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Palestinians bid their final goodbyes to Saeb Erekat at mass funeral

Hundreds of mourners gather in Jericho to pay their respects as chief Palestinian negotiator is laid to rest
Palestinian security forces carry the casket of Saeb Erekat into his family home in Jericho (Akram al-Waara/MEE)
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Jericho, Palestine

The family, friends and colleagues of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat laid him to rest on Wednesday afternoon in his hometown of Jericho in the occupied West Bank.

Erekat, 65, passed away on Tuesday afternoon following a month-long battle with a coronavirus infection.

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The longtime Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) official had been hospitalised in Jerusalem and was in critical condition shortly after contracting the virus in October. A recipient of a lung transplant in 2017, and the survivor of a heart attack in 2012, Erekat was a high-risk patient whose condition was closely monitored over the past month. 

Erekat’s funeral procession set off from the Istishari hospital in Ramallah city to the presidential complex, where the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was buried 16 years ago today.

Palestinian Authority (PA) officials, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh, bid their farewell to Erekat and laid a wreath over his coffin as the national anthem played.

In the wake of Erekat’s death, Abbas announced a three-day mourning period across the West Bank and ordered all flags to be flown at half mast.

From Ramallah, Erekat’s body was transported to Jericho, where hundreds of mourners, friends and family awaited his arrival outside his family home. The city’s streets were adorned with Erekat’s pictures and Palestinian flags.

Friend and hero

Fayza Jalaita, 52, a Jericho resident, stood in front of banners honouring the late negotiator, as she cried for her “friend and hero.”

“God is great, Saeb! God is great,” she wailed, “I cannot believe it. I don’t believe he is gone.” 

'Today we did not just lose a great leader for Palestine, but a great friend'
- Fayza Jalaita

As she sunk down onto the steps of the family home, Jalaita told Middle East Eye that Erekat had been a friend to her and her family ever since he moved to Jericho from his birthplace of Abu Dis many years ago.

“He was one of the best and kindest people,” she said. “Whenever my family fell on hard times, he never forgot about me and my children.” 

Jalaita told MEE that Erekat had helped her family when her son was imprisoned by the Israelis, and assisted her once when she fell ill and needed to be hospitalised. 

“I don’t know who will be here to help me anymore,” she said.

“Today we did not just lose a great leader for Palestine, but a great friend. All I can do is pray for him and wish him peace and light in his grave.”

Wasef Erekat, 74, a cousin of Erekat and longtime colleague in the Fatah movement and the PLO, told MEE that the massive crowd, which included strangers, neighbours and Palestinians from across Jericho and the West Bank, was a testament to Erekat’s influence and “idol status” in Palestinian society.

“Saeb dedicated his life to spreading a message of peace on behalf of Palestinians and the Palestinian cause to the world,” Wasef said. “He believed Palestine was our homeland, and one day it will return to us, and we will have our independence with Jerusalem as our capital.” 

Saeb Erekat funeral
A young boy sits next to a banner honouring Saeb Erekat outside his home (Akram al-Waara/MEE)

While Erekat’s status as a member of the Palestinian political elite and one of the architects of the failed Oslo Accords has divided the Palestinian public over his legacy, Erekat’s family said they hoped he will be remembered for dedicating his life to the cause. 

“Saeb wanted the issue of Palestine to reach every household in the world, and become an international issue, and I think he achieved that,” Wasef told MEE.

“I think he would want people, especially the younger generation, to use his memory to motivate them to continue to demand their most essential human rights, and to continue to advocate for peace and liberation for the Palestinian people on their land,” he said.

Final goodbyes 

As the crowd began to swell in the sunny afternoon, with hundreds more men and women pouring into the mourning tent set up in the family’s yard, family members urged well-wishers to wear masks and keep the roads open in preparation for Erekat’s arrival.

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A motorcade of Palestinian police and security vehicles escorted the hearse, along with Erekat’s wife and children, to the entrance of their house. Palestinian security forces then carried his coffin, draped with a Palestinian flag and a keffiyeh, into his home, where family members said their final goodbyes.

As Erekat’s body was carried back out, with his wife and daughters following behind, people began chanting “God is Great” and “may God be with you,” before he was hoisted onto a military truck, adorned with Palestinian and Fatah flags, and large date palm leaves - a tribute to the city of Jericho. 

Hundreds of men, women and children lined the streets of the city waving Palestinian flags and waving goodbye to Erekat’s casket, as he was taken into Jericho’s mosque, where he was laid to rest.

Erekat is survived by his wife Niemeh, twin daughters, Salam and Dalal, and two sons, Ali and Mohammad.