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‘7 March Foundation’ pays tribute to Yasser Arafat

A delegation from the UK based ‘7th March Foundation’ led by its Chairperson Nooruddin Ahmed on a recent tour of Palestine visited the tomb of Yasser Arafat in Ramallah. The delegation comprising of its Secretary Ansar Ahmed Ullah, Organisng Secretary Jamal Khan and Research Secretary Sharif Ahmed on a recent visit to Palestine went to its capital Ramallah on 29th-30 January to visit the entire compound known as Muqata’a or Arafat Compound where the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is buried.

Following his death, at age of 75, in November 2004, he was buried on the grounds of Al Muqata’a compound that served as his headquarters in Ramallah. The Palestinian leadership had decided that Yasser Arafat- Abu Amar, affectionate call by the people of Palestine was to be temporarily buried in the Muqata’a compound as the Israelis refused Yasser Arafat to be buried in Jerusalem. The message on the tomb sates that the final resting place of Yasser Arafat shall be in Jerusalem, when it comes under Palestinian control. The floating nature of the design of Abu Amar mausoleum reflects the temporary nature of tomb and the placement of the laser light at the compound’s mosque minaret pointing towards his final resting place-Jerusalem.

There is also a museum within the compound. The Yasser Arafat Museum is on the grounds of his final battle, connected to his main office and last command headquarters.  The Museum traces his life associated with the Palestinian struggle and includes the modest rooms he inhabited in Muqata’a. It traces almost 100 years of Palestinian history, the period leading up to and following the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 – up to Arafat’s death near Paris in 2004.  In the main exhibit are the sunglasses that Yasser Arafat wore when addressing the United Nations in 1974 and his Nobel peace prize and medal, awarded for his role in the Middle East peace process. His room comprised of a single bed, a small cupboard with uniforms and the keffiyeh headscarves that became his trademark, as well as a small television.

Within the museum there is also a photograph of Bangabandhu and other Muslim leaders. Yasser Arafat had met Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Raman in 1974 during the Summit of the Organisation of Islamic Conference in Lahore. The occasion marked a lasting rapport and fraternal relations between the leaders and peoples of the two countries.

The relationship between Bangladesh and Palestine, particularly the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), can be traced as far back fight for liberation in 1971. In 1973 Bangladesh supported Palestinians’ fight against Israel during the October War. Bangabandhu was unequivocal about Bangladesh’s support for the Palestinian cause. In support of the Palestinian struggle for the justice and freedom Bangabandhu said that, ‘’We do not have a large regular army yet. But we have trained freedom fighters. If necessary we will send our freedom fighters to join our Palestinian brothers to free Palestine’’.

And indeed, Bangabandhu forthwith sent an army medical team and relief supplies for Palestinians. It is worth noting that Bangladesh army served in uniform. This was in marked contrast with many other countries. Hence Bangladesh’s contributions were greatly appreciated by the Arab world in general and Egyptians and Syrians in particular.

The affinity with Palestine became so strong and so entrenched within the Bangladeshi society that in 1980 a postal stamp was created depicting a Palestinian freedom fighter, the al-Aqsa mosque in the background shrouded by barbwire.

In 1987 thousands of Bengalis had volunteered to fight for the Palestine Liberation Organisation. There were even some battalions that were completely Bangladeshi. On the outskirts of the Shatila Palestinian refugee camp in southern Beirut is the Palestinian Martyr Cemetery, where those who perished struggling for the Palestinian cause lay. Among the many tombstones of Palestinians who have died since the 1970s, those of a few foreigners can be spotted. A few Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese, Tunisians, a Russian, a Kurd, and also one of a Bangladeshi man named Kamal Mustafa Ali. It rests there side-by-side with other bodies and names of Palestinians and non-Palestinians. It is the only remaining, physical marker in Beirut of the sacrifices made by Bangladeshi volunteer fighters for the Palestinian cause during the 1980s.

Relations between Bangladesh and Palestine are considered to be one of the most brotherly and cordial.  Bangladesh has always called for an end to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories and for the creation of an independent Palestinian state. Bangladesh has a complete ban on trade with Israel as Bangladesh does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel still today. Bangladesh supports the Palestinian people in their struggle for an independent homeland. Bangabandhu once again retreated Bangladesh’s support for the Palestinian struggle for the freedom and justice at his last public address inSuhrawardy Udyan on 26 March 1975, ‘’The people of Bangladesh support the rights and just demands of Arab Palestinian brothers. They will stay behind Arab brothers to free Palestine.  Wherever there are oppressed people we will be there’’.

During the tour, the other noted places visited by the delegation were Al Aqsa Mosques, Dome of Rock, Ibrahim Khalil Mosque in Hebron, one of the most restricted place in Palestine, Palestine Museum in Birzeit and met a number of Palestinians to learn about the life of people in an occupied land. The communication officer of the famous Education Bookshop in Salahuddin Street in Jerusalem emphasised on the importance of the global solidarity for the Palestine people, “The best way to learn and experience the life under the Israeli occupation is to visit Palestine. This also helps the Palestine economy. More importantly these visits gives us hopes and assurances that we are not alone and isolated in our struggle”.