Yasser Arafat Museum Focuses On Palestinian Leader : Parallels A new museum in Ramallah features the life and times of the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader, from his Nobel Peace Prize to his pistol, glasses and bedroom.

In The Spot Where He Spent His Final Years, A Museum Honors Yasser Arafat

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A new museum in Ramallah in the West Bank is devoted to the legacy of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. NPR's Daniel Estrin went there to peek at the memorabilia and walk through the small compound where Arafat spent his final years.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: When Yasser Arafat died in 2004, he was buried in a parking lot amid the ruins of his compound that Israel partially demolished. Today, Arafat's grave is a mausoleum of glass and stone. Next to it is a gleaming three-story building - the Yasser Arafat Museum. It opened this month.

UNIDENTIFIED TOUR GUIDE: (Foreign language spoken).

ESTRIN: Tour guides have been leading groups of Palestinian high school students through the museum. Here behind glass are some of Yasser Arafat's most recognizable symbols.

MOHAMMAD HALAYKA: This is his glasses and shirt, his keffiyeh and his revolver.

ESTRIN: That's museum director Mohammad Halayka. He points out Arafat's signature black and white checkered keffiyeh headdress. There's also Arafat's passport.

HALAYKA: This is his - the first Palestinian passport with his name.

ESTRIN: Zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-zero-one.


ESTRIN: That's Arafat's passport number. In the pantheon of Palestinian figures, he's number one. The guerrilla-fighter-turned-peace-negotiator who held peace talks with Israel and won a Nobel Prize.

HALAYKA: It's displayed, the certificate of Nobel Prize in the middle here.

ESTRIN: And here what isn't mentioned in the display is how the golden Nobel Prize got to the museum. Nine years ago, the militant Islamist group Hamas snatched the Nobel when it ransacked Arafat's old Gaza headquarters and took control of Gaza. A few months ago, the Palestinian government in the West Bank negotiated with Hamas to give it back. As for the original Nobel Prize certificate...

HALAYKA: The certificate, we lost it. We had to ask for the Norwegians to give us the copy.

ESTRIN: And besides, there isn't much more that remains from those peace efforts. Israel and its Western supporters long viewed Arafat as a terrorist. In the year 2000 when Palestinians mounted a bloody uprising against Israel, they blamed Arafat for the violence. Israeli tanks surrounded his government building where he lived. He spent the last three years of his life there before dying in Paris. He used to sleep in a tiny bedroom. Visitors can peer into it for the first time.

HALAYKA: This is his bedroom.

ESTRIN: So there are four jackets hanging in this file-cabinet-turned-closet and a pile of keffiyehs up there with some long johns, I guess. A couple combs, a space heater, a radiator and his 14-inch TV. So nothing has been touched in this bedroom since he died?

HALAYKA: No. Nothing has been changed here, everything left as it is.

ESTRIN: And yet, so much has changed politically since Arafat's been gone. He was always controversial, even among Palestinians. But today, the Palestinian leadership is divided in a bitter dispute. One faction rules in the West Bank, the other in Gaza. They disagree on the Palestinians' national goal, whether to make peace with Israel or destroy it. Museumgoer Ahmad Aboushi stood in front of Arafat's bedroom and looked back with nostalgia.

AHMAD ABOUSHI: We all miss him, the person who can unify us. We miss the leadership in his character and his charisma, I think.

ESTRIN: And that's the way the museum looks at the memory of Arafat - as the founding father who brought the Palestinian cause to the world stage. The man with the scruffy facial hair and checkered headdress, whose face now adorns the hats and sweatshirts in the museum gift shop. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Ramallah.

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