Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Green Laser

Pola asked me if I wanted to come with her to visit Yasser Arafat’s monumental tomb. She’d met Ahmed who wanted to show us the grand construction. He had been hired by the Palestinian Authority to organise a live stream over the net with real-time footage of the monument for the pleasure of all Palestinians in Gaza, Israel and people throughout the rest of the world who don’t have access to Ramallah. So Ahmed knew the monument pretty well. We agreed to meet outside the entrance to the monument, which is part of the PA’s headquarters where Mahmoud Abbas holds office. It was this set of buildings that had shouldered the Israeli attack and siege in 2002, where almost all the buildings had been torn down around Yasser Arafat until there was pretty much just a single room standing for him to shelter in. This was the closest the Israelis dared come to killing the Palestinian leader. Two yeas later he died, supposedly from cancer.

I was coming from the opposite end of the city and so I took a taxi to the Arafat monument. When I told the driver where I was going, he told me in a kind of answer, that he came from the Amari refugee camp and asked me if I knew of it. Yes, I knew it, I said. He then started telling me that the PA was about to sell off his rights as a refugee. Money couldn’t compensate for their lost homes in Ramleh, Lod or Jaffa. No amount could ever compensate for their losses, not millions or even trillions. He was convinced that the PA was selling his rights to the Israelis and said, as so many had here before, that the next Intifada would be aimed at the PA because the Palestinian authorities were no longer concerned with listening to the needs of their people and even less to the population of refugees. The PA was more interested in talking to the USA and the Israelis. I asked him if he really believed that he and his family would ever be able to move back to their towns in Israel. He was sure of it. Nothing could ever replace what had been taken from them. His anger towards the PA couldn’t be mistaken. We had soon arrived at the large Arafat monument, so I shook hands with him and said ‘Good luck’ — and really hoped that he would be right. Some day he might finally be able to move home, even though it seemed very unlikely.

The monument is a comprehensive set of buildings that apart from Arafat’s tomb also includes a mosque. The buildings and tiled ground of white marble reflected the strong sunlight and made the brightness almost unbearable. Pola had already arrived and Ahmed came in his car a little while after. He had to clear us with the security guards before we could get in to the compound. There were hardly any people inside the large metal gate and the wide ramp that led up to the actual monumental grave also reflected the white sunlight and warmed our feet. Ahmed mentioned that Obama had been here the day before but there were no signs of that now, just as there had hardly been any mention of it in the local media. It was an official event that didn’t interest people much. To the left of the ramp there was a large marble relief with a huge inscription. It was a poem by Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet. It was a poem praising Palestine and Arafat in the form of a single huge Arabic symbol. At the end of the ramp there was a square building with large glass sections on each side. We could see Arafat’s gravestone as a silhouette through the glass. There were two soldiers stationed as honorary guards behind the stone and when we walked in, the two soldiers stood to attention and stared stiffly into the air. The text on the gravestone was in Arabic with dates, etc. An older Arabic couple were also inside with us and the woman was clearly touched by the significance of the place and cried after having kissed the stone. Ahmed told us that Arafat had a near divine status in Palestine. The monumental tomb gives a similar impression. There were no images of Arafat or any descriptions of his deeds and this iconoclasticism added to the pious atmosphere alongside the mosque and the very tall minaret. The white marble reinforced this impression, especially as all the rest of the buildings in the city are built with yellow Jerusalem stone. The entire set of buildings gave off an atmosphere of reverence. Ahmed said that the minaret was equipped with a green laser that could project a sharp green laser ray all the way to the Dome of the Rock mosque in Jerusalem. The idea was that this light should shine continuously in order to maintain a connection between this national Palestinian monument and East Jerusalem, but the laser has only been tested once after which the Israelis had said ‘Thanks, but that’s enough now’, and forbidden it. Ahmed thought that it was sufficient that people knew the laser was here and could reach the Dome of the Rock mosque even if it couldn’t shine continuously. After we’d left the square building with Arafat’s grave, we saw that the soldiers had relaxed and had started talking with each other. Very typical and encouraging to know that they were taking it easy and didn’t have to stand like statues when no one was there. They probably also had coffee hidden behind the stone too.

No comments: