Former Palestinian Foreign Minister Nasser al-Qidwa told Al-Jazeera, here, that the reason there had been no autopsy on Yasser Arafat is “because the Palestinian people would have seen with their own eyes a huge betrayal, and a big crime committed against them – the crime of killing their own leader.”
From the very beginning, al-Qidwa said [to me + to others] that he believed his uncle, Yasser Arafat, had been poisoned.
He said it again in Al-Jazeera’s latest investigative documentary on Arafat’s death, “Killing Arafat”, aired on November 10: “There was clear evidence that this was a case of assassination, that Yasser Arafat was actually killed by, by poison”.
It became clear relatively quickly at the Muqata in Ramallah in October 2004 that Arafat had more than a bad case of the flu.
Saeb Erekat, perennial Palestinian chief negotiator, told Al-Jazeera that during Arafat’s final days at Percy Military Hospital outside Paris, he received a phone call from Nasser al-Qidwa, who was at the hospital. Al-Qidwa, Erekat said, asked him “to tell the Americans to ask the Israelis for the antidote.” No further information was given about what the Americans may have said or done – but no antidote seems to have been produced. Arafat died on 11 November 2004.
Over a year ago, Al-Jazeera’s documentary, “What Killed Arafat?”, which aired on 4 July 2012, reported stunning findings from a Swiss lab which indicated possible Polonium-210 poisoning.
This news was a jolt to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, though they had already survived, nearly unscathed, Al-Jazeera’s January 2011 “Palestine Papers”, here, a special series of reports based on documents leaked from Ramallah offices that revealed embarrassing details about Palestinian negotiating conduct during direct talks with Israel. Clayton Swisher, now Al-Jazeera’s Investigative Journalism Manager, worked on the “Palestine Papers”. He then worked – in close collaboration with Arafat’s widow, Suha [who’s lived abroad, with her daughter, for years] – on the two documentaries investigating Arafat’s final illness and death.
Some in the Palestinian leadership believed Al-Jazeera was out to get them.
There were subliminal messages: In “What Killed Arafat?”, Swisher states that at the time of Arafat’s death, “Regime change is exactly what Washington + Tel Aviv had in mind”. This is superimposed over archival footage of Mahmoud Abbas speaking about democracy to the PA’s Legislative Council [PLC].
That documentary also included the archival audio of Suha Arafat calling Al-Jazeera from the hospital in France in 2004 and saying, live on air, in a strident tone: “Let the honest Palestinian people know that a bunch of those who want to inherit are coming to Paris. You have to realize the size of the conspiracy. I tell you, they are trying to bury Abu Ammar alive”. This audio is superimposed over footage of Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmad Qurei’a, and Sa’eb Erekat being received soon afterwards at the Elysees Palace by France’s then-President Jacques Chirac.
Nevertheless, within hours of the broadcast, Mahmoud Abbas ordered Palestinian cooperation with any investigation. By contrast, Abbas reportedly opposed an autopsy at the time of Arafat’s death – reportedly, “to avoid any problem with the French authorities”…
Nabil Shaath said in “Killing Arafat” that “the French did not really encourage an autopsy”…
Suha had also reportedly opposed an autopsy, but she denied it adamantly again, in “Killing Arafat”. She has told Al-Jazeera that she simply was overcome and in shock, and did not even think of it. She then told Le Figaro, in August 2012, that it would have been “dangerous” to bring up poisoning right after Arafat’s death.
However, according to an account written by two Israeli journalists in 2005, Suha refused doing a liver biopsy in a French hospital four days before his death. Neither she nor her daughter returned to Ramallah for the burial in the Muqata’a, which was a chaotic scene. Arafat’s body was returned to Ramallah by Egyptian helicopter in a sealed coffin on 12 November 2004, and buried in the midst of a churning crowd inside the Muqata’a. However, according to a lengthy report by Suzanne Goldenberg, published here on 16 December 2004 by The Guardian newspaper, Sheikh Taissir Tamimi, then the chief Palestinian religious official, had been upset by the non-observance of tradition during the burial, and supervised the exhumation of Arafat’s body at 2 am. The body, according to this account, was removed from the sealed coffin, and reburied in a shroud. Tamimi told The Guardian: “We broke the cement and the stones, and we took the coffin out. I saw him, touched him and prayed over him, and I was able to bury him properly”. Then, the story added, “guards returned the body to its place, a cement container that was built to line and preserve the gravesite in the hope that one day Arafat would be borne to Jerusalem following the creation of a Palestinian state”.
In any case, although poisoning was suspected, there was apparently no effort, even at the time of Arafat’s burial in Ramallah, to take samples from his hair or fingernails for later testing.
Swisher just reported, in “Killing Arafat,” that the decision not to do an autopsy was taken by the “Palestinian leadership.”
After the broadcast of “What Killed Arafat?” in July 2012, the Palestinian investigation is now more closely run by Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas’ term as President of the Oslo-Accords-created Palestinian Authority has arguably expired [after Arafat’s death, he was elected to a four-year term in January 2005, which was then extended for another year, until January 2010, to allow for simultaneous balloting on a new Palestine Legislative Council, but the Fatah-Hamas rift has justified indefinite extension]. Abbas continues to hold office until new elections which he himself must call — he has already been ruling by Executive Decree under emergency powers since mid-2007. Meanwhile, like Arafat, Abbas has consolidated all three reins of Palestinian political power, including the leadership of Fateh, the largest Palestinian political movement, as well as the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization [the position which carries with it the title he assumed last year, when he signed the application for UN membership: President of the State of Palestine]…
Meanwhile, Swisher became subject to conspicuous surveillance during working visits to Ramallah, was insulted and treated with disdain by Palestinian security personnel [all shown, in “Killing Arafat”]. The antagonism between Swisher and the Palestinian leadership has only increased.
Swisher has Tweeted this telling result from an Al-Jazeera Arabic opinion poll:
Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 13 Nov — In a poll commissioned by @kasimf viewers were asked “Do you think the PA wants to find who killed #Arafat. Of 10,438 polled, 93% answer NO.
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