No, you shouldn't have visited Arafat's grave
By Josh Hasten
Dear Harvard College Israel Trek 2014—As you well know by now, your current trip to Israel has drawn international attention and media coverage. While a group of college students traipsing through the Jewish State is probably not worthy of such focus, your visit to Ramallah and specifically your smiley group photo at the grave of Yasser Arafat, the father of modern-day terrorism, has drawn condemnation from many (myself included).
At the same time your organizers on the ground in Israel, as well as your sponsors back in Boston including Hillel and the CJP (Combined Jewish Philanthropies, under the umbrella of the US Jewish Federation system), have vociferously defended your itinerary, and have made a point to attack those who have come out against your visit, labeling them/us as fringe extremists.
I have read all of your explanations, justifications, clarifications, etc. for the smiley gravesite photo, and frankly I’m just not impressed.
While you claim to be fully aware that Arafat was behind countless Israeli deaths, I want to go over his abridged resume of mass murder just one more time to be sure you have the facts. Also, since you are representing a US institution, it’s important to note how many American citizens are dead as a result of Arafat’s murderous ways.
As chairman of the PLO, Arafat was responsible for (or linked to):
• The murder of 12 Israeli Olympians during the 1972 Munich games
• The murder of the United States ambassador to the Sudan, Cleo Noel, in 1973
• The bombing of the United States Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983 that killed 241 people
• The hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985 and the murder of hostage Leon Klinghoffer
• The Oslo War (2nd intifada) that claimed the lives of over 1,000 Israeli civilians and soldiers, including US citizens
But you probably knew all that, right? If not, you do now.
Nevertheless, your organizers say that the visit was “about creating an honest conversation regarding some of the most contentious issues facing both Israelis and Palestinians today... Whether we like or not, Yasser Arafat is important to the Palestinian narrative, and as educators committed to an honest exploration of these issues we could not afford to deviate from Trek policy that encouraged students to document and share their experiences with their respective communities.”
So my question for you is this: if you were looking for an “honest conversation,” how was your experience conversing with a dead terrorist?
I’m assuming it was pretty one-sided.
If that’s not the case, my sincerest apologizes for misunderstanding.
Perhaps what you meant was that you spent your day in Ramallah hearing that “narrative” you were seeking from LIVING ‘Palestinian’ leaders.
I highly doubt though that the PA officials you met with spoke about the town squares throughout the PA named after suicide bombers. I also doubt they gave you a glimpse into the PA’s official educational system or media which daily incites against the State of Israel and the Jewish people.
I’ll save what was missing from your visit for another discussion, and give you time to explore that reality here.
But back to the Arafat smiley.
The bottom line is whether you like it or not, whether it was your intention or not—a smiling group photo at the grave of someone who led a life of pure terror, murder, and evil, DOES in fact honor his memory, and does serve as a statement of approval.
I have no doubt that the current social media explosion over your photo is delighting the Palestinian Authority leadership to no end. I’m sure they won’t hesitate to use it for their public relations purposes in the near future if they haven’t already done so.
Since you are students of Harvard, I don’t doubt your intellectual abilities, but I leave you with a piece of advice—next time, perhaps be a bit smarter.
Josh Hasten is a blogger for The Times of Israel.