As Israel tries to cope with the fallout from the sadistic murder of a young Palestinian, there is an allegedly unlawful killing threatening to cause it even greater problems. France has effectively re-opened the investigation into the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, arguably the most internationally famous Palestinian of the last few decades, and a Nobel Prize winning peace maker.
When asked in public if they had wanted Arafat killed, powerful Israelis nowadays insist they did not. They concede that the late president of the Palestinian Authority was an ‘obstacle’ to peace on their own terms but, even in the notoriously violent arena of Middle East realpolitik, murders are not considered a sensible strategy. They invariably lead to more violence, as the Intifada threatened by the lethal burning of Mohammed Abu Khdeir shows. The 17-year-old from East Jerusalem was first kidnapped as part of a suspected revenge attack for the killings of three Israeli youths by unknown criminals.
The State of Israel pays huge amounts of money to public relations experts, but knows that its international image is currently being torn to pieces by the Khdeir atrocity. There is also compelling video evidence that the dead teenager’s 15-year-old cousin, Tariq Abu Khdeir, was severely beaten by Israeli security forces before being arrested following Mohammed’s death, to the point that he was unconscious at one stage. Tariq happens to be a US citizen – a factor which is ensuring maximum publicity for both outrages.
Tel Aviv communications advisors will have even more work to do now that France – the country where Arafat died – responds to Swiss evidence that he was also killed unlawfully, and indeed suffered a horrendously painful death.
Right up until a few months before his demise, the 75-year-old was still passionately engaged in the process of ending the war between Palestinians and Israelis through diplomacy. But what has always been certain is that the late Ariel Sharon, Israel’s notoriously pugilistic Prime Minister whose implication in war crimes saw him nicknamed the ‘Butcher of Beirut’, wanted him out of the way. Shaul Mofaz, then the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) chief, infamously said of Arafat in 2003: ‘I believe that he needs to disappear from the stage of history.’
These words currently sound ominously prescient. Not only did Arafat die a few months later, but Suha Arafat, his widow, is now convinced that he was killed with radioactive polonium – a near undetectable poison which would only have been available to a few highly sophisticated security states, including Israel.
Swiss experts, centred on a team from Lausanne University Hospital’s Institute of Radiation Physics who opened Arafat’s tomb in the West Bank city of Ramallah in November 2012 and examined samples from his body, concur. The French now want to use this research to review Arafat’s cause of death.
Like all high-profile politicians, Arafat had many enemies, but he was effectively under the control of the Israelis in his Ramallah Muqataa headquarters for his last two-and-a-half years. He was pronounced dead on 11 November 2004, after being flown to Paris, and French doctors initially said he suffered a massive stroke.
But in 2009 Bassam Abu Sharif, a former advisor to Arafat, alleged that Mossad, the Israeli secret service, had in fact poisoned the former Palestine Liberation Organisation leader, with the help of the Israeli army. He said that the IDF held the driver of a Palestinian ambulance containing Arafat’s medication for 30 minutes, allowing them to replace the medicine with poison.
The Swiss found traces of polonium on Arafat’s clothing and body. The French judges, who have been looking into the case since August 2012, are now seeking the origin of radioactivity in Arafat’s tomb. When his body was exhumed, the levels of Polonium 210 in his bones were 20 times more than those of others in the cemetery. Arafat’s scalp was up to 33 times more radioactive than his shroud, while the earth under his abdomen was 17 times more contaminated than soil around it.
Polonium 210 is a highly toxic radioactive substance that can be administered without anybody knowing. It was used to kill the Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. Just before his demise, Litvinenko said Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his murder, but Arafat was too ill to make such deathbed accusations.
Mossad denies any wrong-doing, while former IDF chief Mofaz said that he in fact wanted Arafat ‘expelled, not killed’. Such claims will be offered as mitigation, but they do not rest easily with a policy of extra-judicial violence which has always characterised the State of Israel. Since its foundation in 1948, and in the years leading up to it, enemies have routinely been assassinated, often in covert circumstances.
If it is proved beyond reasonable doubt that Arafat was murdered, and that Israel was indeed the instigator, then those directly responsible should, as with all perpetrators of barbaric crimes, suffer the full legal consequences.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.