DOCUMENTARIES


Israel/Palestine - What Killed Arafat? (HD) - 50 min (25 July 2012)

The exclusive inside story of Arafat's mysterious death

 
 



In 2004 Yasser Arafat suddenly fell mysteriously ill. Doctors from around the world rushed to save him but he died within weeks and ever since it's been an unsolved case. It was convenient timing for Israel and the US who wanted him out of the way. But no investigation followed. This investigative doc made the news worldwide when it recruited forensic scientists and discovered traces of a deadly radioactive poison on his clothes. Was Arafat murdered?

"This is not a medical issue, it is a political one", says Omar Dakka. Once personal physician to Yasser Arafat, he is hesitant to discuss the precise circumstances surrounding the leader's rapid and mysterious demise. Such trepidation and a frustrating reticence are common among the extended team of medical professionals who surrounded Arafat in his last weeks of life in 2004. French doctors refuse to speak to camera. One of his Tunisian doctors begs not to be drawn into it, "The truth is not with me...don't involve me in such difficult issues." As the continuing controversy throws up suggestions of poison, international assassination and interference, Arafat's doctors reluctance to speak openly begs the question; why?

The secrecy and doubt surrounding his death, is especially interesting considering the political factors at play in 2004. Prime Minister of Israel Ariel Sharon said, "Anybody who is a threat to the Israeli people...I will remove him." At the same time president Bush was saying, "I will call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders." As Mohammed Rashid, former advisor to Arafat, points out, "It was clear that we were heading to a serious deadlock which could cost Arafat his life."

In France despite a myriad of tests using the world's most sophisticated equipment the cause of his illness remained unclear. Crucially however the French do not take samples for poison until four days after his arrival, three full weeks since symptoms began and most tellingly don't perform tests for rare nuclear materials.. "If poisoning had to be suspected, the samples have to be collected very, very rapidly." Not only that but no autopsy was conducted.

Nearly nine years later tests on Arafat's hair samples, toothbrush, hat, a urine stain from his underwear and blood stain from his hospital cap show carried out by Swiss experts show unexplained high levels of Polonium 210. In 2004, no doctor would have suspected its use as a poison, but two years later it was used to kill former Russian spy Alexandre Litvenko. But for definitive proof, it is necessary to go back to the urine samples taken at the time. But despite French law requiring samples are kept for ten years, Arafat's samples were destroyed in 2008 after just 4 years. Despite the evidence stacking up, roadblocks are being erected all around the investigation.

"If I know that Yasser was poisoned, it will close a chapter...the enigma of his death." Suha tell us. As murder looks like an increasingly likely cause of death, Arafat's body is being exhumed and the outcome of his autopsy could have huge political implications for the Middle East.

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Making the film
Making of
At the time I thought there was a great historical injustice; that there never had been a proper investigation into how a prominent world figure, within a span of thirty days, died of a mystery illness and no one had the faintest idea what it was. Of course there's a lot of rumours and speculation but there was never any solid investigation, there was no post-mortem and no one seemed to care - they wanted to pave over the whole issue because America was busy with its occupation of Iraq and, lets face it, at that point in history no one much gave a damn about Yasser Arafat; they saw him as the number one impediment to peace in the Middle East and the common world view at the time, as the French foreign minister said in our program, was that Arafat was the Devil and that if only this obstacle would be removed then peace would follow so really I think it was a historical injustice that this wasnt done at the time and having access to his family and knowing how to approach them I thought that now that Im involved in investigative journalism this would be something that Id be very interested in taking on.

The Producers
Clayton Swisher
Clayton Swisher, based in Doha, has covered the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and the ongoing war in Afghanistan. He is author of "The Truth About Camp David" (New York: Nation Books, 2004) and is a term member with the Council on Foreign Relations.
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