Suha Arafat: Arafat’s wife digs for the truth of whether the Palestinian leader was killed

Suha Arafat agreed to the exhumation of her husband’s body to find out if the former Palestinian leader was poisoned. She talks to Richard Symons about her decision

Suha Arafat stands on the verge of discovering whether her late husband, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, was assassinated. Since the day he died in a Parisian military hospital in 2004, rumours have swirled about what may have killed him – a heart attack; food poisoning; polonium; Aids.

Yasser Arafat's widow, Suha, breaks down mid interview with Richard Symons for "The Price of Kings"

Arafat, then 75, was struck down by a mysterious illness inside his besieged presidential compound in Ramallah. He was airlifted to France but could not be saved. After he died, much to the frustration of his personal doctor, no autopsy was requested (under French law only Suha could give permission). French doctors concluded he was killed by a stroke, although the official cause of death was unresolved.

The results of tests on his body, which was finally exhumed at Suha’s request last year, are due to be released soon. And what they reveal could have a profound effect on her – and on the fragile Middle East peace process.

Suha, who was a Christian, converted to Islam for her new husband. The wedding went ahead against the advice of her parents. Five years later the couple had a daughter, Zahwa.

I recently interviewed Suha in Malta, where she now lives, for a documentary series on the failings of global leaders, The Price of Kings. Now 49, Suha is  candid about the politically charged subject of her husband’s demise.

Suha eventually agreed to have Arafat’s body tested after being approached by Al Jazeera. “I gave them a holdall of Yasser’s with some of his belongings from the hospital,” she says.

The items, including a toothbrush and some underwear, were sent to a laboratory in Lausanne. The tests found higher than normal levels of polonium, the radioactive substance used to kill former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko, but though they suggested foul play, they were not conclusive.

“To prove poisoning they needed to carry out more tests. I thought we must find out the truth,” she says. Last November, the body was exhumed.

Many have wondered why Suha didn’t establish a cause of death at the time. “We’d been living with extensive tests in the hospital trying to save my husband,” she says. “Finally, when [he] passed away, in the Muslim tradition, the burial takes place as soon as possible, ideally in the next 24 hours. I don’t remember any talk of an autopsy.”

Despite their certainty that he was assassinated, she insists the Palestinian leadership didn’t put pressure on her to have the tests done.

Yet, with or without evidence, many are still convinced. Nabil Shaath, Arafat’s Foreign Minister, said: “I have no doubt that he was assassinated. The French said that whatever toxic material was in his body did not test positive in their toxicology table, saying in plain words this was a poison we did not have in our laboratories.”

While Mr Shaath is unequivocal now, the day after Arafat’s death he reportedly spoke to Arafat’s doctors and was told they had “ruled out poison completely”. So why has his story changed? Arafat’s nephew and Palestinian envoy to the UN, Nasser al Qidwa, claims it is a question of politics. “From the very beginning there was a theory going around that this was poisoning,” he says. “[The French] didn’t lie, but of course they didn’t feel they were in a position to take the political responsibility by giving the necessary proof.”

The political calculation cut both ways. “Proof [of poisoning] would have meant the end of the peace process,” Mr Al Qidwa says. Mr Shaath agrees. “I think it was a matter of choice. We didn’t push for an autopsy.”

There are, of course, other reasons why someone wouldn’t want an autopsy if they believed a murder had been committed. At Arafat’s presidential compound, the Muqaata, it is clear that a plot to poison Arafat would have required collaborators on the inside. For the two years before Arafat fell ill, the Muqaata was surrounded by the IDF.

Israeli soldiers ran security checks on supplies and food going in, but even if poison was introduced outside the complex, targeting Arafat specifically would have required assistance. He regularly ate alongside scores of people.

The head of the Palestinian commission on the investigation, Tawfiq Tirawi, realises this theory raises an uncomfortable question. “If someone put polonium or any sort of poison in his food, it must have been a Palestinian. Maybe – maybe – there was inside collaboration.”

Fingers have been pointed at the Palestinian leadership, despite the fact they gave permission to exhume the body. “If it is proved that Arafat was poisoned, we will go to the International Criminal Court,” says Tirawi.

Only a handful of nations have access to Polonium 210. Israel is thought to be one of them and would be the first country many would point to.

Suha says she has no preconceptions about her husband’s death. “We don’t even know if a crime was committed so how can I make accusations? We have to wait for the results — and if they are positive, then it’s up to the criminal investigation and the courts. If a crime has been committed it’s important that it’s documented – either way, the truth should be told,” she says.

“Of course I’m nervous about the results, they’re very significant. And they’re coming at the same time as our daughter’s graduation, which my husband would have been so proud to see. I have mixed emotions. I’m anxious, but it’s important the truth comes out.”

Richard Symons is a director at Spirit Level Film. More information on The Price of Kings at spiritlevelfilm.com.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Voices
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Subsea Cables Installation Project Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Head of Offshore Operations & Interfaces

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Offshore Engineering Design Manager

£50000 - £60000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices