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Arafat Seen As Hero and Terrorist

Yasser Arafat's death leaves many Christians with hope for future peace negotiations, but others fear chaos.

Palestinian Christians, Jews, and scholars see Yasser Arafat variously as hero, impediment to peace, freedom fighter, or one of the 20th century's most diabolical rulers. After nearly four years of confinement to his Ramallah compound, Arafat died Thursday after falling into a coma in a Paris hospital. He was 75.

Arafat was a gun smuggler, fighting Jews in what is now Israel even before the founding of the modern state of Israel amid the 1948 war. For Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College and author of Who Are God's People in the Middle East? What Christians Are Not Being Told About Israel and the Palestinians understanding Arafat requires understanding the fight that defined his life. "There is a generation of Palestinian leaders whose worldview was shaped by war and occupation," Burge says. Among his spectacular terror exploits was the murder of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Munich Olympics

After being driven out of Lebanon in 1982, Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization eventually returned to Gaza. Officially giving up terrorism, Arafat began negotiating with Israel, and the 1993 Oslo agreement began Palestinian autonomy in Gaza. Arafat became the head of the Palestinian Authority. "But the occupation continues," says Burge. "The war has stopped, but occupation has continued. So, in his mind resistance had continued to be a necessary part of Palestinian life."

Camp David disillusionment

To Jews, Arafat's inability to forsake "resistance" made him the major impediment to peace. "Arafat was never to be trusted in the eyes of most Israelis," says Rabbi Yechiel Z. Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

Eckstein says Arafat created modern Islamic ...

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