- The day before yesterday the Haaretz headline screamed:
"Doctors: Arafat died of AIDS or poisoning". Aids appeared in
- For dozens of years, the Israeli media has conducted,
with government inspiration, a concentrated campaign against the Palestinian
leader (with the sole exception of Haolam Hazeh, the news magazine I edited).
Millions of words of hatred and demonization were poured on him, more than
on any other person of his generation. If somebody thought that this would
end after his death, he was mistaken. This article, signed by Avi Isasharof
and Amos Harel, is a direct continuation of this smear campaign.
- The key word is, of course, "AIDS". Throughout
the long article there is no trace of proof for this allegation. The reporters
quote "sources in the Israeli security establishment". They also
quote Israeli doctors "who heard from French doctors" - an original
method for medical diagnosis. A respected Israeli professor even found
conclusive proof: it was not published that Arafat had undergone an Aids
test. True, a Tunisian medical team did test him in Ramallah and the result
was negative, but who would believe Arabs?
- Haaretz knows, of course, how to protect itself. Somewhere
in the article, far away from the sensational headline, there appear the
nine words: "The possibility that Arafat had AIDS is not high".
So, Haaretz is alright. In army parlance, its ass is covered. By comparison,
the New York Times, which published a similar story on the same day, treated
the Aids allegation with contempt.
- There is a very simple proof for the spuriousness of
the allegation: if it had even the most tenuous basis in fact, the huge
propaganda apparatus of the Israeli government and the Jewish establishment
throughout the world would have trumpeted it from the rooftops, instead
of waiting for 10 months. But, as matter of fact, there is no evidence
whatsoever. More than that, the writers themselves are compelled to admit
that Arafat's symptoms are completely incompatible with the picture of
- So what did he die of?
- Since taking part in his tumultuous funeral in Ramallah,
I have abstained from giving my opinion on the cause of his death. I am
not a doctor, and my dozens of years as editor of an investigative news
magazine have taught me not to voice allegations which I am unable to prove
- But, since now all dikes have been breached, I am prepared
to say what is on my mind: from the first moment, I was sure that Arafat
had been poisoned.
- Most of the doctors interviewed by Haaretz testified
that the symptoms point towards poisoning, and, in fact, are incompatible
with any other cause. The report of the French doctors, who treated Arafat
during the last two weeks of his life, states that no known cause for his
death was discovered. True, the tests did not find any traces of poison
in his body - but the tests were conducted only for the usual poisons.
It is no secret that many intelligence services in the world have developed
poisons that cannot be detected at all, or whose traces disappear in a
very short time.
- Some years ago, Israeli agents poisoned the Hamas chief
Khaled Mash'al with a slight prick in a main street of Amman. His life
was saved only because King Hussein demanded that Israel immediately provide
the antidote. (As a further indemnity, Binyamin Netanyahu agreed to the
release from prison of another Hamas chief, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, who was
assassinated several years after his return to Gaza by more conventional
means - an airborne missile.)
- In the absence of symptoms of any known disease, and
since clear indications of poisoning were present, the highest probability
is that Yasser Arafat was indeed poisoned while having dinner four hours
before the first symptoms appeared.
- I can testify that the security arrangements around the
Ra'is were very lax. At each of my dozens of meetings with him in different
countries I was always amazed at the ease with which a potential assassin
could have done his job. Protection was always casual, especially compared
to the way Israeli Prime Ministers are guarded. He often had his meals
in the company of strangers, he embraced his visitors. Associates report
that he frequently accepted sweets from strangers and also took medicines
from visitors, swallowing them on the spot. After surviving dozens of assassination
attempts, and even an airplane accident, he had come to adopt a fatalistic
attitude, "it's all in the hands of Allah". I think that in his
heart of hearts he really believed that Allah would preserve him until
the completion of his historic mission.
- If he was poisoned - by whom was he poisoned?
- First suspicion falls, of course, on the Israeli security
establishment. Indeed, Ariel Sharon declared on several occasions that
he intended to kill him. The subject came up in cabinet meetings. Twice
during the last years my friends and I were so convinced that this was
imminent, that we went to the Mukata'ah in Ramallah to serve as a "human
shield" for him. We were convinced that the murder of Arafat would
cause much harm to Israel. In one of his interviews, Sharon stated that
our presence there had prevented his liquidation.
- Truth is that Sharon abstained from killing Arafat mostly
because the Americans forbade it. They were afraid that the murder would
arouse a huge storm in the Arab world and exacerbate anti-American terrorism.
But this interdiction may have applied only to an overt act.
- The Mash'al affair proves that the Israeli intelligence
services have the means to poison people without leaving any trace. The
poisoning was discovered only because the perpetrators were caught in flagrante.
- However, a probability, high as it may be, is not proof.
At the moment, there is no proof that Arafat was indeed poisoned by the
- But if not the Israelis, who? The US intelligence services
also have the necessary capabilities. President Bush never hid his hatred
for Arafat, an obstinate leader who did not submit to his dictates. He
was quick to embrace Mahmoud Abbas. Even now, American emissaries who visit
the Mukata'ah pointedly abstain from putting wreaths on the grave of the
Ra'is in the courtyard.
- But American interests, too, do not constitute proof.
One can think of several other suspects, even in the Arab world.
- Did Arafat's death benefit Sharon?
- On the face of it, no. As long as Arafat was alive, American
support for Israel was unlimited. But since his death, President Bush has
been going out of his way to support his successor. The dismal American
debacle in Iraq compels Bush to look for achievements elsewhere in the
"Broader Middle East". He presents Mahmoud Abbas as a symbol
of the new winds blowing through the Arab and Muslim world as a result
of American policy. In order to convince the Palestinian public to support
Abbas, Bush is putting pressure on Sharon of a new sort. Perhaps Sharon
is secretly longing for the good old days of Arafat, when life was simple
and an enemy dressed the part.
- But a person who wants - as Sharon surely does - to break
the Palestinian people into pieces and prevent at any cost the establishment
of a viable State of Palestine, can only be happy with the demise of Arafat,
who united the entire Palestinian people. He had the moral authority to
impose order, and he enforced it by empathy and force, human wisdom and
tricks, threats and seduction.
- There are many people in Israel who hoped that without
him the Palestinian society would break apart, that anarchy would destroy
its very foundations, that armed factions would kill each other and the
national leadership. They are certainly glad that Arafat is dead and pray
for the failure of Mahmoud Abbas.
- Arafat assured me once that we would both see peace in
our lifetime. He was prevented from seeing the day. He who caused this
- whoever he is - has sinned not only against the Palestinian people, but
also against peace, and therefore against Israel.
- An Odd Birthday Party
- Yesterday, on the eve of my 82nd birthday, I had a very
unusual party. Emotions ran high, tears flowed as never before, there was
a long parade. The whole thing took place in a West Bank village called
- True, the tears were caused by gas. Emotion ran high
because we were viciously attacked by the Border Police. The parade was
in protest at the Separation Fence, which cuts off most of the land of
the village in order to enlarge the huge Modi'in Ilit settlement.
- For months now, Israeli peace activists have joined the
villagers every Friday in a protest march to the site of the fence, turning
Bil'in into a symbol of non-violent resistance. The site has already been
leveled, but the fence itself has not yet been built in this sector. Last
week's demonstration was attacked by the army with special brutality, so
we decided to come back in force this week.
- There were more than 200 of us - protesters from all
over the country, belonging to various peace movements. Before setting
off, we had already heard on the radio that the village had been invaded
at daybreak, that a curfew had been imposed and that violent clashes were
taking place. Since all the regular routes into the village had been blocked,
we had to approach from an unexpected direction.
- Leaving our buses on the edge of the settlement, we started
on our way through a typical Palestinian landscape - steep hills covered
with slippery rocks of all sizes, olive trees, thick dry brush and thorns.
The temperature had climbed to 30 degrees in the shade, but there was no
shade in sight. I didn't like walking there when I was a soldier, and now,
57 years later, I like it even less.
- For two endless hours we climbed up and down, slipping
now and again, helping each other. We were a motley lot - youngsters of
both sexes, elderly people and everything in between. When I was almost
at the end of my tether, I reached the site of the fence, a bright, long
wound winding like a snake through the valley. Rachel, no spring chicken
either, had the eerie experience of her legs just refusing to take orders
from her brain. She was unable to move. But eventually she made it, too.
- The first contingent crossed the ribbon and climbed the
next hill towards the village, where they were surrounded by the Border
Police in front of the mosque. I and the rear contingent were stopped at
the site of the fence by soldiers and policemen, who reminded us that we
were guilty of entering a "closed military area". Using threats
and enticement, and noticing our pitiful state after the strenuous march
over the rocks, they offered to convey us back to the Green Line in their
armored vehicle, granting us the status of "detained". Except
for a few who were close to fainting, we refused.
- Life is full of surprises. Suddenly an army jeep drove
up and offered us ice-cold water. Since we were all by now in various stages
of dehydration, we accepted. (I imagined a soldier offering a girl a cup
of cold water, asking "with or without gas?")
- Thus fortified, we dispersed among the olive trees and
started to walk towards the village. It was a very steep climb over the
rocks, worse even than before. Half way up, I was overtaken by two young
army officers. "Wouldn't you consider coming back with us?" they
enquired politely. I declined with equal civility. And then the incredible
happened: They bade me farewell and disappeared.
- I climbed on, reaching the village just when I felt that
I could not take one more step. Approaching the mosque, I was met by the
pungent smell of tear gas. I already had half an onion in my hand - for
some reason, onions, which generally cause people to shed tears, have an
uncanny interaction with tear gas, making the gas almost bearable. I had
one clutched in my hand throughout the day.
- Our contingent was welcomed with much enthusiasm by our
comrades who had already reached the mosque, as well as by the villagers.
The scene resembled a battlefield - armored jeeps were racing around, the
regular percussion of stun grenades and tear gas canisters was a background
music, hardly noticed, and from time to time a barrage of gas drove us
into the adjoining courtyards.
- How to proceed? We had reached the village against all
odds, we had demonstrated our solidarity, the radio had announced the events
every hour. However, we decided that the job was not complete. We had come
to march to the fence together with the villagers, and we wanted to prove
that even the brutal occupation of the village would not prevent this.
So we marched out again, back down the way we had come. Curiously enough,
the site of the fence was abandoned. We marched along it for a few hundred
yards and then we climbed again towards the village, slipping on the same
rocks we had already cursed before.
- If we thought that that was it, we were wrong. While
we were waiting in front of the mosque for transportation by Palestinian
vehicles, there suddenly roared up a long column of armored jeeps, which
deployed around us. Soldiers sprang out, waving their guns and shooting
gas in all directions. It was an unprovoked and quite unnecessary show
of force which was, of course, met with a hail of stones from the village
- Eventually, we got out of there, conveyed by Palestinian
drivers over interior roads, and reached our buses. There I regretted only
one thing: the day before I had bought some bottles of wine, to celebrate
my birthday in the bus on the way back. Hearing the news in the morning
and expecting violence, I thought this was no appropriate occasion for
such a celebration. However, I was wrong. The activists, dead tired but
high-spirited after having accomplished the mission, seemed quite ready
to celebrate, but the wine had been left at home.
- Now I am faced with the task of drinking eight bottles
of French Merlot on my own.