Yasser Arafat’s grave in the West Bank. Photo AP.
By Imad Saada, Agence France Presse
August 29, 2012
NABLUS, Palestinian Territories — News that France had opened an inquiry into the death of the late Yasser Arafat was welcomed by many Palestinians on Wednesday, but for others it was too little, too late.
The veteran Palestinian leader, who led the struggle for Palestinian statehood for nearly four decades, died in hospital near Paris on November 11, 2004 but medical experts were unable to pinpoint the cause of death.
Many Palestinians including top officials insisted he had been poisoned by Israel but an inconclusive investigation in 2005 ruled that out, along with cancer and AIDS, as cause of death.
“Showing the truth and unravelling the mystery surrounding this case is extremely important to the Palestinian people and the French judiciary is known for its integrity,” said Khaled Khana, a civil servant from the southern West Bank city of Hebron.
Last month, allegations of poisoning were resurrected after experts said they had found high levels of the radioactive substance polonium on Arafat’s personal effects, prompting his widow Suha and the Palestinian leadership to demand a full investigation in the hope of finally closing the file on his mysterious death.
“Despite the fact that this is late, it is very important and proves that international law is still alive and that the statute of limitations (on such a crime) doesn’t expire,” said Maysoon al-Qawasmi, a women’s rights activist in the southern city of Hebron.
“We hope the truth will be exposed.”
In the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, locals welcomed the move, with 19-year-old business student Hanaa Ayad saying it could expose those behind the death of Arafat, popularly known as Abu Ammar.
“As a Palestinian, I would like to know the truth about the death of our leader Abu Ammar after all these years. I am sure Israel is behind this by either putting poison in his food or his clothes,” she said.
For Ahmed Ibrahim, who sells mobile phones in Gaza City, if an investigation proved that Israel was responsible for poisoning Arafat, it would be tantamount to a declaration of war.
“The Palestinian Authority and the factions should cooperate to find out who killed Abu Ammar, and if it was proved that Israel is responsible, then they have assassinated the peace process and chosen war,” he said.
The Swiss experts who discovered the polonium on Arafat’s effects have confirmed they will carry out a fact-finding mission in Ramallah to assess the viability of exhuming and testing his remains.
But not everyone was overjoyed about the move, which some said was long overdue.
“Where was the Palestinian leadership, France and Arafat’s family all this time?” asked Jamal al-Hashem, a 47-year-old taxi driver from the northern city of Nablus.
“It has been eight years since he died and all the signs showed he was poisoned! Why haven’t they done anything?”
And some were unhappy that the investigation was to be run by Paris, with 37-year-old maths teacher Hassan Jamal saying France had already blotted its copybook by “hiding the truth” about the 75-year-old’s death back in 2004.
“I don’t believe that a first world country like France was unable to find the real cause of death!” he snorted.
“How can we trust France and its investigation now? How do we know they will tell the truth? We want an international investigation, not a French one.”
And for others, it was all happening just too late.
“Rest in peace Abu Ammar!” exclaimed Shahin Ghaleb, a 21-year-old student, also from Nablus.
“Everything became a mess from the day he died, and whoever killed him achieved their goals! What good is an investigation now?”
But for at least one man, it was finally a chance to learn the truth about what happened to their iconic leader.
“As a Palestinian citizen, I care about knowing the truth regarding Arafat’s death because he was a symbol of the Palestinian people,” said Tamim Ahmed, a 49-year-old taxi driver from Ramallah.
“I want to know the truth whatever it is.”