Yasser Arafat was born on August 24, 1929 in Cairo, the capital city of Egypt. His father Abdel Raouf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, a Gazan, was a spice, incense and grocery merchant. His original name was Mohammed Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini. Arafat was the fifth among the seven children born to Husseini His mother, Zahwa Abul Saud, was from Jerusalem and a religiously devoted woman. She died from a kidney ailment in 1933. Following the death of his mother, Arafat and his bother Faithi supposedly spent the next four years with his uncle in Jerusalem. Arafat had a deteriorating relationship with his father and when he died in 1952, Arafat did not even attend the funeral.
Arafat entered the Cairo University (then, University of King Faud I) in 1947 and studied of Judaism and Zionism. It was during his college years that Arafat adopted the name Yasser, which means “easygoing” in Arabic. At the same time, Arafat became an Arab nationalist involved in the Palestinian cause. He began to procure weapons into the territory. During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Arafat left the University and, along with other Arabs, sought to enter Palestine to join Arab forces fighting against Israeli troops. Before the Arabs were defeated by Israel in 1948, Arafat was a leader in the Palestinian effort to smuggle arms into the territory. In 1949, when the situation was in favor of the Israel's troops Arafat returned to Cairo.
After returning to University, Arafat studied civil engineering and graduated with a bachelor’s degree. In 1956, Arafat was called to duty to fight with Egyptian forces during the Suez Crisis. He served as a second lieutenant in the Egyptian Army during the crisis. After the Suez War, Arafat settled in Kuwait. He first employed in the department of public works and eventually set up his own contracting firm. There he developed friendships with two Palestinian nationals Abu Iyad and Abu Jihad. They were both official members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
Foundation of Al-Fatah
In 1958 Arafat, along with his friends founded “Al-Fatah”, an underground network of secret cells, which later advocated armed struggle against Israel. Fatah dedicated itself to the liberation of Palestine by an armed struggle and at the end of 1964 Arafat left Kuwait to become full-time revolutionary, organizing raids into Israel from Jordan.
In order to act independently, Arafat refused to accept donations from the major Arab heads. However, he did not want to alienate them, and sought their support by avoiding alliances with groups loyal to some other ideologies. To establish the groundwork for Fatah's financial support, Arafat sought contributions from the wealthy Palestinians working in the Gulf States. Interestingly, the businessmen and oil workers of the Gulf region contributed generously to the Fatah organization.
In 1962, Fatah had approximately three hundred members, but none were fighters. Fatah's manpower increased further after Arafat decided to offer much higher salaries to members of the Palestine Liberation Army (PLA), the regular military force of the Arab League in 1964.
Fatah emerged as the most powerful and best organized of the groups and Arafat became the chairman of the PLO executive committee. The PLO was no longer a puppet organization of the Arab states, but an independent nationalist organization, based in Jordan
Disturbed by the activities of Arafat and his men, Jordan King, Hussein, expelled the PLO from his country. Arafat then sought to build a similar organization in Lebanon. Because of Lebanon's weak central government, the PLO was able to operate virtually as an independent state.
During the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, “Black September”, a Palestinian militant group, kidnapped and killed eleven Israeli athletes. The incident came to be known as “Munich Massacre”. The Black September, as reported by some noted historians, was a branch of Fatah used for paramilitary operations. In 1973–74, Arafat directed the PLO to withdraw from acts of violence outside Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
To investigate the Munich Massacre, the Israeli government launched the Operation Bayonet. It ordered its intelligence agecy, Mossad to hunt down those known to have been involved. In 1979, the Mossad had assassinated at least eight PLO members including Ali Hassan Salameh, a commander of Yasser Arafat's personal security squad.
A 1973 United States Department of State document, declassified in 2006, concluded that the Khartoum operation was planned and executed with the full knowledge and personal approval of Yasser Arafat. The “Khartoum diplomatic assassinations” were the killing of three Western diplomats held hostage between 1 March 1973 and 3 March 1973 in the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, capital city of Sudan. They were murdered by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Arafat denied any involvement in the operation and insisted it was carried out independently by the “Black September” group.
In 1973, the PLO was inducted into the Arab League at Rabat summit and also declared the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. Arafat became the first representative of a non-governmental organization to address a plenary session of the UN General Assembly. During the Lebanon war, Arafat aligned the PLO with the Nasserist Lebanese National Movement led by Kamal Jumblatt. Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, fearing a loss of control in Lebanon, sent members of the Tigers Militia against PLO.
In February 1975, the militia gunned down prominent pro-Palestinian leader, Ma'arouf Sa'ad. Retaliating against the attack, the DFLP, PLO and LNM attacked the town of Damour, killing over 330 people. Arafat and Abu Jihad, who did not support the attack in Damour, blamed themselves for not managing to prevent the carnage.
On March 11, 1978, around ten Fatah fighters hijacked a bus and sprayed gunfire inside and at passing vehicles on the road connecting Haifa with Tel Aviv. The brutal incident killed thirty-seven civilians. The Civil War ended and Arafat was sent to exile in Tunis.
The policymakers in the United States recognized that agreement on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations wasn’t possible until the Arab states took steps toward peace with Israel. In 1991, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker persuaded Israel and her neighbors to attend a regional peace conference. During the 1991 Madrid Conference, for the first time ever, Israel conducted open negotiations with the PLO. But they did not reach any consensus.
Thereafter, Israelis and PLO began negotiating over the issue and ultimately reached an agreement to give the Palestinians self-rule in Gaza and Jericho, followed by autonomy in other parts of the territories. On September 13, 1993, officials of both Israel and Palestine signed the Declaration of Principles in Washington, D.C. In 1994, Yasser Arafat was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize along with Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
In 1994, Arafat moved to the PNA controlled Gaza City and became the President and Prime Minister of the Palestinian National Authority. In July 1994, the PNA was declared the official government of the Palestine. Yasser Arafat established an executive committee of twenty members and empowered himself with liberty to replace and assign mayors and city councils. Arafat appointed himself chairman of the Palestinian financial organization, created by the World Bank to control most aid money towards helping the new Palestinian entity. Arafat also formed Preventive Security Service, the police force of the state of Palestine.
Controversies and Last Days of life
In August 2003, the International Monetary Fund, in an audit claimed that Arafat had diverted $900 million in public funds to a special bank account controlled by Arafat and the PNA Chief Economic Financial adviser. Former Middle East negotiator for the United States of America, Dennis Ross, had once said that Arafat was "walking-around money". A major controversy erupted between officials of the PNA and Suha, Arafat’s wife, when officials from the PNA traveled to France to see Yasser. Suha accused that they were trying to bury Yasser alive.
On October 25, 2004, Yasser Arafat was admitted to the hospital after he vomited during a meeting. His condition continued to decline and he was flown to a French hospital jet to in Clamart, Paris. On November 11, 2004, the doctors pronounced the death of Yasser Arafat. The exact cause of his illness is still unknown.