Friday, November 12, 2004

The last class of my old benefactor’s life took place once a week in his compound, by a window where he could watch the I.D.F. soldiers surrounding him, isolating him from all of society. The meetings were on Tuesdays after breakfast.

He was a sweet, well respected old man who had done his best to lead his people forward against all odds. We loved him for his championing of the cause, and also for his crazy dance moves. Yasser loved to dance, more than anything. One time, in Oslo, he danced around a peace agreement brokered by the American president; and when he returned triumphant to Gaza, he danced around again, as bombs went off in Tel Aviv. He was like that.

He knew his time was coming, but he wanted to enjoy what he had for as long as he could. He used to tell his followers, “I understand if you need to drop out for now.” The heat was being turned up on our dear leader. Some friends from Hezbollah kissed him on the cheek to return to Lebanon. “I hope Allah blesses you with a hundred children each,” he told them. “And that each of them fights the tyrants of the so-called state of Israel.” He never referred to Israel as anything but “so-called” and always spoke the words with “finger-quotes” but, as was often our saying around the compound, “That’s our Yasser!”

One Tuesday, many years earlier, Yasser was trying to decide on a name for another fund-raising front for our cause. “Well, we have used all the good names,” he said, and then ran them down: “We’ve already got the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command; Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine Abu Nidal Organization; good old Fatah; Tanzim; Force 17; Hawari which you may also know as the Fatah Special Operations Group; and of course there’s the Martyrs of Tal Al Za’atar; and Amn Araissi; and who can forget the Ahmed Abu Reish Brigade? Only those guys are a little wacky, huh? So what if we called the new front, ‘Peoples with Attitudes’?”

We all had a good laugh.

I remember another Tuesday, after a celebration of the untimely death of a comrade in Syria. Yasser was really depressed. “What a waste. Poor bastard. He will never see the fruits of the work we are doing…” he trailed off, shaking his head. I pointed out that ours was an ongoing struggle. “Yes, but it would be nice if he could see us stick it to those Hebrew bastards one more time.” There was never enough time for Yasser.

In 2003, Forbes Magazine estimated Yasser’s personal wealth at around $300 million, American. There was some unpleasantness surrounding the source of those figures, suggesting that Yasser was keeping the taxed income of Palestinians in Israel for his personal enjoyment. He was visibly upset and spit on the floor. “Jesus Christ! Do they think guns grow on trees? It’s never enough with these people!” When I errantly pointed out that maybe that was the struggle of all oppressed peoples of the world who felt disenfranchised and powerless, he didn’t speak to me for two weeks.

Yasser really loved the American movie, Die Hard because the character Hans Gruber, a terrorist, name-checked Yasser, and said that he had a good tailor. “That’s true! That part is right!” He took me to the opulent walk-in closet within his bedroom. There were hundreds of suits, of the finest linens and silks. “Of course they are all made by Jews,” he sighed. Still, he sent out thousands of copies of Die Hard to his supporters in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Ethiopia, Libya, and Saudi Arabia. He was beaming that day. “Some of these guys, they put me down for a long time. And they always made fun of my hat. Now I am mentioned in a movie with Bruce Willis! Sharon never got any mention in a Bruce Willis movie! Ha!”

Of all the days I spent with my teacher, this is one moment I prefer to savor the most.

Mick Stingley is a freelance writer. He is single and lives alone in New York City. He and Céline Dion will both be 40 on March 30, 2008.

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