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Making the preservation of Palestinian memory a priority

Ramona Wadi

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November 11, 2013

Yasser Arafat's assassination, confirmed by the Swiss report detailing the discovery of polonium in Arafat's exhumed remains, has been mired within a political debate in danger of ensuring further depletion of Palestinian right to memory. Proof of assassination after years of hypothesis regarding the subject should have led to an assertion of the right to reclaim memory and history; however, the report confirming polonium poisoning has been partly mellowed into a risk of diplomatic dispute which could allegedly disrupt the farcical peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Various statements have condemned the assassination, countered by Israeli insistence that the state was not involved in Arafat's murder. Hamas described the assassination as 'a despicable Zionist crime' and called for an immediate termination of the negotiations with Israel. Palestinian investigator into Arafat's death, Tawfik Tirawi, stated that Israel is 'the first, fundamental and only suspect in the assassination of Yasser Arafat'. Israel deems the results inconclusive, asserting that the state was not involved in the death of the Palestinian leader. With further investigations pending, including the sequence of events which led to the administration of polonium while Arafat was besieged in his Ramallah compound, speculation on possible culprits remains central to the discourse regarding the murder. The manufacture of, and access to polonium, acquisition, administration leading to assassination and the initial reluctance by the Palestinian Authority to conduct a thorough investigation into the suspicious circumstances may indicate a sequence of collaboration designed to weaken Palestinian resistance.

Decolonisation has challenged the hegemony of memory imposed upon the population, disrupting the intentional manipulation of history by allowing the subaltern to construct and disseminate its memory of resistance against oppression. Hegemonic historical narrations are challenged by embracing the right to an alternative which dispels the selective truth of oppressor powers a process which is susceptible to a form of subjugation through impunity. While the absolute annihilation of subaltern memory cannot be achieved, impunity can be detrimental not only to the preservation of collective memory, but also to the reclaiming of memory and the means through which the people can incorporate their participation in the historical struggle as a continuation of a necessary resistance.

A discussion of impunity with regard to Arafat's murder has various implications. Any impediment to an investigation is an affront to Palestinian memory and resistance. The distancing of Yasser Arafat from Palestinian collective memory exhibits disdain towards the philosophy of resistance, as well as the aim to remove the person and the associated symbolism from the struggle; thus coercing subaltern memory to the confines of periphery. Furthermore, the dynamics of Palestinian resistance are shackled by a power struggle generating different forms of subservience which nevertheless has failed to quell the struggle for autonomy. Israel's on-going colonisation intentionally fails to provide the space in which Palestinian collective memory can flourish in order to assert an illegal dominance exhibited persistently. The Palestinian Authority generated detachment and additional oppression through its constant adherence to Israeli demands regarding security. Hence, Palestinian memory is not only suppressed by Israel the oppression and obstacles to collective memory are also supported by the subjugated political representation which betrayed resistance in return for international acknowledgement and recognition by the colonising power.

Despite insistence that Israel is not involved in the killing of Arafat, Ehud Olmert had expressed the view that killing Arafat "is definitely one of the options ... We are trying to eliminate all the heads of terror, and Arafat is one of the heads of terror". Israel's interpretation of resistance as terror is widely disseminated and used as a pretext to justify violence against Palestinians, as well as targeted assassinations of resistance leaders. Echoing a similar interpretation, some commentators have expressed the opinion that killing Arafat was a 'moral responsibility' for Israel. Within conventional denial lurks the motivation to an alleged complicity. The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, exhibited their detachment from resistance and reclamation of memory through their reluctance to conduct an autopsy previously, a stance which is illogical and incompatible with resistance, yet effectively portrays the PA's daily detachment from the collective struggle of the Palestinian people.

Israeli experts have raised 'concern' that the negotiations will most likely be hampered due to the revelations. According to Iko Zelkovitz, "For Abu Mazen (Abbas), the best option would have been for Arafat to remain in his grave along with his legacy". The statement portrays the dispelling of memory, an attempt to disseminate a false articulation of Palestinian demands which is incompatible with decades of Palestinian resistance. So far, Abbas proved himself willing to subjugate Palestinian demands in return for negligible compensation, therefore it is unlikely that Arafat's assassination would influence the outcome of the negotiations.

With speculation now moving towards the realm of proven fact, Mustafa Barghouti from the Palestinian National Initiative has expressed the opinion that evidence related to the crime has been deliberately concealed and samples destroyed, indicating that "there are international forces that trying to hide the crime". Officials have also articulated the possibility of resorting to the international criminal court a recourse which is improbable, given Abbas' agreement to avoid any form of international prosecution against Israel in return for the negotiations to commence.

Memory, however, should not be perceived as an optional process subservient to the decisions of authorities. Such a transition from the collective to the privileged is an exclusive phenomenon which constructs a multi-layered alienation consolidating the political processes which have already created estrangement between Palestinians and the leadership. Investigations into Arafat's death should not be confined to an assessment cloistered within the realm of authority. Due to perpetual colonisation, Palestinian memory has been subjected to additional restrictions which render truth an abstract form of expression altered by authorities asserting their dominance over a population whose only recourse to freedom is resistance. The alleged convenience regarding a lack of exhibited outrage from Palestinians should not be interpreted as indifference the harboured initial suspicions have been confirmed. The moral imperative of preserving Palestinian memory should be reclaimed by the people who have, for decades personified the resistance, as opposed to authorities concerned with preserving the futility of the negotiations.




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