At 5:30 yesterday morning, when it was still dark out, someone was heard walking around a western Ramallah neighborhood, screaming over and over that the president was dead. It might have been one of the many construction workers in the West Bank neighborhood, several of whom sleep at the construction sites. They come from around the northern West Bank and the Hebron area and return home at the end of the week.
Y., who was awoken by the cries, rushed to turn on the television. She didn't wake her son, as she usually did. Like other parents, she knew that school would be canceled because of the mourning. Nonetheless, several cars filled with children could be seen around 7 A.M.; it was clear their parents didn't listen to the news. Alerted by the empty streets, they soon turned around.
Later on, black flags and pictures of Yasser Arafat decorated some of the cars and taxis that ventured out on the roads. From a neighborhood in western Ramallah, the sound of a muezzin could be heard from one of the mosques. It was impossible to understand the words, but the doleful tone said it all.
Here and there, a group of mourners gathered together, some crying and some shouting slogans in honor of the dead leader. Throughout the day, the groups expanded and multiplied. Police, which had tripled their presence in the city, kept vehicles away from the central square and the entrances to Arafat's Muqata headquarters. Youths burned tires at intersections and no one tried to stop them. Black smoke hung over the city in a few places.
M., who lives near the Muqata, heard a few gunshots and shouts from that direction at around 5:30 A.M. She concluded that this time, the announcement of Arafat's death was official. Like Y., she also received further confirmation from the TV, and she didn't wake her children, either.
The grocery store in M.'s building, like all the stores in the area, didn't open for business yesterday. The vegetable shops were closed, the small kiosks were closed, the food stands were closed. No one needed a formal announcement of days of mourning. Even into the evening, the cafes and restaurants that in the last two years had transformed Ramallah into the Palestinian city that never sleeps - actually a five-star prison - did not open their doors. Only the construction workers continued their labor into the late hours of the morning.
Y. and M. have never been Arafat adherents, but yesterday they felt genuine sadness at his passing. Y. felt bad for an old man who for two weeks was on life-support machines, with conflicting reports about his health. M. was sad both about the man and about the representative of an era who passed away. More than the shouts and fist-waving of the Fatah youth, more than their speeding down the street in cars packed with pictures of Arafat, it was with women like these - who never supported Arafat's Fatah movement - that it was possible to feel the mourning that gradually fell over Ramallah.
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