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Arafat's Mausoleum - More than meets the eye

Updated: Dec 30, 2018

Arafat's Mausoleum includes his tomb, a museum and a mosque. The first impression is of a bright, simple yet impressive complex for someone that many Palestinians clearly value highly. Politics aside, it was fascinating to visit the complex in the early morning and to be the only visitors in sight.

We were trailed by an army officer- for security reasons - which seemed a bit pointless at first as we were only wearing gym gear and had nothing else with us. However this young man turned out to be the best tour guide we could have imagined, as he explained to us the ideas behind the construction of the complex. He would have told us more but 20 minutes into the visit he received a call from his colleague to wrap things up with us.

So what did he tell us?

First of all, the number of metres leading up to the tomb count 75 - one for each year of Arafat's life. The structure in which his tomb lies is a cube of 11m x 11m, representing the date on which he died, 11th November 2004.

It is so eery to look at the tomb, especially when considering that Swiss investigators opened it in 2012 to undertake further tests to determine the reason for his death (apparently he was poisoned). There is also a poignant reminder of Israel's illegal settlements, which you can see through one of the (slightly dirty) windows.

The 11m x 11m tomb is surrounded by a slightly tacky wading pool, with bright blue tiles similar to those used in a swimming pool. The reason for this is to signify that the tomb is moving forwards, towards Jerusalem, which is where Arafat hoped to be buried at some point. As such, the current complex is seen as only temporary.

In fact the entire complex faces Jerusalem, and at night a laser shines a blue light from the minaret towards Jerusalem.

Some other things that we would have definitely overlooked without the guide are the three flags outside the mausoleum. They signify the number of funerals that Arafat has had so far - in France, Egypt and Palestine.

Some arrangements of trees and shrubs on the complex also signify important dates. Here the date is the 5th March 2002, the day that Arafat's compound was put under siege during the second intifada.

For me, however, the most striking part were the pillars surrounding the mosque. We were told that each of these pillars represented a Palestinian village between the Arafat's tomb and Jerusalem.