Dr Fathi Arafat

Refugee camp doctor and trusted aide to his brother Yasser
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Fathi Abdel-Raouf Arafat Al-Qudwa, doctor: born Jerusalem 1933; vice-chairman, Palestine Red Crescent Society 1968-78, chairman 1978-2001, honorary chairman 2001-04; married (one son, one daughter); died Cairo 1 December 2004.

Stepping out of his car outside a Palestine Liberation Organisation building in Beirut in 1976, Fathi Arafat was subjected to a hail of abuse - "You traitorous son of a bitch . . . you deserve a good thrashing in public . . ." - followed by a slap from his older brother, the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

An hour earlier, Yasser Arafat had received a report from Palestinian nationalists that Fathi Arafat, Vice-Chairman of the Palestine Red Crescent Society (PRCS - the Muslim equivalent of the Red Cross), had been seen at the headquarters of their deadly enemy, and Israel's allies, the Phalange. Dr Arafat, said the report, had been having a lavish lunch with the Phalange leader Sheikh Pierre Jumayel, and his son Bashir (who, seven years later, as president of Lebanon, was to be blown to pieces by a bomb).

Unknown to many, the lunch date had been arranged by Arafat the politician, who trusted no one but Arafat the doctor to make such secret contacts and play the double role of negotiator and scapegoat.

Fathi Arafat was born in Jerusalem in 1933, the seventh child of a Cairian merchant of Palestinian extraction, who lived between Cairo and Jerusalem, the latter traditionally the destination of thousands of Egyptian Coptic pilgrims at Christmas and Easter.

He became fascinated by the devotion of his brother Yasser to the nationalistic cause of Palestine. On one occasion, Yasser was handed over to the family with a warning from Egyptian border police after they had intercepted him, with other students, smuggling arms to fight "the Jews" in Palestine.

During his medical studies in Qasr el-Eini (the School of Medicine of King Fuad University in Cairo) from 1950, Fathi helped Yasser set up the Palestine Student Union, which gave birth to Al Fatah (the Palestine Liberation Movement).After his graduation in 1957, Fathi became resident in paediatrics in Qasr el-Eini and other Cairo hospitals. The demarcation lines between his professional practice and his Palestinian nationalistic activities became progressively less visible.

Like thousands of Egyptian professionals, he was seconded to Kuwait's ministry of health as part of Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser's pan-Arab ideology of assisting the newly independent emirate. In reality Fathi had been summoned by his brother, who was constructing the Fatah movement from among Palestinian nationalists. Yasser's contacts within Nasser's intelligence service - the Mukhabarat - secured Fathi's name on a list of doctors paid to help set up the first national hospitals in Kuwait, and there he stayed until 1966.

After a few months in Cairo, in early 1967 Fathi Arafat started working as paediatrician in the Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank. Then, following Israel's capture of the West Bank in June 1967, he worked in refugee camp clinics east of the Jordan.

His growing popularity among refugees secured his election to the Palestinian National Council (PNC). He was never de-selected, as he gained the respect of all sides as a caring, dedicated physician working in difficult conditions, as during the three-month siege of Beirut by the Israeli army in 1982. Despite daily bombardment, endless power cuts, shortage of water and medicine, he managed to save many lives, thanks to his dedicated team of mainly foreign volunteers in the PRCS.

He became a vice-chairman of PRCS in 1968, during the battles of Karameh when Israeli forces crossed the River Jordan to "finish off" the PLO. Ten years later, Arafat became the PRCS chairman, which he remained until his resignation in 2001, continuing as honorary chair.

Adel Darwish