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'There are many Yasser Arafats in Palestine'
Ehtasham Khan in New Delhi | November 11, 2004 22:19 IST
Watching Al Jazeera news channel at the embassy in New Delhi, Palestinian Ambassador Osama Musa was as relaxed as ever after getting the news of Yasser Arafat's death on Thursday morning.
He looked at the framed photograph at his table and said: "This is me and this is Yasser Arafat. We were so young that time." In the photograph, both men were clad in olive green military uniform. It was 1969.
"We will miss Arafat. But there are many Yasser Arafats in Palestine. We will march ahead and get our freedom one day. That would be the best tribute to him," Musa, who joined the embassy about two years ago, said.
"But I have one regret that he could not be buried in our homeland."
Musa went on to draw a parallel between Arafat and Bahadur Shah Zafar, the 17th century Mughal emperor in India.
"Why was Bahadur Shah Zafar not buried in India? Because the British had occupied India. Similar is the situation now in Palestine," said Musa.
During the last days of his life, Zafar was kept in a prison in Rangoon, where he died. The emperor was buried there. In the prison, he wrote a couplet expressing his anguish and helplessness for not getting a piece of land for burial in India.
Musa, wearing a blue shirt and a white muffler with the Palestinian logo printed on it, said, "Indians can feel our pain. Indians have special sympathy for Palestine and its people. We feel proud of India."
Arafat last time visited India in 2000. There are just 20 Palestinians in Delhi. Ten others live in different cities in India.
When told Israel had allowed Arafat's burial in his hometown Ramallah, Musa said: "Who are they to allow? Allow is the word for which Yasser Arafat fought."
"The situation in Ramallah and the West Bank is such that many leaders cannot attend his burial there. Therefore we have to do it in Egypt."
At the embassy there wasn't any trace of grief.
The work in the embassy, which looks more like students' accommodation and which is located in upscale Vasant Kunj neighbourhood in south Delhi, was normal.
The staff were busy cleaning. Some arrangements were being made for visitors who would come to pay tributes to Arafat.
Huge portraits of Arafat, the Palestinian flag and the picture of Masjid al-Aqsa were all over the walls. Revered by Muslims, Christians and Jews, Masjid al-Aqsa in Jerusalem is under Israel's control.
Musa played down Arafat's death and said: "We have many leaders like Yasser Arafat. Every men, women and children in Palestine is fighting the Israeli occupation with equal zeal."
"For us the leader is not important but the cause. All Palestinians are equally brave like Arafat. People of Palestine made him brave."
He said the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Rawhi Fattouh, would become the interim president and conduct an election within 60 days.
Musa condemned Arafat's confinement in his home in Ramallah for the last three years. "He was sick but the Israelis didn't take him to hospital. Some doctors from Egypt and Jordan visited him but he could not be treated at home. He was taken to the Paris hospital when his health became worse."
"Can you imagine a man, who spent all his life moving around the world, confined for three years in a small house?"
Musa then recalled his first meeting with Arafat. "I was a civilian pilot in some other country. Arafat called me. It was in 1968. He told me that 'Osama, we have to create a Palestinian air force.'"
"It was unimaginable that time because we didn't have any land or resources. Moreover, the [Palestinian] movement had not gained that much momentum. I was surprised."
But Arafat convinced Musa to agree. "The same day he announced that we had a Palestinian air force. I was the only recruit.
"Think of his vision. He was so farsighted. Within a year I gathered 150 young students and we went to Algeria for training."
Musa and his group completed work on the Gaza airport and, after the Oslo agreement, Palestinian Airlines started flights to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey.
"It was in Arafat's mind that aviation was important for the free movement of the leaders and that it would strengthen our struggle. It was very important for us to have our own aviation. He had envisioned that in 1968," said Musa.
"Arafat was not just a president. He was the father of the nation. He changed our lives from being refugees to freedom fighters."
More reports from Delhi
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