Biography of Yasser Arafat
Mohammed Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa Al-Husseini, more commonly known as Yasser Arafat was the fifth of seven children born to a Palestinian textile merchant on August 24, 1929. According to Arafat and other sources, he was born in Jerusalem, however, French biographers, Christophe Boltanski and Jihan El-Tahri revealed in their 1997 book, Les sept vies de Yasser Arafat, that he was actually born in Cairo, Egypt, and that is where his birth certificate was registered. The Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs also lists Arafat’s birthplace as Cairo. Ian Pacepa, a former Romanian intelligence official, disclosed that the KGB had invented a background for Arafat with a birthplace in Jerusalem.
Claims that Arafat was related to the Jerusalem Husseini clan through his mother have been disputed by the Palestinian historian Said Aburish. In an unauthorized biography, Aburish claims that “The young Arafat sought to establish his Palestinian credentials and promote his eventual claim to leadership... [and] could not afford to admit any facts which might reduce his Palestinian identity. ...Arafat insistently perpetuated the legend that he had been born in Jerusalem and was related to the important Husseini clan of that city.”
Arafat’s childhood was divided between Cairo and Jerusalem, where he lived for four years with an uncle following the death of his mother when he was five. Arafat entered the University of King Faud I (later renamed Cairo University) in 1947 and studied engineering. It was during his college years that Arafat adopted the name Yasser, which means “easygoing” in Arabic.
During the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Arafat left the university and, along with other Palestinians, sought to enter Palestine to fight for Palestinian independence. He was disarmed and turned back by Egyptian military forces that refused to allow the poorly trained partisans to enter the war zone. After returning to the university, Arafat joined the Muslim Brotherhood and served as president of the Union of Palestinian Students from 1952 to 1956. By 1956, Arafat graduated with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and served as a second lieutenant in the Egyptian Army during the Suez Crisis.
After the Suez War, Arafat moved to Kuwait, where he found work as an engineer and eventually set up his own contracting firm. In Kuwait, he also helped found Fatah in 1957, an organization dedicated to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in place of Israel and Jordan (i.e., historic Palestine).
Backed by Syria, Fatah began carrying out terrorist raids against Israeli targets, starting with an unsuccessful attempt to blow up an Israeli water pump in December 1964. From that point on, Fatah launched dozens of raids against civilian Israeli targets from Jordan, Lebanon and Egyptian-occupied Gaza to avoid provoking reprisals against their Syrian patrons.
When the a coup...