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 live with.

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 Arafat’s 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 hatred.

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 ordinary life.

Perhaps after Sharon’s 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 enemy’s 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 and fairly.

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, Texas. Marc_Ellis@baylor.edu



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