Yasser Arafat: Quotes & Biography

Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

Yasser Arafat was a prominent anti-Israel activist known for his leadership role in the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In this lesson, you will learn about his early life, political career, and important quotes.

Early Life

Yasser Arafat was born in Cairo, Egypt, in August 1929. The exact date of his birth is unknown, possibly August 4 or August 24. At the age of four, his mother died, and he moved to Jerusalem to live with a relative. Although there's enough evidence to prove that Arafat was born in Egypt, throughout his life, he claimed that he was born in Jerusalem.

Arafat grew up during a turbulent time in world history. While he was a teenager, World War II raged in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. As early as 1946, Yasser Arafat became an activist in the Middle East, but not necessarily in a good way. At just 17 years old, he helped smuggle arms from Egypt into Palestine, a small piece of land along the eastern Mediterranean.

Young Yasser Arafat
Young Yasser Arafat

Early Political Career

At the end of World War II, international leaders decided to create a the country of Israel, a true home for the Jewish people. There was one big problem with this plan: Israel would be carved out of region where Palestine already existed. This did not sit well with Arafat, who once said: 'Palestine is the cement that holds the Arab world together, or it is the explosive that blows it apart.'

While earning a degree in civil engineering from a university in Cairo, as well as afterwards, Arafat joined and helped establish several political groups that wanted to take a stand against Israel. Between 1958 and 1964, Arafat formed a group called Fatah, which means victory in Arabic, with several friends and began circulating a newsletter about the group's mission.

In May 1964, Arafat helped to found the Palestine Liberation Organization, a nationalistic movement better known as the PLO. Their goal was clear: fight Israel with weapons and violence. Arafat once said, 'Peace for us means the destruction of Israel. We are preparing for an all-out war, a war which will last for generations.' And he meant every word.

The 1960's and 1970's

Yasser Arafat was one of the most prominent leaders of the anti-Israel movement. For a while, Arafat lived in the West Bank, an area in Israel that experienced some of the most violent conflict. Eventually he was forced to leave the country and found his way to Jordan. The King of Jordan had very little patience for the PLO and wanted to keep the conflict out of his own country, so he kicked Arafat and his followers out.

By 1972, the anti-Israel movement was really starting to gain momentum, and multiple terrorist groups began to take action. That same year, a pro-Palestine terrorist group called Black September kidnapped several Israeli athletes from the Munich Olympics and killed them. Arafat had his own take on such actions. 'Whoever stands by a just cause cannot possibly be called a terrorist.' he once said.

The PLO grew more and more powerful in the Middle East; in 1974, it became the official group representing the Palestinian cause. Arafat took Palestine's message to the United Nations: 'I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter's gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.' Arafat was clear that Palestine wanted to be recognized, and it wanted peace, but if the Palestinian's didn't get what they wanted, the violence would continue.

The 1980's and 1990's

By 1988, Arafat began to soften many of his pro-violence policies. He went to the United Nations again, this time to say that while the Palestinians were fine with the country of Israel, they deserved their own independent state as well. Unfortunately for Arafat, he upset many leaders in the West during the Gulf War by supporting Saddam Hussein of Iraq.

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