By Barry Rubin
Yasir Arafat is still dead. True, he was once alive. I sat across from him in his Gaza office, for example. And he even had a copy of my history of the PLO on his bookshelf so he must have been of sound mind at the time. It’s not my fault. I told him to start jogging and cut down on sweets. But he didn’t listen. On November 4, 2004, he died, a fate he previously delivered to thousands of far more innocent people.
The effort now by various Palestinian factions to imply Israel killed him is the funniest thing in the Middle East since the U.S. director of national intelligence’s congressional briefing when he said the Muslim Brotherhood was a secular democratic organization. What’s dismaying is how much play Western media are giving this charge as if it should be taken seriously. When the West behaves in this way it signals at the least a dangerously naive credulousness and at worst a profound anti-Jewish and anti-Israel complex. The New York Times and Washington Post take this nonsense seriously.
But there’s something else in this story, something very chilling indeed. Revolutionary Islamists especially, but many Muslims otherwise, believe that Jews tried to murder Muhammad, the founder of Islam, and even if they failed that the poison shortened his life. The accusation that Jews are the murderer of prophets — with Muslims throwing in the founder of Christianity also — is a phrase that derives from this story. It is frequently heard from Hamas and others. This is a blood libel, an alleged crime that then leads to the view that Jews are absolutely evil and should be wiped out. In short, it is a rationale for genocide. When Iran, Hamas, Hizballah, and the Muslim Brotherhood say that Israel should be wiped off the map and Jews generally should be murdered, that incitement is the inevitable consequence of this line of thinking.
That Western observers are unaware of all of this history — repeated daily in inciteful sermons found in Middle East mosques — is quite evident. Such a lack of knowledge leads them to believe that the conflicts they say are easily resolvable, quickly settled by more Israeli concessions or still continuing because of Israeli actions when the causes are much deeper and the solutions far more remote. Western societies today are obsessed with searching everywhere for racism and hate speech. Well, the idea that the Jews murdered Arafat (rather than that Arafat spent most of his career murdering Jews) falls into that category.
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As for the specific claims in the Arafat case, they are easily disposed of:
First of all, anyone who saw Arafat during the last year of his life knew he was seriously ill and steadily worsening. His lips trembled, he looked disoriented, and he wasn’t as articulate as usual. Even on television you couldn’t possibly miss his distress. Parkinson’s disease was a likely diagnosis though Crohn’s disease was said to be another probable medical problem for the dictator.
His doctors obviously knew that he was in bad shape. But, and this is what’s most important, they didn’t do anything about it. The prospect of Arafat’s death was so traumatic for the movement — which had known no other leader during 43 years for Fatah, 36 years for the PLO, and its entire ten year life for the Palestinian Authority. By not taking serious action and giving him better treatment, the key to the mystery is this: His own doctors and movement killed Arafat. So if Israel killed Arafat, then his own doctors and the entire PLO, Fatah, and PA leadership were in on the conspiracy. Indeed, Arafat himself, by not more actively seeking medical help or speaking about his problems, was also in on the conspiracy. This is unlikely.
Second, the doctors were shut up and the report of his death was kept secret by Arafat’s widow Suha Arafat. Since his colleagues had access to a lot of this information they also kept quiet. In other words, we are supposed to believe that those in the world who most hated Israel had evidence that Israel had something to do with his death but they kept it secret?
Third, suddenly, almost eight years later Suha and other Arafat loyalists are making claims. But there is no new evidence whatsoever. Obviously, this is a publicity stunt. Let them release the huge medical report on his death. Let them permit the French doctors to have a press conference. Let them dig up Arafat. Until one of those things happens, why should the Western media fall for this trick? So again, if there was the slightest suspicion that Arafat was being murdered, Arafat’s wife, doctors, and all of the Palestinian leadership were helping the conspiracy. This is also unlikely.
Fourth, the claims that Arafat was poisoned by Israel using some exotic radioactive means have been made from the day Arafat was planted but have always faded away, at least internationally, because no evidence was offered. Old fables are being treated like new revelations. Such claims of Zionist conspiracies are always promoted in order to slander and discredit Israel when just about anyone significant dies in the Arab world.
Fifth, if Arafat had been poisoned by radioactive substances his symptoms would have been extreme and evident. They include nausea, hair loss, throat swelling and paleness. Moreover, Arafat would have died really fast, but he lingered for a long time.
The history of this myth shows that it is the Palestinian leadership, not Israel, that has something to hide, that has kept everything secret. I suspect the secret is the incompetence of his own doctors.
So did Arafat die of AIDS? After my own serious research on this matter I could find no evidence for this assertion. And I know that both Israeli and U.S. intelligence had no evidence that Arafat was homosexual either on the basis of in-depth discussions over many years. Sources like Ahmad Jibril — a life-long enemy of Arafat — and other unreliable sources cited are not impressive. If there is evidence to the contrary I will certainly revise my view. But you should know that the Israeli government and intelligence position–privately as well as publicly–is that they have no evidence of Arafat being a homosexual or suffering from AIDS.
The rumor began with an article by Oriana Fallaci whose only evidence was that his bodyguards at the time were extremely handsome young men. (By the time I was seeing him in the 1990s that was certainly not true at all.)
Of course, Arafat was a weird person and in our biography, Arafat: A Political Biography, Judith Colp Rubin and I explain his psychology and personality. One of my favorite Palestinian jokes about Arafat recounts that he is patting the head of a little girl and asks her, “Whose daughter are you?”
She answers, “Yours.” Arafat was considered by his countrymen to be so cold that he didn’t recognize his own begotten daughter. The story is almost plausible.
But I repeat: there is no reason to think Arafat was a homosexual or died of AIDS or poisoning. He was overweight, ate an unhealthy diet, worked long hours, didn’t take care of himself (he believed eating honey would keep him healthy), and had very bad doctors despite their local reputations.
So we know who killed Arafat: his doctors, entourage, movement, and of course his own body. Yet when I go to Yahoo, what do I see but Arafat’s “mysterious” death as the lead story in the entire world, as if any accusation made against Israel must be true.
Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International
Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.