Fans flock to Harry Potter’s grave in Israel & Coming soon: Arafat-Park

February 02, 2005

* New position created by the Palestinian Authority: "Executive Director of the National Committee for Immortalizing the Symbol of the Immortal Leader Yasser Arafat"

* "Some 5 million pieces of Araphernalia have been preserved for future historians"


WILD ABOUT HARRY

[Note by Tom Gross]

Because many pieces sent on this list are highly serious and sometimes depressing, I try and occasionally send lighter material when available. The first of the two items on this dispatch probably qualifies.

Contents of this dispatch:

1. "Tourists flock to Harry Potter's grave in Israel" (AFP, Jan. 25, 2005)
2. "Coming soon: Arafat deification 'theme park'" (Toronto Star, Jan. 30, 2005)

 

TOURISTS FLOCK TO HARRY POTTER’S GRAVE IN ISRAEL

The first piece below is from AFP (the French news agency), and the version attached here was carried on "The Mail and Guardian," Africa's first online newspaper.

AFP reports that tourists and fans of literary boy wizard Harry Potter are flocking to Harry Potter's grave. The tomb in question belongs to Corporal Harry Potter, a 19-year-old British soldier who is buried in a cemetery close to Tel Aviv. Potter was killed 66 years ago during fighting in the town of Hebron. (Hebron is in the West Bank, and now has a largely Palestinian Arab population, but historically it had a sizeable Jewish population, until many were killed or driven out.)

Potter is buried in Ramle, south of Tel Aviv. The Ramle local council has recently added the grave to the official tourist guide.

Harry Potter books are very popular in Israel, as elsewhere.

-- Tom Gross

 

ARAFAT DEIFICATION CENTER COMING SOON

The Toronto Star reports on Sakher Habash, who has the following Stalin/Saddam Hussein-type title:

He is "Executive Director of the National Committee for Immortalizing the Symbol of the Immortal Leader Yasser Arafat."

He heads a 50-person committee charged with turning Yasser Arafat's former Mukata compound headquarters, into a kind of Arafat glorification theme park, reminiscent of those built elsewhere for Communist leaders in years passed. Arafat's Mukata compound was until recently used to shelter the dispatchers and planners of suicide bombers that killed many civilians in Israel.

I attach the article below, with a summary first for those who don't have time to read it in full.

-- Tom Gross

 

SUMMARY OF ARAFAT “THEME PARK” ARTICLE

Mitch Potter, Jerusalem correspondent for the Toronto Star, writes:

"Like a perpetual memory machine, the tomb of Yasser Arafat grows more elaborate with each passing day. Just 11 weeks ago, as Arafat lay dying in a hospital bed outside Paris, this bare-dirt corner of the iconic Palestinian leader's debris-strewn Mukata headquarters was one of the most blighted sights in the entire West Bank.

Today, a national shrine is rising from the rubble, replete with landscaped gardens, newly transplanted mature olive trees and Palestinian flags framing a steel-and-glass burial chamber whose doors open toward the holy city of Mecca.

With all eyes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focused on the prospects of a long-overdue ceasefire, the high-speed deification of Arafat's wreath-strewn gravesite has passed almost unnoticed. But it is nonetheless fascinating to watch the almost daily adornments accrue.

... Sakher Habash, who has been at Arafat's side since their days of exile in Beirut in the 1980s, admits to being something of a packrat. From reel-to-reel tapes of early Palestinian Liberation Organization meetings to the tiniest scraps of paper initialed by Arafat, he calculates some 5 million pieces of Araphernalia have been preserved for future historians.

... Inside his tomb today, the latest adornment to Arafat's memory includes a 24-hour posting of three guardsmen, comprised of volunteers drawn from his elite Presidential Guard. They rotate in shifts at the top of each hour with all the formality attendant at Buckingham Palace..."



FULL ARTICLES

TOURISTS FLOCK TO HARRY POTTER’S GRAVE

Tourists flock to Harry Potter's grave
AFP (Agence France Presse)
January 25, 2005

www.mg.co.za/articlePage.aspx?articleid=196114&area=/breaking_news/other_news/

Fans of literary boy wizard Harry Potter have been beating a path to the tomb of a 19-year-old British soldier who is buried in a cemetery close to Tel Aviv, the Maariv daily reported.

Corporal Harry Potter, a member of the Royal Worcestershire regiment, was killed 66 years ago during fighting in the southern West Bank town of Hebron and was subsequently laid to rest in a cemetery in the town of Ramle.

"Every day, tourists and visitors come wanting to see Harry's grave," the cemetery's custodian, Ibrahim Huri, told the paper.

"At first I didn't know why they were interested in this grave, but then I was told there were books and movies about him."

The local council has recently added the grave to the official tourist guide.

"There is great interest and curiosity over Harry's grave," Ramle deputy mayor said. "We want to make an historical investigation into the soldier killed in Hebron when he was only 19."

 

ARAFAT’S TOMB A SHRINE IN MUKATA

Arafat’s tomb a shrine in Mukata
By Mitch Potter
The Toronto Star
January 30, 2005

The adornments accrue daily at what could become a Yasser Arafat theme park in the Palestinian leader's Ramallah compound, Writes Mitch Potter, Middle East Bureau

Like a perpetual memory machine, the tomb of Yasser Arafat grows more elaborate with each passing day.

Just 11 weeks ago, as Arafat lay dying in a hospital bed outside Paris, this bare-dirt corner of the iconic Palestinian leader's debris-strewn Mukata headquarters was one of the most blighted sights in the entire West Bank.

Today, a national shrine is rising from the rubble, replete with landscaped gardens, newly transplanted mature olive trees and Palestinian flags framing a steel-and-glass burial chamber whose doors open toward the holy city of Mecca.

With all eyes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict focused on the prospects of a long-overdue ceasefire, the high-speed deification of Arafat's wreath-strewn gravesite has passed almost unnoticed. But it is nonetheless fascinating to watch the almost daily adornments accrue.

However much Palestinians promise that, in the fullness of time, Arafat will make one last journey to be reburied in his beloved Jerusalem, the embellishments underway at this supposedly temporary gravesite come with a sense of permanence.

Palestinian political insiders admit there was scant little time to plan when it became apparent Arafat would not be coming home alive from his emergency airlift to France in November.

Just five days before his death on Nov. 11, Arafat's inner circle of advisers and loyalists huddled in a Ramallah office to confront for the first time what they were not yet ready to tell the world that their leader, the man they called the rais, was finished.

"We had to talk about burial, but nobody wanted to have this conversation," remembers Sakher Habash, 67, a member of the central committee of Arafat's Fatah movement and its recognized chief ideologue.

"But we forced ourselves to discuss it. When we finally decided on the Mukata as a temporary burial site, we had to do everything in 24 hours.

"It was as if a bridegroom were coming. We had to race against the clock."

Habash mobilized 300 Palestinian flags he had been saving for a rainy day and Arafat's Mukata staff worked through the night, sweeping up and trucking away the detritus of more than four years of intifada.

Fresh topsoil was heaped into a burial mound, upon which a crew of Palestinian masons scrambled to lay a platform of black Italian marble, bordered with hand-cut blocks of limestone.

They made the deadline, but only just.

The next afternoon, as tens of thousands of Palestinians turned in frenzy toward the sound of the Egyptian military helicopter arriving with Arafat's body, work crews were still on their hands and knees, frantically preparing a strip of red carpet for a last-minute touch of regalia.

Habash says those initial efforts were entirely organic. Nobody had time to craft a master plan. It just happened.

"Everyone had an idea. Everything just fell into place."

What has happened since is anything but accidental. Habash is now executive director of the National Committee for Immortalizing the Symbol of the Immortal Leader Yasser Arafat.

The astonishingly fanciful title means he oversees a 50-person committee charged with reinventing the Mukata compound as a kind of Arafat theme park.

What exists today, he says, is just the beginning. Plans are being hatched for a mosque, a library and a national archive on the grounds of this former British police headquarters.

The partially destroyed apartment complex nearby, where Arafat spent his final three years, has been under 24-hour guard since the former leader's death.

Habash's committee is viewing it as a future museum.

Habash, who has been at Arafat's side since their days of exile in Beirut in the 1980s, admits to being something of a packrat.

From reel-to-reel tapes of early Palestinian Liberation Organization meetings to the tiniest scraps of paper initialled by Arafat, he calculates some 5 million pieces of Araphernalia have been preserved for future historians.

"Even those (Palestinians) who didn't like Arafat feel that they have lost something very important," says Habash.

"What we want to do is turn the Mukata into the permanent symbol of the Palestinian people a symbol that will be as great as the symbol of George Washington."

National symbols are no less important to neighbouring Israel.

Yet none of the tombs of that nation's founding fathers from Theodore Hertz to David Ben Gurion to Yitzhak Rabin can be described as anything but modest, compared with the shrine evolving around Arafat.

"That is one big different between our cultures," notes professor Yehuda Gradus, director of the Ben Gurion Institute and overseer of the former prime minister's gravesite in Israel's southern Negev desert.

"Arafat to them was almost like a ghost. He was built into this enormous figure, which is a very common phenomenon throughout the Third World.

"It doesn't surprise me at all that there will be such a spectacular site."

Gradus says the Israeli inclination is to construct national memories focusing less on its leaders and more on the ideas they represented.

Consequently, while Ben Gurion lies in a rather ordinary grave, Israel has invested heavily in the nearby Ben Gurion Institute for Desert Research, where some 85 scientists live and work to this day, advancing the former leader's trailblazing ideas about reclaiming the desert as a habitat for humanity.

"Ben Gurion was a very modest man," says Gradus. "And so he has a modest grave.

"But he also was a visionary. He believed that by leading the world in this field, Israel would be a light unto other nations, achieving scientific advancements and exporting this knowledge of desert development for the benefit of all."

Such separation of man and motive appears unlikely to ever apply to Arafat.

Even his most articulate Palestinian critics admit to conflicting emotions. Those who revile him for flawed leadership are still able to embrace him as a symbol of national struggle.

Inside his tomb today, the latest adornment to Arafat's memory includes a 24-hour posting of three guardsmen, comprised of volunteers drawn from his elite Presidential Guard.

They rotate in shifts at the top of each hour with all the formality attendant at Buckingham Palace.

"We were given the choice to guard the tomb or work elsewhere," explains Abu Laith, 22, a fresh-faced guardsman from Bethlehem who says Arafat used to address him as "my son" in his daily ritual of reviewing the Mukata troops.

"We asked to be here," Laith continues. "I feel this is part of my legacy, to stand inside the tomb. It comforts us to be this close."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.