A month and a half before his death on Nov. 11, 2004, I met Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Muqata Presidential Compound in Ramallah. I came to conduct an interview for Israeli television after he had been besieged for many months at the compound, many parts of which had been destroyed during that time by Israel Defense Forces bulldozers. The gradual destruction of the compound, piece by piece, was meant to demonstrate to Arafat that his end was coming near every time Palestinians carried out a terrorist attack in Israel.
Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hated Arafat. He used to call him “the dog in the Muqata,” and longed for his death with all his might. What stood between Sharon and his giving a green light to assassinate Arafat were former US President George W. Bush, the international community and chiefly the assessment of the intelligence community that the assassination of the PA chairman would only further incite the bloody intifada that took place during those years. Sharon chose to imprison Arafat in the governmental compound in Ramallah and humiliate him as much as possible. Sharon believed that Arafat was not only the one responsible for the breakout of the latest round of violence but also worked to encourage and incite the uprising and the suicide bombings that terrorized Israeli citizens.
This was the situation in which I met Arafat. He was sick, tired and delusional. He looked thin, and I initially assumed that the days of siege on Ramallah had left their mark on his face and on his wizened body. He wore his gray uniform and was bedecked from head to toe in medals and victory ribbons, as if he were the general of a great military power. On the side stood the iron bed in which he slept. His appearance was pitiful. He continued to talk with pathos about the “covenant of the brave” he made with late Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Oslo, while the backdrop of ruins all around and the smell of dust in the air were the relics of war and not of peace.
After four hours in his office, my impression was that the PA chairman had lost his sense of time and reality. He rejoiced like a child when Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan brought him a tray of his beloved baklava pastries from Gaza, from a pastry shop named after him. He invited us, the camera crew and me, to a light supper: pitas, light cheese and the baklava Dahlan brought for dessert. Someone whispered to us that Arafat ate light foods because his health did not allow him to eat more. He could not digest what he ate, it was explained.
A month and a half later, on Oct. 29, 2004, he was flown to the Percy military hospital in France, where he died. Since then, the cause of his illness has been kept secret. Arafat’s medical file has been classified as highly confidential. Only his heir, Palestinian Chairman Abu Mazen, Arafat’s wife, Suha, and a very few others in the PA were allowed to read it and promised to keep its contents to themselves. But the rumors spread.
There is only one disease in the modern era to which society — as modern as it may be — still attaches a stigma to those who suffer from it: AIDS. Dr. Ashraf al-Kurdi, Arafat’s personal doctor — who was removed from Arafat’s care in the last weeks of his life — at the time told the authors of the book The Seventh War, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, that he knew that the doctors in Paris found the AIDS virus in Arafat’s blood. But Kurdi felt that he had to defend the leader who died of an “improper disease,” and explained that the virus was inserted into Arafat’s blood to hide signs of poisoning — which was the real cause of Arafat’s death.
Professor Gil Lugassi, president of the Israeli Society of Hematology, claims that all the signs of Arafat’s sickness prove that he suffered from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). In confidential conversations — not to be quoted or attributed — I heard a similar assessment from PA leaders.
With this background, it can be understood why in the PA they were so glad to hear about the findings of the Al Jazeera network’s investigation in July 2012 regarding the question of the death of the rais. The report claimed that the radioactive element Polonium 210 was found in Arafat’s clothes, hat and toothbrush — which seemingly proves that Israel poisoned him. Suddenly, from the network so hated in the West Bank, came reinforcement for the thing everyone wanted to believe: Arafat did not die of a shameful disease, but rather Sharon gave the order to assassinate him.
Those same senior Palestinian officials who had previously confirmed to me the existence of symptoms of the illness immediately adopted the findings of the report and said with great relief: “We always knew the rais did not die a natural death, that Sharon assassinated him like he assassinated [Hamas founder Sheikh] Ahmed Yassin, and thus he can be considered a shahid — a martyr.” Polonium 210 retroactively turned Arafat’s death into a respectable death, a death of a martyr.
On the Israeli side, on the other hand, the minister of defense in Sharon’s government, Shaul Mofaz, does not confirm or deny the claim that Arafat died an unnatural death. Other Israeli senior officials of that period — former head of Military Intelligence Aharon Ze’evi Farkash and head of the Israeli Military Intelligence’s research division Yossi Kuperwasser — claimed, and still claim today, that Arafat died of a fatal disease without adding any further detail.
For almost nine years now the debate over Arafat’s death has produced rumors, legends and various contradictory versions. Leading those who seek to establish the notion of his poisoning is Arafat’s widow, Suha. She was the one who gave his belongings to Al Jazeera, and she commissioned a Swiss team to examine the report’s findings — some of which were published on Oct. 14 — and repeated the same conclusions. But while Al Jazeera’s investigation was appropriate and raised many questions to consider, the partial findings the Swiss scientists published raise the suspicion that they are political and hasty conclusions.
Arafat’s body was disinterred at the instruction of Abu Mazen on Nov. 27, 2012, to try provide a more precise answer to the suspicions. The examination and analysis of the samples from his body are not concluded yet, and it is unclear whether an unequivocal answer will be given, even at the end of the process. What caused the researchers to rush and publish partial and old findings that again only touch on Arafat’s belongings? Maybe it was just a desire to be published, maybe there are political reasons and maybe it was the additional pressure Arafat’s wife applied leading up to the ninth anniversary of his death.
Anyone who closely reads the findings of the partial opinion published in the British journal The Lancet, which were quoted at length in The Guardian, can understand another important element of the story. The Swiss scientists find it hard to prove that poisoning was the cause of Arafat’s death. They admit that Arafat had a growth in his stomach, and they do not talk about HIV. The word that repeats again and again in the report they published is “possibility”: “The findings could support the possibility that Arafat was poisoned.” Is there such indisputable evidence? No, it is only a possibility. Did Sharon long so for the PA chairman’s death that he decided to assassinate him despite international opposition? That is also a possibility. It is too bad that the Swiss researchers did not patiently wait for the final conclusions, which would have given their investigation more serious and professional validity.
A 2018 demonstration against antisemitism in Berlin. Photo: Reuters / Fabrizio Bensch.
A slight drop in the number of antisemitic incidents in Berlin during the first half of this year is no excuse for complacency, the city’s antisemitism commissioner emphasized on Thursday following the publication of statistics for hate crimes targeting Jews in the German capital from January-June 2019.
“Antisemitism remains a serious problem that we cannot tolerate in Berlin,” Lorenz Korgel — the city’s commissioner for combating antisemitism — told local news outlet Berliner Morgenpost. “The number of antisemitic incidents remains at a high level. ”
People wear kippas at a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue denouncing an antisemitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. (photo credit: FABRIZIO BENSCH / REUTERS)
The population of the State of Israel has increased 2.1% since last year, according to a report released in time for Rosh Hashanah by the Central Bureau of Statistics.
Today, there are 9.1 million citizens of Israel, of which some 6.7 million (74%) are Jewish, the report shows. The country’s citizens also include 1.9 million Arabs (21%) and 0.4% of “others,” including Christians and those of other minority groups.
A women holds up a sign against anti-Semitism at a rally in New York City on Sept. 22, 2019. Photo: Rhonda Hodas Hack.
JNS.org – Hundreds of demonstrators rallied in front of City Hall in New York on Sunday, calling on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and other municipal leaders, as well as those on the national level, to act against antisemitism and the wave of antisemitic hate crimes taking place against the Orthodox Jewish community.
The beach in Tel Aviv, Israel, May 17, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ammar Awad.
On the eve of the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, ushering in the Jewish year of 5780, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics released its traditional end-of-the-year findings.
Israel’s population now stands at 9.092 million people — 6.744 million (74.2 percent) of whom are Jews, with 1.907 million (21 percent) Arabs and 441,000 (4.8 percent) listed as “other.”
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason. Photo: Instagram.
Drew Seigla and Stephanie Lynne Mason play Pertshik and Hodl, whose love story takes them all the way to Siberia in the award-winning show by the National Yiddish Theatre.
Oct 25, 2019 0People arrive at a polling station to vote in the federal election in Beauce, Quebec, Canada, Oct. 21, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mathieu Belanger. A top Jewish advocacy group said on Friday it...
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“There is nothing more deceptive than an obvious fact.” — Sherlock Holmes, The Boscombe Valley Mystery
“Israel must, in the most blunt and clear way possible, illustrate to Washington that the prosperity of Jordan is a first-rate Israeli security and strategic interest.” — Former head of Mossad Ephraim Halevy at “Between Jerusalem and Amman: 25 Years Since the Signing of the Peace Agreement Between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan,” Institute for National Security Studies, Sept. 25, 2019.
A thought came to mind the other day.
For all the bluster about Judaism and anti-Semitism in America, I am not convinced that far-out-left and liberal young Jews, who have been very strident and even threatening on Israel-related issues and local American political battles, have done much on the ground to confront and quash, one way or another, attacks on Jews. They have portrayed themselves as gliding along a moral highway but have permitted immoral actions to exist quite close to home, far from Gaza (did any of them recite a public Kaddish in the town square for murdered and injured Jews, or their damaged and desecrated property)?
One of the hallmark features of Yom Kippur are the communal sins which we need to repent for. Most Jews focus on what we have done personally towards G-d and towards others. Little thought is given to how we could be better as a community. Or the sins we bear as a community.
However, the communal recitation of the Al Chet, repeated over and over on Yom Kippur is to drive the point home that we are responsible for one another
Incoming freshman Member of Knesset from the leftist, Democratic Union list, Yair Golan, did it again. Golan’s constant delegitimization of his political opponents on the right, smacks of the same delegitimization that tyrants, dictators, demagogues and assorted totalitarians always use, just before the Putsch.
In that regard, he’s right when he said recently, “I’m reminding people that the Nazis came to power democratically, so we have to be careful, very careful, so that radicals with a messianic view won’t exploit Israeli democracy to replace the system of government.” Think “
As Israeli frustration mounts about violence coming out of Gaza, the idea of a ground invasion, and once and for all to finish with Hamas aggression, becomes more appealing. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has endorsed this approach, saying, “There probably won’t be a choice but to topple the Hamas regime.” While sympathetic to this impulse, I worry that too much attention is paid to tactics and not enough to goals. The result could be harmful to Israel.