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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 March 2019

Gazan anger at Qatari plans to build envoy’s house on national monument for Yasser Arafat

Dr Mohamed Al Emadi’s new villa will lie on revered leader’s old office and helipad

Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza, Mohammed Al Emadi, has signed off on a $630,000 project to build on the former compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. AFP
Qatar’s ambassador to Gaza, Mohammed Al Emadi, has signed off on a $630,000 project to build on the former compound of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. AFP

Qatar’s ambassador to Palestine, Dr Mohammed Al Emadi, yesterday signed a $1.7 million (Dh6.2m) contract for the construction of three new projects in Gaza.

Of the total, $630,000 was allocated to the first phase of building the external walls and foundations of a controversial project that Qatar shelved two years ago when it prompted public outrage.

In 2017, Qatar announced its intention to build a new headquarters for its Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza and a villa residence for its envoy to Palestine.

The only problem was that the foundation stone for the project was on a landmark that has great sentimental value among Palestinians – Al Ansar Military Compound, which housed the Gaza office of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In 2001, Israel bombed the site’s helipad while Arafat was besieged in Ramallah. But years after Arafat’s death in 2004, the site was renovated, as was the helicopter he used to travel around the region. The site has been turned into training venue for the Palestinian security forces and a national monument.

Amid denials from the local Hamas authorities of selling the land to Doha, the initial Qatari announcement about the project stirred enormous resentment and drew criticism from across the political spectrum. Several leading Palestinian political figures asked Qatar to stop the scheme.

Walid Al Awad, a senior member of the Palestinian People’s Party, said that such a step was provocative and illegal since “it bypassed the Palestinian Authority”.

Former PA justice minister Freih Abu Mudian wrote an open letter to Qatar’s emir appealing against the project, and argued that the site has a “symbolic and historic value to the Palestinian people, and this building will cause pain to the hearts and eyes of everyone who’ll pass by it”.

In 2017, exiled Palestinian MP Mohammed Dahlan, called the Qatari project “a clear and explicit breach of all diplomatic norms”.

After a storm of official and public criticism, Qatar halted construction at the site in August 2017.

Yet today, two years after the dispute began, Qatar’s ambassador restarted the project and signed the construction orders for the first phase of the building. This unilateral step reignited anger and concern among Gaza’s public, which fumed at Qatar’s persistence in building the project at the sensitive site.

Several Gazans raised questions about the choice of location for the construction.

“It’s deeply provocative how they merely waited until we forgot about it, and now they resume such meddling with national Palestinian heritage,” Gazan researcher, Ahmed Ali, told The National. “Did Gaza run out of alternative places to build Qatar’s ambassador house?”

Others emphasised the value Al Ansar holds for them and the significance of replacing it with a residence for Qatar’s envoy.

“Arafat is the founder of Palestinian nationalism and the father of the Palestinian people,” Gazan student Zaid Mahmoud said.

“To build the Qatari envoy’s residence on top of Arafat’s helipad signals that Qatar has successfully established a Hamas entity under its sovereignty in Gaza, instead of preserving the remnants of a Palestinian state. It’s an expression of domination.”

Others said the Qatari project was exploiting impoverished Gazans.

“There’s one clear message out of Qatar’s humiliating persistence to obliterate the last footprints of Arafat in Gaza,” Palestinian political analyst Ali Omer said.

“In return for meagre cash handouts, Qatar can and will do as it pleases, exploiting the needs and wants of the besieged Gazan people.”

Gazan activist Mohammed Hamdon compared Qatar’s actions with Israel’s in 2001.

“Israel tried to destroy all features of Palestinian sovereignty in Gaza, including the president’s helipad. Now does Qatar simply want complete the job and obliterate the last Arafat site permanently?” he said.

The local authorities have not yet disclosed what will become of Arafat’s helicopter once the project begins. But it appears that the anger Doha faced in 2017 is set to reignite.

Updated: March 13, 2019 02:49 PM

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