Q&A: Suha Arafat
The late Palestinian leader’s widow talks about the investigation and how it might impact Arafat’s legacy.
Al Jazeera: What was your reaction upon learning the results of the investigation?
My goodness. The results, that they discovered the polonium in his blood, and radioactive polonium in his clothing, on his hat, on the hair, in his underwear, and it’s not the quantity that they found – polonium, it’s all over actually, it’s a substance – but they found a very high quantity of polonium. It means that it’s not a natural death.
Here, I’m seeing a crime. And if I tell you that this laboratory is the best laboratory in the world, in Switzerland, they put their name in this, and their reputation.
And you know how much the Swiss are precise in their work, in their ways. So they put all their efforts, and they are taking the challenge and the risk, even, to tell their name. And the doctors, they revealed themselves – it’s not a hidden thing. Its credibility goes from the origin of this toxicological laboratory, one of the most famous in the world.
From this point, we have this credibility of the analysis. It’s a neutral… this analysis comes from a neutral laboratory, from neutral people, from neutral doctors, internationally recognized. The credibility comes from the chosen laboratory to know the result of what’s going on.
I did not go for further investigation. In the beginning, you might ask why, eight years later… I thought that when Yasser was buried that we did not do any kind of autopsy, so that we had nothing, and they did not discover anything.
But when Al Jazeera came to me, and they said that we want to investigate, and do the investigation in this case, I thought that I might have some of his clothing, because they gave me in the hospital all of his clothing that was with him, his pajamas, his underwear, all the things that he was wearing.
So Al Jazeera was so much interested to take this great risk, and… this is a national job, to go and search the best laboratory in the world, and to give it – they took the DNA of my daughter. My daughter is with me in this investigation, she does not want to appear, but she was so much helpful, because she wants to know from what her father died. So she gave her DNA, so they can compare the DNA of my daughter with the DNA of what they found on the clothing and the hair of my husband.
So it was of course the same DNA substance.
You can imagine how much, technically… it’s very high technical work, when they wanted to be sure that it’s not somebody who was not Yasser Arafat. So they came to Malta and they took all this DNA, very meticulous DNA from the daughter, and they explained to her – it’s not easy for a girl her age to go into this psychologically dangerous position. But they compared the DNA and of course it was the same DNA, so they are sure that all these belongings belonged to Arafat.
We began this work nine months ago. It’s not a work of today or tomorrow, and it’s so difficult to keep the low profile of this investigation.
We had to find every single belonging of my husband, his medication, his watch, his necklace, every single belonging that we could examine. You know that medicine has improved so much. We waited three months because they put this substance in some, it’s very technical, a special laboratory, and they waited three months to know the rate of polonium [decay] in the substance, and how much.
And they discovered that he has a very high polonium substance… not the natural polonium, it means that a radioactive nuclear… this is a nuclear substance that only exists in the very advanced countries. I mean, I don’t need to remind you who owns it.
So we got into this very, very painful conclusion, but at least this removes this great burden on me, on my chest, that at least I’ve done something to explain to the Palestinian people, to the Arab and Muslim generation all over the world, that it was not a natural death, it was a crime.
Of course, after this result of the investigation, I would like to exhume, to ask the Palestinian Authority to help me and to help all the Palestinian people to exhume the body. The doctors said, if you go to any cemetery and take any bone now of dead people, you will not find polonium in it. So if you take of Yasser Arafat’s bones, so that we can exhume the body… or even the soil surrounding it, we have a huge possibility to… you know how meticulous are the Swiss? They are sure, but they want even to be more sure. They would tell us, the sooner the better, to take the bones, because with time the polonium would [disappear].
If there had been poisoning by radioactive polonium, it would have been all over the bones. So I mean, with all my respect to the Palestinian Authority, I know they’ve been trying to discover what Yasser died from – and now we are helping them, we have very substantial, very important results from the best doctors in the world, that are having their credibility and their reputation at stake.
Nasser Kudwa was doing his own work, he’s working with the Arafat Foundation on other things, and I respect what Nasser Kudwa is doing, and what the Palestinian Authority are doing. But this is my duty as a wife and a mother I thought, because nobody could give all this information without my… the laboratory will not accept anybody else, not any official, only the wife, or the daughter when she is 18.
So I used my capacity as a direct family. The Swiss laboratory had to have my approval. The doctors in France had to have my approval to give all the reports… actually, I asked the French hospital, Percy Hospital, to give me samples of the urine and blood of Yasser Arafat, and they said we destroyed it, that was the answer. We destroyed it because nobody asked to have them.
I was not satisfied with that answer. Usually a very important person, like Yasser Arafat, they would keep traces – maybe they don’t want to be involved in it? But after we had all this, we got our own investigation. But blood would have been also another push for us… we’ve been working, I’ve been making letters to more than fifty doctors who were involved, to give them information.
Some of them did give information, some did not, because it’s a secret. Some told us it’s defence secrets, and they cannot release defence secrets. It was not an easy investigation.
Al Jazeera: What was it like for you, basically revisiting your husband’s death, retrieving his old belongings, going through this whole process again?
It was very, very painful. You can’t imagine. And the most painful thing is that my daughter knew about it, because she had to give us DNA, and I had to give my DNA. I will tell you, it was very painful to keep the secret like this, to go into all the memories. You can imagine going again into the hospital.
And more and more, as we discovered the ambiguity of the inquiry, people would not want to talk, would say it’s defence secrets, would say it’s forbidden for us to say, people were afraid to lose their jobs – everyone did not want to talk, even with letters from me.
It was painful, but it built our conviction again and again that it was a plot. And when you see all the declarations of the Israeli leaders, the American administration, the Bush administration about Arafat, that he is irrelevant, that we have to get rid of him, that he is an obstacle for peace… and when you see Sharon’s declaration that we have to kill him, help God in taking Arafat, it’s all like a flashback, coming and going. We were always in tears.
And to witness the Arab revolutions – all these people who got rid of their leaders – and yet people still go to Arafat’s tomb, to implore him for help like he was a saint. We must be proud of this, as Palestinian people.
I believe in justice. If you don’t get your justice in life, you get it in death. What’s happened now with the Arab revolutions is justice.
Al Jazeera: What impact do you think this might have on his legacy?
I think his legacy was always – he had always a great legacy. But this will make him, you know – will glorify more his legacy, will get people to go more into his footsteps, not giving up the land. He will allow the negotiators, our negotiators to be even more shrewd, more aggressive, that Israel maybe did not want peace during Arafat, so we have to be more and more stubborn about peace.
But his legacy – everybody loves him. People were doubting this but now we have the proof, and his legacy will be more and more as a great leader from our century, one of the great leaders of all the world. This will intensify this down-to-earth, lovable, humble person at the same time as we are witnessing dictatorships going one after another.
Al Jazeera: To exhume and study his body would require permission from both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government. Are you optimistic you’ll receive that?
I doubt about Israel, but I think that if there is a very important laboratory as the Swiss are – with some intervention, maybe the Israelis would want to oblige, if there is pressure.
But I think the Palestinian Authority will not mind this, because we have credible people, and I think the Palestinian Authority will want to know the truth.
Al Jazeera: Talk about what it’s been like for you over the last, almost eight years, since his death.
There’s justice in life. Sometimes God brings this justice to us… yesterday, there was in the press, reports that the Hamas authority discovered Palestinian spies working for Israel, one of them for forty years, one for twenty.
There have been video allegations, confessions… one of them spoke about what he did for Rantissi, building bombs, moving information, but one of them, the most dangerous, said it has been my mission for twenty years, just the file of Suha Arafat, to destroy her image, to make allegations everywhere. Can you imagine? If they used Palestinian spies for this, what they would do in the international media, and the Jewish-controlled media in the United States, and all over.
So I say that truth will prevail, and justice will prevail in any way, and… it was very difficult to live with these allegations, because before I used to live with these allegations, and Yasser was here. He was here to protect me, and he would tell me, Suha, don’t worry, it’s not you they are attacking, it is me, by you. But by attacking me they want to attack his legacy when he died… it’s been eight years they were attacking him in every single place.
And the truth will prevail, that he has nothing to do with all these cases, but I pay the price of being his wife… we are the continuation of his family, of his legacy. All these people that were putting bad media – look where they are now, some of them in the Arab world… it was, I don’t tell you it was easy, it was a challenge, a continuous challenge.
You wake up in the morning and you don’t know what this day reserves for me, what they’re going to do, what kind of allegations they will spread… and unfortunately people believe because it’s amusing to speak about others. But I’m proud that with all that happened, that at least for me, it’s like a burden removed.
Al Jazeera: If the next batch of tests find more conclusive evidence, do you think it will change anything on the ground in Palestine?
It will change a lot of things in Palestine. It will remove a lot of doubt. You know, people would say, Arafat wanted to – there’s a lot of people who say that Arafat wanted not to make peace, he did not accept Camp David, a lot of criticism.
Arafat wanted to arrive with the Palestinian cause to a Palestinian state, and because of this they got rid of him. Of course it will change, it will not permit any negotiator to give up Arafat’s core principles. Jerusalem, the 1967 borders, the right of return, prisoners, water, everything – especially the right of return.
No other negotiator, no other Palestinian negotiator now or in fifty years, will dare to negotiate what Yasser Arafat has planted in the roots of our thinking. If you see today, the meeting was cancelled with Mofaz and the president, because people do not Mofaz to come next to the grave of Yasser Arafat – because he was minister of defence when Arafat was killed.
People are rising up from inside, you know.