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Update – 6 July 2012

Posted by Emily Gian on 6 July 2012 at 3:16pm:

When I came across some articles a few days ago about investigations into the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004, I knew our local media would take immediate interest in the story.

The story has all the makings of a thrilling tale. A deceased Palestinian leader, an alleged poisoning and calls by his poor* widow to exhume his body. (*naturally, I do not mean literally poor – Suha Arafat has been luxuriously living off her billions for years in Paris while her dear Palestinians festered away in their squalor under their corrupt and dishonest leaderships in Gaza and the West Bank respectively.)

When Yasser Arafat passed away in Paris in November 2004, the details of his illness were never released. His widow Suha was given a medical report, which she never released either. Conspiracy theories have abounded for years about Arafat’s true cause of death, with one of the stories being that he was bisexual and had died of AIDS. The Mossad and the Shin Bet were also popular choices, as well as rivals from his own Fatah party.

Now, Al Jazeera has run a documentary which alleges that according to tests done on clothing provided by his wife, there were high levels of polonium-210 – the same substance found to have killed a Russian spy in 2006.

The Palestinian Authority, with the permission of Suha, now wants to exhume Arafat’s body from his resting place in Ramallah.

Arafat’s widow was interviewed about this issue on Al Jazeera and it makes for quite an interesting watch as she attempts to rewrite history and romanticise the leadership of one of the world’s most notorious terrorists. She also adds her own dash of anti-Semitism when she talks about the “Jewish-controlled media in the United States”.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw that the Age had only covered the story in a short “Around the Globe” piece yesterday – actually less surprising when you notice that such a short piece only allows them enough space to tell us the conspiracy theory without delving too far into the story. The Australian covered the story which a much larger article, seemingly going through all of the facts. Lyons also quotes a piece that appeared in Yediot Ahronot entitled ‘Rewriting the Arafat story’ by Alex Fishman.

As Fishman opens “Fatah’s old guard, and especially Arafat’s family, has a great task: Arranging a dignified death for the father of the Palestinian nation. The fact that Arafat left the stage while afflicted with a disease that one does not speak about openly, far away from his people, at a French hospital, is incommensurate with the national ethos”. He continues, “there is no doubt that it’s much more dignified to arrange a heroic ‘martyr’s death’ for the father of the nation, preferably at the hands of Mossad or Shin Bet.”

This idea that the PA and their supporters need to create a ‘martyr’s death’ for Arafat leads me to an article that not surprisingly appeared in another ailing Fairfax publication, the Australian Financial Review. In a piece entitled ‘Yasser Arafat as controversial in death as in life’, the author Tony Walker, who has also penned a biography on Arafat, appears to be doing exactly that – searching desperately for a way for Arafat to become a martyr. He ends his fluff piece with the sentence, ‘history’s judgement will be harsh, but it would be leavened somewhat if it emerged he had suffered a martyr’s death’.

Walker, who wrote the obituary for Arafat that appeared in a number of publications, reminds me of the BBC journalist Barbara Plett, who admitted on air in 2004 that she “started to cry” when Arafat left the West Bank shortly before he died.

Walker claims that he “has no idea how Arafat died, no preconceived notions, no attachment to any particular conspiracy theory”  and then proceeds to go into many conspiracy theories, with very little to substantiate anything. But then, as a reader you would have caught on fairly early in his piece where his sympathies lie, particularly with this paragraph:

“Matters were not helped when Arafat’s widow Suha refused to release his body for further testing before it was buried in Ramallah – a place that registers in my mind because I was shot there by the Israeli army in 1993 while on assignment for the Sydney Morning Herald”. As political satirists The Chaser boys might say, not a seamless segue.

Arafat was responsible for the death of more Palestinians than anyone else in history. He was also responsible for the murder of many Jews and the deaths of Jordanians, Syrians, Lebanese and other Arabs. His body will be exhumed and PA official Saeb Erekat wants an international investigation.

I cannot imagine any investigation would actually be carried out with transparency, given all this talk of making a martyr out of Arafat.

In other news, the BDS campaign hit a few snags this week. There has been an aggressive campaign on social media urging American band the Red Hot Chili Peppers not to perform in Israel. The Chili Peppers have posted this video declaring their love for their Israeli fans and urging them to come to their concert on 10 September. And another legendary group, Guns N Roses, performed just a few days ago in Tel Aviv, playing a wonderful rendition of the Hatikvah before leading into one of their classics, “Don’t Cry”.  

A similar campaign has been conducted by anti-Israel elements within the Presbyterian Church in the USA.  The largest Presbyterian group in the United States has narrowly defeated a proposal to divest from three companies that do business with Israel (see more). 

Take that BDS!

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