Saeb Erekat's doctor to 'Post': We went above and beyond

Israeli and world leaders eulogize the chief Palestinian negotiator.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, West Bank January 30, 2019 (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, West Bank January 30, 2019
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat passed away on Tuesday in the Intensive Care Unit of Hadassah-University Medical Center. He was 65.
Erekat had been transferred to the hospital three weeks ago Sunday, on October 18, after suffering for nearly one month from the novel coronavirus. A survivor of a lung transplant, he arrived at the hospital in critical condition from his home in Jericho and was intubated almost immediately.
According to Hadassah, during the course of his hospitalization, he received intensive treatments, including being connected to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) life support machine.
The hospital said his condition did not improve and he passed away from multisystem organ failure.
“He was provided with every treatment available,” said Vernon van Heerden, head of the hospital’s General Intensive Care Unit and the coronavirus unit in which Erekat was treated. “I believe we went above and beyond in our efforts to try to save him.”
Van Heerden said that the hospital had consulted widely with doctors because of the unique combination of a lung transplant and COVID-19, which directly impacts the lungs. He said that the hospital “cannot say it strongly enough: We really tried to save him.
“It is a Hadassah tradition that we treat the patient in front of us without regards to politics or background,” he said. “His politics did not concern us.”
Erekat died a day short of 16 years after former Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat, who passed away in Paris on November 11, 2004.
Upon hearing of Erekat’s death, leaders and activists in Israel and around the world began expressing condolences. Some, however, said the man who supported groups that were widely recognized as terrorist organizations deserved to die.
“The departure of the brother and friend, the great fighter Dr. Saeb Erekat, represents a great loss for Palestine and our people,” said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. “We feel deeply saddened by his loss, especially in light of these difficult circumstances facing the Palestinian cause.
“Palestine today lacks this patriotic leader and great fighter who played a major role in raising the banner of Palestine high and defending the rights of our people and their national constants, in all international forums,” Abbas added.
The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) eulogized Erekat as “a tough and stubborn fighter defending the rights of our people and their national cause,” adding that he held a leadership role “in the march of the contemporary Palestinian revolution and within the framework of the PLO through his keenness to embody and strengthen Palestinian national unity, his adherence to the fundamentals of our people and their relentless struggle until freedom and independence, the right to self-determination, the right of return and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.”
The Fatah movement eulogized Erekat as “a free, honorable and daring fighter, who was an example of sacrifice and generosity.”
Labor Party leader and Economy Minister Amir Peretz was one of the first Israeli politicians to respond to the news, saying “Erekat will be remembered as a man who believed in the process and accompanied the negotiations with Israel for many years, preferring peace to violence. My condolences to his family and to the Palestinian people.”
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh said on Twitter that “Saeb will not get to see his people freed from the shackles of occupation, but generations of Palestinians will still remember him as one of the giants who dedicated his life for their independence.”
Israel’s former chief negotiator and justice minister, Tzipi Livni, who worked closely with Erekat in 2014, said she, too was saddened by his death.
“Saeb dedicated his life to his people,” she tweeted. “‘Reaching peace is my destiny,’ he used to say.”
She wrote that while Erekat was ill he texted her that, “I’m not finished with what I was born to do.”
Arab and left-wing Knesset members also responded, such as Meretz Party leader Nitzan Horowitz. He called Erekat “a statesman” and a “man of peace.”
“Dr. Erekat has always preferred the way of dialogue over violence and turned the vision of two states into the project of his life,” Horowitz said, “I got to know him over a number of years. We argued a lot, but despite his frustration with the situation, he never abandoned his adherence to the two-state solution, Israel and Palestine.”
Former Israeli politician Yossi Beilin and other members of the Geneva Initiative, an organization that promotes a two-state agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a 2003 draft of such an agreement reached by former senior officials on both sides, also eulogized Erekat: “Saeb believed in the discourse, had never been involved in violence, and even sought to establish his state alongside the State of Israel, in the spirit of the Geneva Initiative. He educated his children in peace and made sure to send them to summer camps with Israeli children.”
Beilin added that “it was not always easy to hear his views, but he was always attentive to hear other opinions. In recent years, he felt despair from the Israeli leadership, but did not lose hope for change. For him, the change will come too late.”
In contrast, the head of the far-right Lehava organization, Rabbi Bentzi Gopstein, expressed joy at the Palestinian leader’s passing.
“It is good to start the day with a message about the demise of a terrorist who financed and supported the murder of Jews over the years,” Gopstein said in a statement. He quoted scriptures – “rejoice in the loss of the wicked” – and said that “similar news is soon to be expected about Abu Mazen and all of Israel’s enemies.”
MK Rafi Peretz tweeted, “If only those who now mourn Erekat would mourn the same for the murdered of the Oslo Accords ...”
Earlier this month, The Jerusalem Post asked Prof. Sigal Sviri, director of one of the hospital’s medical intensive care units and its largest coronavirus intensive care unit, how she felt about the hospital treating Erekat.
Hundreds had expressed outrage on social media that Hadassah would take the Palestinian leader in for treatment. But Sviri, who witnessed firsthand a protest, attended by dozens, held last month outside Hadassah against providing treatment, spoke similarly to Van Heerden: “Every person is a person, every human being is a human being, and if they are transferred to our care, they will get the best care.”
Former head of the political bureau of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, and current head of the bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, called Abbas to express condolences on Erekat’s passing. Likewise, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani, also called Abbas.
“The Palestinian cause and the entire Arab world have lost a steadfast and unshakable fighter, whose cause and goals are clear and legitimate, who spent his life defending it through various diplomatic and negotiation means, striving relentlessly to restore the rights of the Palestinian people, despite all the obstacles and difficult circumstances that the Palestinian cause has been subjected to over the decades,” the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Because of the time difference, few American leaders reacted immediately but former US envoy Jason Greenblatt sent his condolences to the leader’s family.
“Saeb & I were worlds apart in our views of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s history & how to resolve it. But he tried hard to represent his people,” tweeted Greenblatt. “Wishing his family much comfort /strength during this difficult time.”