Arafat’s murderers must face justice

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had his faults but they do not detract from the fact that he was a perfect patriot, a man who devoted every waking hour to solving his people’s plight. He put his very life on the line, escaped various assassination attempts and courageously stood up to the US and Israeli pressure to sell the dreams of millions of Palestinians for a viable, contiguous, independent homeland with Jerusalem as its capital.

He was a heroic figure who wanted nothing for himself apart from a bed, a wardrobe, a prayer rug, simple food—and his trademark khaki uniforms. Small in physical stature, he was a lion who towered above those who attempted unsuccessfully to follow in his footsteps. He was the glue that stuck his scattered nation together. He was stubborn. He refused to accept crumbs from Israel’s table—and those are no doubt some of the reasons behind his killing.

He mysteriously died from an “illness,” symptoms of which began to show four hours after he consumed a meal in October 2004. His personal physician initially diagnosed it as “flu.” As soon as his condition visibly worsened medical specialists were flown-in from Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan. All were apparently flummoxed by the downward spiral of an individual whose internal organs were healthy and who wasn’t suffering from any life-threatening disease or chronic illness.

Arafat was in pain and looked like a shadow of his former self when he was flown to the Percy Military Hospital in a suburb of Paris, but he managed a wide smile and a wave to his concerned supporters in Ramallah before boarding a Jordanian army helicopter.

Israeli papers, such as ArutzSheva, took the opportunity to slander the Palestinian icon with claims that he died from HIV Aids; that slur was heartily embraced by his many detractors out to discredit the man and his reputation. Many of his admirers were convinced he’d been poisoned but they were written off as fanciful conspiracy theorists.

Now thanks to the persistence of Al Jazeera and the cooperation of Arafat’s widow, Suha, who handed Al Jazeera’s investigators a trove of her husband’s clothes and belongings worn before he was admitted to hospital, the truth is out. Arafat had, in fact, ingested or had come into contact with a lesser-known toxic substance. The “conspiracy theorists” who suspected this all along have been vindicated.

A Swiss laboratory that tested items of Arafat’s intimate clothing, found levels of plutonium 210—the same radioactive substance that killed the Russian dissident Alexander Litvienko in November 2006—some 18 times higher than expected.

Arafat’s body was exhumed in 2012 and three teams of scientists from Switzerland, Russia and France were charged with examining 20 samples of his remains.

Strangely, a year later, despite several written requests from the Palestinian Authority, the French team has yet to provide its report. Stranger still, the Russian scientists were instructed to study just four samples and, according to Al Jazeera, were told to come up with vague, inconclusive results, allegedly to avoid treading on Israel’s toes. That report does find that Arafat was, indeed, poisoned but refrains from pointing the finger at polonium 210, which, aside the type which naturally produced during the decay of uranium 238 and exists in small quantities in the earth’s crust, can only be derived from states with nuclear facilities. The Swiss findings were unequivocal. Arafat was poisoned with polonium 210. A tearful Suha Arafat said, “We are mourning Yasser all over again,” adding, “Words can’t express my deep sorrow and the sorrow of my daughter, but mostly the anger—we are so angry. It’s a political crime, a political assassination.”

There are various indications that there’s been an international cover-up. For instance, Arafat’s French-issued death certificate reads that he died of a heart attack. Moreover, samples of his bodily fluids retained by Percy Military Hospital were destroyed when it is a usual practice to retain them for 10 years. Mrs. Arafat was puzzled, asking, “Why did they destroy a part of the medical file? Arafat was a head of state, he wasn’t just any old patient.”

Al Jazeera reporters attempted to discuss Arafat’s conditions with various Egyptian, Tunisian and Jordanian doctors who were sent to Ramallah to diagnose Arafat’s condition, but in almost all cases, were met with a brick wall. At least one said he just wanted to move on with his life; another said he had been ordered by authorities to keep silent.

Suha Arafat is determined to get to the truth. Who killed Yasser Arafat? Last year, she and her 17-year-old daughter Zahwa filed a case with a French court accusing a person or persons unknown of Arafat’s premeditated murder. The Palestinian Authority has accused Israel of being behind “the crime of the 21st century,” an accusation the Israeli government denies. It can be argued that Israel is the logical culprit; after all, Israel bombed Arafat’s Ramallah compound on several occasions and Israel’s former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was quoted as saying he wanted the Palestinian leader dead.

The Palestinian Authority should apply for membership of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, which is its right now that Palestine is a UN non-member Observer State. But even if the case is accepted by the ICC, the truth may remain elusive without the cooperation of the US and Israel, countries that have declined to ratify the court’s jurisdiction.

Perhaps Palestinian investigators could begin with interrogating whoever it was in their camp who cooked-up a meal that proved to be fatal. Was there a traitor in the house?

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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