Who Killed Yasser
By Ghada Karmi
12 November, 2004
one knows what killed Yasser Arafat. Rumours are circulating that Israel
poisoned him. The evidence is entirely circumstantial and probably no
more than fantasy though, when dealing with Israel, nothing can ever
be ruled out. In line with its notorious, longstanding policy to assassinate
Palestinian leaders, Israel has repeatedly threatened to kill Arafat.
The Financial Times of 6 November reported Palestinian officials had
suggested the possibility of poisoning, a view later reiterated by the
Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei. There were unconfirmed reports
that the cooks in Arafat's compound had been questioned. The lack of
a diagnosis by the French medical team treating President Arafat is
a key factor in fuelling such speculation. In cases like this, as my
medical colleagues and I know, a working hypothesis and some detail
of symptoms and investigations are usual. But brief, uninformative medical
bulletins about his condition since he arrived in Paris are all we have
been offered. Why the mystery?
The Jerusalem Post
reported on 4 November that Uri Dan, a close confidant of Ariel Sharon,
has stated that the latter had "eliminated" Yasser Arafat
"through his cooks". On 2 November, when Arafat was said to
be ill, Israeli intelligence sources announced he had days or maybe
weeks to live. Did they know something that no one else did? Internet
sources now report that Arafat's French doctors sent samples of his
blood for poison testing -- to US laboratories, according to Al-Quds
Al-Arabi of 8 November. At the same time the Nicaraguan leader, Daniel
Ortega, announced his belief that Israel had poisoned President Arafat.
No wonder, then,
that Palestinians fear their leader has become the latest Israeli assassination
victim. If true it would be tragic to think he might have been saved
with the right antidote. The Hamas leader, Khaled Mashaal, poisoned
by Israel in Amman in 1997, was saved because Jordan forced Netanyahu
to provide the antidote. Medically speaking, we know that a doctor would
have to first suspect a case of poisoning before testing for it and
then administering the antidote. It is not a diagnosis that is obvious
and, if the French doctors never thought of it, or realised too late,
they would not test for it in time and hence be unable to treat it.
The case of Napoleon, when the British had him imprisoned on the island
of St Helena, comes to mind. He too died allegedly of a "stomach
ailment", though suspicions soon grew that he had been poisoned
after becoming an encumbrance to his British captors. Arafat, who obstinately
refuses to disappear physically or politically, had also become an obstacle
to Sharon's plans for Palestine. Bush and Sharon allegedly warned him
he must accept Sharon's Gaza plan by the end of October or else "he
If Sharon did kill
Yasser Arafat, either by poisoning or by holding him in unhealthy conditions,
then he would be no more than the instrument of murder. The real murderers
are the rest of us: those who joined in his denigration; the chancers
and opportunists, impatient to take his place; those who willfully forgot
or never understood his unique contribution to the national struggle;
the fickle, who deserted him as soon as they smelled defeat; those who
unwittingly bought into the US/Israeli agenda and all those who stood
by and watched his humiliation and did nothing. Ever since Israel instigated
its ferocious campaign of demonisation, seeking to make Arafat simultaneously
irrelevant and also responsible for Palestinian "terrorism"
and the failure of the peace process, his constant denigration has had
an effect, and not just in the West. His humiliating imprisonment, suffered
by no other democratically elected leader should have generated relentless
demands for his release. Instead it became acceptable, and his colleagues
acquiesced without protest in setting Arafat aside in favour of an unelected
Palestinian prime minister.
The fiction that
he is the real obstacle to peace and reform was repeated in those Palestinian
circles that now focus everyone's attention on the internal Palestinian
situation, rather than the pernicious effects of military occupation
-- exactly in line with Israeli/Western expectations. Never before has
an occupied people been required to "reform" itself while
the occupation continues. Now that Arafat's exit from the field of battle
is imminent, there is talk of a new opportunity for peace, as if he
had been the problem all along. In short, Arafat-bashing has become
a fashion -- not just amongst Palestine's traditional enemies but also
amongst its supposed friends. Arab rulers no longer feel obliged to
extend the usual diplomatic courtesies to the Palestinian leader. Numerous
Palestinian critics hold him responsible for a list of errors and failings,
both his and everyone else's. He is the whipping boy for all those with
a grievance, no matter what the real cause. The incompetent find relief
in blaming him for their own failures. If he goes they will miss him
more than those who loved him.
It is not that Yasser
Arafat has no faults or that they should be overlooked. A people should
be critical of its leadership and demand reform. But such considerations
must not be allowed to overshadow Israel's subversive role or rob Arafat
of his unique and rightful place in Palestinian history. He put the
Palestinian cause on the world stage when it had been relegated to history.
He brought together a dispersed, fragmented people, 60 per cent of them
in exile, and imbued them with a sense of belonging in the absence of
a homeland. In today's desperate Palestinian situation of military occupation,
dwindling territory and fragmentation, he alone symbolises unity and
the negation of the Palestinian dissolution Israel so vigorously pursues.
Ironically enough, Sharon understands this better than many of the "modernising"
Palestinians, hence his desire to demolish Arafat as a symbol of Palestinian
Until now Israel's
sleight of hand -- statehood without sovereign territory -- has worked.
The Palestinians under occupation really believe they have a state in
the making, while still under occupation. This mistake has resulted
in making the Palestinian Authority the scapegoat for Israel's attacks
and created the pernicious idea of equivalence between the PA and Israel
in power and responsibility. The spell broke when Arafat refused to
surrender Jerusalem and the right of return and Israel dubbed him an
"obstacle to peace", to be replaced with a more pliant leader.
faults this is no time to rehearse them or fight over his succession.
It is time to grieve the loss of a man who deserved a more fitting end,
and to pay homage to one of the last of the great world leaders, a life-long
patriot and fighter for the Palestinians, who gave them status in the
world and a stake in their own future.
* The writer is
a London-based Palestinian physician, academic and political commentator.