Bury Arafat and Sharon Together-
by Marc H. Ellis
Yassir Arafat is dead. He leaves
behind him the grief of an as-yet-unrealized
nation and the unseemly jockeying for money
and power. How successful will those who inherit
Palestinian leadership work with Israel? The
immediate hope is for a cessation of violence.
In the long run, the hope is for a political
solution that both sides in this conflict can
The question of where Arafat will
be buried has been decided. The Palestinians
demanded Jerusalem as the fitting burial location
for their national leader, a demand tied to
their claim for Jerusalem as the future capital
of Palestine. Israel refused Jerusalem as Arafats
burial site for the same reasons that the Palestinians
insisted on it: Israel has never recognized
a Palestinian national identity and claims Jerusalem
as its own.
So Israel has allowed a second
choice, Ramallah, where Arafat lived his last
years as a viritual prisoner surrounded by Israeli
occupation forces. From the Israeli perspective,
this is the most likely site for the capital
of the future Palestinian state.
Still, for his burial, I wonder
if there is another possibility, one that evokes
politics even as it acknowledges its limitations,
a burial arrangement that recognizes the war
between these two peoples ending at the grave
and symbolic of the joint destiny of Jews and
Palestinians. Bury Arafat and Sharon together.
What could this possibly mean?
While Arafat is dead, Sharon is
not even ill. Palestinians and Israelis alike
would find a joint burial blasphemous. The two
spent their entire lives fighting one another,
so that the very image of the other
and the people they represented was one of mutual
We know the typical joint burial:
husband and wife, later joined by their children.
A family plot that enfolds a shared life and
destiny, lived in a mixture of love and difficulty,
embrace and storm, now at rest. With the complexities
of life over, the graveyard is serene and beautiful.
So when Arafat is buried in Ramallah,
why not leave a plot for Sharon? Why not join
them in death as they were joined in life?
Each embodied their respective
peoples desire for justice and nationhood.
To their own people, each was a hero; each was
a villain. Both needed the other to fulfill
their own destiny.
In the best of both worlds Arafat
and Sharon should be buried in Jerusalem, the
most obvious place, for it is central to both
Israelis and Palestinians, to Judaism, Christianity
and Islam. It is the broken middle of Israel/Palestine
where two peoples shattered by history might
find a new way of living together and, in the
future, a healing of old wounds.
But with Jerusalem denied, other
cities along with Ramallah could be the considered
for a dual internment: Gaza City, Tel Aviv,
Hebron, Haifa. In this way the entire land of
Israel/Palestine will be recognized as jointly
inhabited by Jews and Palestinians, two extraordinary
peoples who desperately need the rhythms of
Perhaps after Sharons death,
all the future leaders of Israel and Palestine
also will be buried together, as a new tradition
in the birthplace of the most ancient of traditions.
This could witness to the triviality of division
and power on this earth, especially in the face
of death. Or it could point to the benefits
of peace and justice while living, so that death
is the culmination of a life lived justly.
In these days of destruction and
death, a cycle that seems to have no end, perhaps
the death of enemy leaders can show the way.
Why let adversaries be separated in death as
they are in life and thus venerated by their
followers in the same divisiveness? Even the
mourning of fallen leaders, now joined in death,
must give the most relentless zealot pause.
Those Jews who see Arafat as an
enemy can find guidance within the Jewish tradition.
The Torah does not command us to love our enemies,
but it does demand that we act fairly toward
them. We read in the Book of Exodus that when
you encounter your enemys ox or donkey
wandering, you must take it back to them. This
passage reminds us that even when dealing with
someone we despise, we must act fairly. It may
be argued that the true measure of our ethical
commitment is whether we treat our enemy justly
For those who have a more positive
view of Arafat and the Palestinians, the Torah
is also instructive. The Torah commands us to
love only three: God, our neighbor and the stranger.
The Book of Exodus again is important: When
a stranger resides with you in your land, you
shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers
in the land of Egypt. However Jews see
Arafat and the Palestinians, they certainly
dwell with us in the land.
So bury Arafat wherever - Ramallah
or anywhere else in the land; the powerful often
have their way. But let the powerful Sharon
know that he will rest beside him. The powerless
must also have their say.
Injustice, terror and war have
no place in death. May the day come when there
will be no place for them in life.
Where better to begin this journey
than in the Holy Land where the messianic promise
of peace and justice began?
Marc H. Ellis is University Professor
and Director of the Center for American and
Jewish Studies at Baylor University in Waco,