Yasser Arafat was buried eight years ago to a chorus of gunfire before a crowd of thousands amid the rubble of his Ramallah headquarters. Yesterday, the gravediggers who came to disinter him slipped in under cover of darkness. For hours they hacked through the several metres of concrete that were supposed to ensure that no one could ever desecrate his body. The Palestinian leadership had the Israelis in mind when it buried the old revolutionary so deep and secure.Something's fishy somewhere. If only Abu Amar were alive to supervise the examination of his dead remains. Then we'd learn the truth!
Eight years after his death, it was Arafat's widow, Suha, who had him brought up again as part of a French murder investigation into whether he was slowly killed by a radioactive poison, polonium-210 – the same substance used to murder the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006 – after it was detected on his clothes earlier this year.
The plan had been to move Arafat's corpse to a mosque for religious rites to be observed before samples were taken by rival teams of scientists hired by Suha and the Palestinian Authority, who are deeply distrustful of each other. After that, there was to be a reburial with full military honours.
But once the concrete was finally hacked through, Arafat's remains were in no state to be moved. Instead the coffin was lifted out for Palestinian doctors, working under the watchful eye of the foreign scientists, to take about 20 samples to be tested for poisons as well as polonium. Then it was resealed and reburied.
The military honours were cancelled on the grounds that Arafat wasn't being reburied because he hadn't been removed from his coffin.
Tawfiq al-Tirawi, the head of the Palestinian committee investigating Arafat's death, said it all went according to plan.
"Only Palestinian hands touched the remains," he said. It was a stunning contrast to the Palestine Liberation Organisation leader's burial, when crowds pressed into the rubble of his headquarters, the Muqata, which had been flattened by Israeli tanks.
The Muqata has since been rebuilt and transformed into a sprawling presidential palace of Jerusalem stone.
Arafat's mausoleum is now a towering quad of limestone and glass, a reflecting pool, and an honour guard.
But all of that was hidden behind large blue plastic sheets, hung to shield the exhumation from outsiders.
Palestinian officials justified the secretiveness as necessary to protect the dignity of Arafat's remains. But the opaque handling of the process reflected the doubts among some about where this could all lead.
Many ordinary Palestinians have long believed Arafat was murdered by Israel, but they are divided over whether that warrants digging him up.
"He should have been left alone," said Munir Jaara at a coffee shop close to the Muqata. "We all know the Israelis killed him so what's it going to prove to disturb his body? It's disrespectful."
Ghada Nayfeh demurred.
"We need to find the truth. It was very suspicious how he died, just like that under siege from the Israelis," she said.
If Arafat was murdered, the guilty party is assumed by Palestinians to be the Israelis. But if that is the case, it's unlikely they could have got to him without inside help.
The speed of Arafat's death aged 75 after a short, unexplained illness fed the suspicions of foul play that took hold among Palestinians almost immediately after his funeral even though French officials determined that he died at a Paris military hospital from a stroke caused by a blood disorder.
Suha Arafat refused to permit an autopsy at the time. But earlier this year she gave some of her late husband's personal items, including his toothbrush, underwear and kaffiyeh to Al Jazeera television which sent them to Switzerland for tests. The Institut de Radiophysique discovered abnormal levels of polonium-210.
The tests were inconclusive, however, and so Suha Arafat, a French citizen, asked the French government to launch a murder inquiry. The Palestinian Authority, suspicious of Arafat's widow – who is not a popular figure among Palestinians in part in part because she is regarded as having enriched herself – and the French and Swiss experts she hired, called in Russian scientists to do separate analysis.
This week, French magistrates have been questioning Palestinian officials who were besieged with Arafat in the Muqata because it's unlikely the PLO leader's food or drink could have been poisoned without a collaborator in the building.
The Israelis had an opportunity to interfere with food deliveries which passed through their checkpoints during the siege.
But they had no way of knowing who would be eating what and the fact that there was no mass poisoning inside the Muqata would mean that Arafat's food was contaminated by someone with direct access to it.
Israel has repeatedly denied killing Arafat and called on the Palestinian leadership to release his medical records, which it has steadfastly refused to do.
Tuesday, November 27, 2012
Guardian: "samples were taken by rival teams of scientists hired by Suha and the Palestinian Authority, who are deeply distrustful of each other"
Darn! The military honors were called off!