Tags: Erekat | Palestinian

Erekat's Death Echoes the Fate of Palestinian Cause

Erekat's Death Echoes the Fate of Palestinian Cause
Saeb Erekat (AFP via Getty Images)

Friday, 13 November 2020 09:35 AM

Saeb Erekat was buried in Jericho. I know the cemetery, it is a fitting resting place for this illustrious Palestinian, lined with desert date palms — an oasis.

Jericho is one of the oldest cities in the world. There is an argument amongst historians, split across cultures, questioning which society has older relics. Is it the ancient Near East or is it Asia.

Jericho has archeological remains from the Stone Age. It has near consecutive habitation from 10,000 BCE. It has the distinction of being the oldest, still inhabited, city in the world. And it is certainly the lowest city on earth, 846 feet below sea level.

Jericho has its own character. It is different than all other Palestinian-controlled cities and areas. That difference is the reason Yasser Arafat opened his now defunct casino, once very popular, specifically in that city. Jericho has class. It has style. It has grandeur. And it is hot. An oasis with water and shade and fruit trees — dates, oranges, grapefruits, bananas.

Saeb Erekat was born in Abu Dis, an Arab village, a suburb of Jerusalem — but he called Jericho his home. The legacy of Jericho played an important role in Erakat's character. Jericho is a tourism town, most of them Christian pilgrims. Everyone there speaks many languages and speaks them fluently. They understand that there are other cultures and traditions. The city is imbued with a fundamental respect for differences.

Erekat was one of the most recognized figures in the Palestinian media world. He was 65 years old when he succumbed to COVID. His burial, in the quirky way fate insinuates itself into our lives, coincided with the 16th anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death.

Interestingly, controversially for some die-hard Arab thinkers, he died in Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem, Jerusalem, one of Israel's most exceptional medical complexes. He did not go to a Palestinian hospital or a Jordanian hospital or a European hospital. His family asked the Israelis to come and get him and admit him to their COVID ward.

Originally the Palestinian political media machine asserted that he was brought to a hospital in Tel Aviv. Heaven forbid he should be brought to a Jerusalem hospital. Jerusalem is in dispute, Tel Aviv is not. But that was an outright lie. Palestinians later explained that he went to the nearest hospital. That, too, was a lie. Even in Jerusalem they passed by two hospitals, the original Hadassah Hospital on Mt. Scopus and Shaare Zedek Hospital before reaching Ein Kerem.

They brought Erekat to the hospital that knew him. The hospital had an expertise he needed, he had a lung transplant in the United States in 2017.

Erekat was Arafat's most trusted English spokesman and chief negotiator. More than simply an insider, 16 years ago he was thought to be a potential successor to Arafat. But the position went to Mahmud Abbas, and once again he was in the successor position, to one day take over the Palestinian reins, this time from Abbas.

I had many interactions with Erekat, mostly on air, at times in person. Erekat was a propagandist for Arafat and the Palestinian Authority, a propogandist par excellence.
Unfortunately, that led to some ridiculous comments, speculation and accusations.
Some were honest, most were forced. He fought to justify the Palestinian cause — including terror attacks against Jews.

One of my personal favorite "Erekat stories" unfolded one night as I slept peacefully in Jerusalem. A 24-hour news network awakened me at about 1:30 a.m. and asked me to rush to Bethlehem to the Church of the Nativity. They explained that the church was burning, that the Israelis were burning the church.

I jumped into the car and was at the military crossing into Bethlehem a few minutes later. The church is a few minutes from there. No tensions. No crisis. Soldiers lying on their tanks and jeeps enjoying the cool night air. Talking to their girlfriends.

I sped along, parking at the foot of the stairs leading to the plaza of the church, bolted up the stairs, got to the top. The plaza was totally empty. No smoke and no flames. Quiet. An Israeli set of soldiers were kicking a can back and forth. I asked if things were quiet. They answered boring.

The network was still on the phone. I never hung up because in a crisis it is really hard to get through so I always carried multiple phones and at least three spare batteries. I asked them to clarify. And then I had my ah-ha moment.

They told me that Saeb Erekat was live on their air, describing the burning of the church. I said tell me where he is and we'll comment side by side.

They discovered that Erekat was 40 miles away, in Jericho. They ran live with someone commenting on Israel burning a holy Christian site without confirming he was there. Jericho is nearly 850 feet below sea level, Bethlehem is 100 feet higher in elevation than Jerusalem, about 2,700 feet above sea level and there is an entire mountain range in between.

This episode fazed neither Erekat nor the media that continued to use him, to trust his word.

Erekat understood the media. He understood the role of the media and its importance, even if it meant engaging in total falsehoods, as long as the Palestinian story would be told. He knew that when you fall off the "front page" you become irrelevant.

And that is the misfortunate of the end of his life. These past few years the Palestinian issue has become less central. The once great legacy of Saeb Erekat was lost. His death did not make many headlines, it didn't even make the front page.

Micah Halpern is a political and foreign affairs commentator. He founded "The Micah Report" and hosts "Thinking Out Loud with Micah Halpern" a weekly TV program and "My Chopp" a daily radio spot. A dynamic speaker, he specializes in analyzing world events and evaluating their relevance and impact. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern. Read Micah Halpern's Reports — More Here.

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Saeb Erekat was buried in Jericho. I know the cemetery, it is a fitting resting place for this illustrious Palestinian, lined with desert date palms - an oasis.
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2020-35-13
Friday, 13 November 2020 09:35 AM
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