The first president of Palestine, Yasser Arafat, passed away on November 11, 2004, at the age of 75, at the Percy Military Hospital, in Paris (capital of France), after a month of illness, presumably due to poisoning for polonium.
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Arafat’s illness began to manifest four hours after he ate food on the night of October 12, 2004, and for the next few weeks he suffered from vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, periods of unconsciousness and weight loss.
The French doctors, without performing an autopsy, assured that Arafat had died of a stroke, caused by a blood condition known as Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation; the diagnosis was questioned by subsequent investigations.
A Swiss toxicological testing institute, suspecting the widow, Suha Arafat, developed tests with samples of the Palestinian leader’s personal effects, in which they discovered high traces of polonium 210, a radioactive and highly toxic compound.
In August 2012, French prosecutors opened a murder investigation in response to Suha’s complaint, and in November of that year, the body was exhumed from its mausoleum in Ramallah in the presence of three international teams of scientists: the Swiss – who had already expressed the need to analyze the remains–, the Frenchman who was part of the judicial investigation and a Russian group.
According to the Swiss team’s report, bone fragments taken from the ribs and pelvis, as well as tissue from the abdominal cavity, showed a “surprisingly high” activity of polonium 210.
“It’s shocking… I remember Yasser wasting away fast in the hospital, and how a lot of questions were expressed in his eyes. Death is a fate in life, it is everyone’s fate, but it is terrible when it is the result of poisoning,” said his wife.
The scientists were cautious in their conclusions: The Swiss admitted that high levels of the radioactive substance “by definition indicate the involvement of a third party”, but said the results only “moderately supported the proposition that death was a consequence of polonium 210 poisoning” and could not show categorically that the hypothesized poisoning was caused by it”.
Meanwhile, the medical expert of the Palestinian team that investigated Arafat’s death, Abdullah Bashir, explained that the Russian investigators did not find “sufficient evidence” to determine “if polonium 210 caused the radiation that led to death”, but affirmed that both the Russian and Palestinian teams determined that Arafat “died not of disease or old age, but of poisonous material.”
The results of the investigation commissioned by the French justice were more strict and ruled out that he died of poison.
However, the British forensic scientist David Barclay, who studied the report on the death of the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize winner, stated: “Based on my decades of experience and the evidence before me, I have no doubt that a lethal dose of Po210 had been administered or had been ingested by Arafat in 2004, which caused his death”.
“A conclusive proof is the fact that the polonium found in Arafat’s exhumed body was 18 times higher than normal,” he said.
Causes of death
“Israel is not involved in any way in the alleged murder. There is not the slightest evidence by which the Palestinians can incriminate us in what happened,” said Jewish Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
The Israeli government, through Palmor, even rejected the Swiss team’s report, arguing that the results are “inconclusive” and “if traces of polonium were found that could indicate poisoning, there is no evidence of how this occurred.” many questions still unanswered”.
Dov Weissglass, an adviser to the Israeli prime minister at the time of the death, Ariel Sharon, also denied that the Israeli prime minister or security services had played any role in the Palestinian leader’s death.
“At the end of 2004, we had no interest in harming him. At that time, Arafat had already been marginalized, and had no control over the lives of Palestinians. There is no logic that can point us as the perpetrators of his death,” he said.
Moreover, the mere existence of Arafat meant a challenge for Israel: identified worldwide as the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people, a survivor of dissimilar attacks, an exponent of a secularism that made it impossible to present him as an Islamic extremist.
Although it cannot be affirmed that the Zionists were responsible for the poisoning, several elements point to their desire to eliminate the man who had become a symbol of the struggle for self-determination.
Seven months before the Palestinian leader’s death, Sharon publicly declared that he was backing away from his promise to US President George W. Bush “not to harm Arafat.”
The Palestinian fighter was then living in the West Bank, surrounded by Israeli troops and frequently bombed by Zionist aircraft; there he had been isolated for three years, accused of sponsoring a wave of deadly attacks by Palestinian militants.
The Israeli journalist Uri Dan, a confidant and collaborator of the then premier, recounted in his book Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait, that he had suggested to the politician that he capture the Palestinian leader and prosecute him in Jerusalem, to which he replied “that he was addressing the problem otherwise”.
For his part, Jewish reporter Danny Rubinstein, author of a book on Arafat, said that in the months leading up to his death, Sharon’s inner circle constantly speculated on the possibility of getting rid of him, killing him or forcing him out of Palestine.
“For me, it was very clear from the beginning. Sharon thought that he had to be expelled or killed, or bomb Arafat’s headquarters, as they did. It was obvious to me that they would find a way to get rid of him,” he detailed.
In 2013, the head of the Palestinian commission in charge of the investigations, Taufik Tirawi, concluded that “Arafat did not die of natural causes, polonium was the cause. The commission considers that Israel is behind his death, however, instrumentalization is a great mystery.”
“It is not important that I say here that they killed him with polonium,” Tirawi said, “but I say, with all the details available about the death of Yasser Arafat, that they killed him and that Israel killed him.”