then to Lebanon and finally Tunisia before returning to Palestine. In 1967, in an effort to strengthen the Palestinian cause, Arafat decided to join forces with the PLO, or Palestinian Liberation Organization. The PLO became the Palestinians’ official representation, and in 1969, Arafat became its leader. In 1974 he received an invitation from the UN, even though he was not a head of state. The international community considered this gesture significant. It was recognition of the Palestinians as a population. But the Israeli-Palestinian conflict showed no signs of slowing down. In 1987 the Palestinian population began street protests and a bloody revolt that fully escaped PLO control. The situation became ungovernable. In December 1988 Arafat made a historic shift in policy, declaring the PLO’s decision to renounce the destruction of Israel as a goal. He proposed peaceful cohabitation and the creation of a Palestinian state.
Arafat’s gesture was warmly embraced. In 1993 in Oslo, Israel signed a peace agreement together with the Palestinian leader.
In 1994 Arafat was honored with the Nobel Peace Prize. In July of the same year he settled in Palestine. The peace process lasted a number of years. In 2000 Israeli Premier Ehud Barak proposed a number of territories for the creation of a Palestinian state. Arafat considered Barak’s proposal insufficient and the situation began to deteriorate once again.
In 2001 the new Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, singled out Arafat, accusing him of tolerating attacks on Israeli civilians conducted by the Islamic group Hamas. Yasser Arafat died on November 11, 2004 in Clamart, France. He was 75. The Palestinian drama has yet to be resolved.