Al Jazeera Investigates - Killing Arafat

Exclusive documentary reveals the details of the investigation into the Palestinian leader's death.

Last updated: 10 Nov 2013 17:52
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In the latest film from Al Jazeera’s Investigation’s unit, Palestinian officials admit that they had suspected poisoning as the cause of Arafat’s sudden illness in 2004, contrary to their public statements.

Senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat tells Al Jazeera that he called the US Consul General in Jerusalem and pleaded with him, “Please, President Arafat’s health is deteriorating. We suspect he was poisoned. So please, if you can contact the Israelis and get us the antidote, we will appreciate it.”

The film follows the exhumation of the Palestinian leader’s body from its resting place in Ramallah to Switzerland, where scientists found at least 18 times the normal levels of radioactive polonium in his remains. The report, was released last week.

Killing Arafat also shows how Al Jazeera’s Investigation’s team was placed under tight surveillance by Palestinian Authority security forces during the production of the documentary.

The widow's take

In the documentary, Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, calls on the Palestinian Authority to halt peace talks with Israel.

Speaking immediately after hearing the results of the Swiss report, she says, “I think the Palestinian Authority has to go till the end to know the truth about it. And I think they have to stop any kind of negotiations with Israel until they know what’s going on.”

Earlier in the film, Nasser Qudwa, Arafat’s nephew and former Palestinian Authority foreign minister, is asked why an autopsy was not performed on Arafat upon his death in 2004.

“If this had happened, I would think that it would have meant the end of the peace process as it stood at that time,”he tells Al Jazeera, “because the Palestinian people would have seen with their own eyes a huge betrayal and a big crime committed against them, a crime of killing their own leader.”

Swiss forensic report on Arafat's death

International Criminal Court

Palestinian officials have said on several occasions that they will take the case of Yasser Arafat’s suspicious death to the International Criminal Court.

Immediately after the exhumation on November 27, 2012, the head of the Palestinian committee investigating his death, Tawfik Tirawi, repeated that claim. “All the existing investigations are looking for evidence, in order to take whoever is behind this assassination to the International Criminal Court.”

But in April this year, the Palestinian Authority agreed to halt its application to join the ICC. It was a concession to Israel, negotiated in Washington, DC, during a meeting between the Arab League and US diplomats.

The move was intended to help Israel and the Palestinians resume peace talks. But it also means that any attempt to bring the case of Yasser Arafat’s poisoning to the Hague remains possible only in the distant future.

'A heavy day'

The documentary also features exclusive footage of the night of the exhumation and testimony from the only man allowed to touch Yasser Arafat’s body during the procedure.

Dr Saber Al Aloul, a Palestinian pathologist, extracted 60 samples from the Palestinian’s leader’s remains. “It was a very difficult and heavy day for all of us,” he said. 

“The moment I touched the body of Yasser Arafat, I remembered his forehead. I was at medical school when I met him for the first time. I kissed him on his forehead.”

The pathologist, whose training was funded in part by the Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), talks of his pride in being able “to deliver the truth to him, our leader, symbol and father, and also to the Palestinian people and to the world.”

“I felt honoured to be involved in this process,” he told Al Jazeera.

Watch 'Killing Arafat' on Al Jazeera English
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Russian results questions

The documentary also reveals the results of a Russian scientific study, performed in parallel to the Swiss research, which yielded inconclusive results.

In the film, a source tells Al Jazeera the scientists in Moscow received specific instructions from the Russian Foreign Ministry on how to carry out the study.

“It seemed suspicious to them that they were being asked to fill out a specific table and answer specific questions from the Foreign Ministry. Namely, to conduct an inferior study,” the source said.

Professor David Barclay, a leading forensic scientist, said the Russian results were “meaningless”. The Russians measured just four of 20 samples received, two from the skull and two from “extremity bones”.

Professor Barclay described the choice of samples for testing as “very odd” and says, “the levels they've got appear to be 10 or 20 times less than you'd expect just from anybody else in the world.”

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