USF students hit hard by Arafat’s death

As Yasser Arafat’s body arrived in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday for today’s state funeral, his passing marked the end of an era in modern Middle East history.

USF students involved with the student organization OASIS, Organization of Arab Students in Solidarity, said the passing of the Palestine Liberation Organization chairman creates a sad day for Palestinians.

Evita Cheaib, president of OASIS, said Arafat’s death is obviously a tragedy whether people agreed with him or not.

“It’s not easy for those who looked up to him, and there are things that I didn’t agree with that he did, but it is a loss for the Palestinian people,” Cheaib said.

Arafat died at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after being admitted to a French hospital Oct. 29 with a blood ailment and digestive problems that were never clearly described, the Associated Press reported. Arafat suffered from a brain hemorrhage and was in a coma before he died. He was 75.

Nabeel Salhab, a freshman and member of OASIS, said Arafat’s passing took away a big symbol to Palestinians.

“It is a sad day for the Palestinian cause because he was the symbol for the cause,” Salhab said. “Arafat took the Palestinian people and gave them hope and put them on the map.”

Both Cheaib and Salhab said they hope that the conflict between Israel and Palestine does not escalate during the mourning of Arafat.

“If there is one thing that I am afraid of, if anything, it is that people will see this as an opportunity. It is a time of vulnerability,” Cheaib said. “There needs to be peace and I am hoping and putting my faith in a world government that will not allow any civil liberties and human rights to be violated.”

“I hope things get better,” Salhab said. “(His death) could be a positive thing. Arafat had control over a lot, and with his passing now maybe a more democratic institution can form to work better with Israel for peace.”

Arafat’s death leaves no clear successor, but Palestinian parliament speaker Rawhi Fattuh has been sworn in as interim president of Palestinian Authority.

Elections to find a permanent replacement for Arafat are set to take place within 60 days. During Arafat’s illness, Prime Minister Ahmed Qorei was in charge of the Palestinian Authority, while Mahmoud Abbas led the PLO. Early Thursday, the Associated Press reported that the PLO’s executive committee unanimously approved Abbas, a former Palestinian prime minister, to replace Arafat as PLO chairman.

USF professor James Strange, who teaches religious studies, said all eyes are watching the Middle East to see if any disturbances will occur.

“Right now everyone is very cautious and eyes are wide open to see if anyone or anything is going to unfold in unrest,” Strange said.

Danielle Higginbotham, a pro-Israel campus activist, said she thinks that Arafat’s death will allow things to get better in the Middle East.

“I think now is a great time to move forward in the peace process with the renewed hope (that there will be) peace in the Middle East,” Higginbotham said. “I have faith that Abbas will lead the Palestinian people in the right direction.”

Higginbotham added that she doesn’t think that there will be any more unrest because Arafat was the only political leader the Palestinian people really had.

“This has been a problem for hundreds of years and I think with the new leadership and with help from President Bush the people could benefit both Palestinians and Israelis,” she said.

Wendy Levine, a staff member at Hillel and a member of the Jewish Campus Service Corps., said Hillel’s stance is that when a country loses its leader it is a sad time.

“Hopefully, the Palestinian people can find a new leader quickly and work towards negotiations with Israel for a road to peace,” Levine said.

World leaders have been sending their condolences following the announcement of Arafat’s death. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted on BBC’s Web site as saying: “The recent events could be a historic turning point for the Middle East. Israel is a country that seeks peace and will continue its efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians without delay.”

President George W. Bush and former President Bill Clinton also sent their regards.

“The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinians’ history. We express our condolences for the Palestinian people. We hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of the aspirations for an independent democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbors,” Bush said.

“I regret that in 2000 he missed the opportunity to bring that nation into being. [I pray] for the day when the dreams of the Palestinian people for a state and a better life will be realized in a just and lasting peace,” Clinton said.

The Palestinian Authority has declared 40 days of mourning, and funeral services will be held today at a place near Cairo’s airport. Arafat’s body will then be taken for burial to the West Bank city of Ramallah.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.