Jack Chivo: Death of Yasser Arafat should be explained more completely
For about a week, the world media and political pundits are abuzz with a story originating from the Arab media organization, Al Jazeera.
The network has claimed that late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, who died eight years ago, had high-level traces of the lethal polonium 210 in some of his clothing, including his underwear, faithfully kept by his widow, Suha Arafat.
Immediately, conspiracy theorists, including some who might comment below this op-ed, started pointing fingers in a few directions.
In my opinion the question should be "what killed Arafat", rather than "who killed" him , because there is no proof whatsoever that the late terrorist leader was assassinated, and he probably died of a still undisclosed illness. Which is quite in line with what happened eight years ago, when he spend his last weeks in a famous French hospital, where he was under the care of some of the leading French physicians and specialists. No one at the facility ever suggested at the time that his death was foul play.
Strangely, nobody, including Al Jazeera, seems to have read the website of IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and other scientific papers, where this element, in its 210 form, is described as "fairly volatile" with a "half-life"—the time frame when it is active—of only 138 days.
During these four-and-a-half months, polonium 210 is undergoing an "exponential radioactive decay", after which its efficiency is increasingly diminished, soon reaching the level of zero.
In layman terms, it is like the "shelf life", or expiry date, of a medication or different chemicals, after which point they are no longer effective.
This draws the conclusion that either the findings were faulty, or there was a recent and unexplained contamination of Arafat's clothing, which has always bee in possession of his widow Suha.
In any case, the assumption that after eight long years, high levels of radioactive polonium 210 would have still been present, as alleged by Al Jazeera, is beyond ridiculous, and would result in an "F" grade for any high-school student making the same imprudent claim.
All of this leaves us with the question: what killed Arafat?
To start with, he was already over 75, a ripe age for people from his area and one who hadn't been in good health for a long time. He lived on the "run" for most of his adult life.
But there are other elements worth considering, including the fact that his widow, Suha, has steadfastly refused since his death to release his medical records, or to have a full autopsy performed at the French hospital.This has triggered lots of rumours, which could have been easily put to rest if his grieving widow would have released the findings.
In the meantime Suha Arafat, has become one of the richest women in the Middle East, with an estimated wealth of over $1 billion stashed in different bank accounts. There are mansions in many countries, of course staffed with personnel and bodyguards, including in France, Switzerland, Malta and for a while, and Tunisia, where she was a citizen, until being stripped of this a few years ago.
Late last year, after the "Arab Spring", the Tunisian government issued an international warrant for the arrest of Suha Arafat, accusing her of corruption.
Even the recent calls to exhume his body buried in Ramallah—this could have been ordered immediately if there was a real concern to find the truth. The widow along with the Palestinian Authority controlling the area would have acquiesced. But these calls have been followed so far by no concrete actions from the parties involved, which is not a positive sign.
The most consistent allegations are about Arafat's life style, which was revealed in details in many writings, including the once sensational book, Red Horizons, written by the former chief spy of the Communist regime in Romania, two-star general Ioan Pacepa. He describes over a number of pages the regular visits by the late PLO leader to Nicolae Ceausescu's palaces. He reveals that following Ceausescu's direct orders, hidden microphones in Arafat's room had recorded wild and steamy encounters between the PLO leader and some of his very young male companions he was bringing along, describing him in not too complementary words.
The book is still available at some local public libraries and this particular excerpt can be found online. Of course, I do not know the truth, but I would love to find out.
Hopefully, Suha Arafat and the Palestinian Authority will stop dragging their feet and allow the hospital to finally release the medical records along with a full and comprehensive test of Arafat's remains, under the supervision of a recognized international forensic medical team.
Unfortunately, I have the feeling that will not happen.
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist who lives in West Vancouver.