Gathering in Anaheim Honors Arafat’s Life

Times Staff Writer

Just hours after a procession of grieving Palestinians accompanied Yasser Arafat to his final resting place half a world away, about 60 of their compatriots and sympathizers gathered in Orange County on Friday to say goodbye to the man many said had left an indelible mark on their national soul.

“We are here to console each other and say farewell to an icon of the Palestinians,” said Tareef Nashashibi, a prominent local Republican and national advisor to the Palestinian American Congress, which, along with the Union of Palestinian-American Women, sponsored the event at Anaheim’s Unitarian Church of Orange County.

“He was the one man who brought the Palestinian issue to the world,” Nashashibi said, “and whether you agreed with him or not, he was the man who spoke for us. It is up to us to continue the struggle and ideology of bringing peace and justice to the Palestinian people.”


Joanne Abu Qartoumy, PAC’s executive secretary, said the event’s purpose, in part, was to counter negative publicity generated by Arafat’s death this week in Paris. Arafat, revered by many as a national hero, was reviled by others as the world’s most successful terrorist.

“The Islam-phobia needs to be stopped,” she said. “We need to step out in all faiths and work together for peace.”

Described by organizers as an interfaith service, the gathering began with a “talking circle” around a bonfire in the parking lot built by a group of Native Americans.

“Our causes are very similar,” Miles Harry, a self-described Paiute and Lakota Indian, told the mourners, adding that he supported the Palestinian cause and “always had great admiration” for Arafat.

Later, an imam chanted Arabic prayers from the Koran for the crowd. Many of those in attendance wore black and white kaffiyehs, the traditional scarf made famous by Arafat as a symbol of Palestinian liberation.

“He brought Palestinians out of the quagmire of the refugee camps and made them feel good about themselves,” Nashashibi said. “I was a strong critic [of Arafat], but now that he has passed away I cried as if my own dad had died.”