The Who2 Blog

Arafat Exhumed, Promptly Reburied

The body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was exhumed and reburied in the early morning of 27 November, in an effort to determine if he was murdered.

Reports say Yasser Arafat was exhumed in the early morning. Some samples were taken off his body by forensics experts and he was reburied six hours later.

Arafat died in 2004, at the age of 75. He was healthy up until 12 October of that year, when he suddenly took ill with stomach pains. Inside his compound in the West Bank at Ramallah, Arafat was basically under house arrest. The Israeli government wouldn’t let him leave.

Arafat’s doctors tended to him, but didn’t take his sickness too seriously. He worsened over the next week and they ended up calling in some Egyptian physicians, then some Jordanian physicians… none of them knew quite what was causing Arafat’s gastrointestinal disorder.

Then his blood started to go screwy, and it was decided by doctors and by the Palestinian Authority that they should get Arafat to a hospital in the West. Eventually the Israelis agreed, and Arafat was flown out by helicopter and taken to a military hospital in Paris.

They tested him, they saw him getting worse and they didn’t know how to treat him. He died around 3:30 on the morning of 11 November 2004. The official word was that he had died from a stroke that had been brought on by his blood disorder. No word on what caused the blood disorder.

Photo from Al-Jazeera's documentary

It’s no surprise that his sudden illness and death raised suspicions. It’s no surprise that Palestinians think the Israelis assassinated Yasser Arafat. The Israelis deny the accusation, and point out that prior to Arafat’s death he was surrounded by his own people.

This year, Al-Jazeera aired a documentary about his mysterious death. You can see all 50 minutes of it here. The documentary doesn’t come to any conclusions, but it manages a “something is fishy” tone throughout. 

It’s suggested that Arafat may have been poisoned with the radioactive element polonium-210. It became famous in 2006 when a Russian spy was poisoned to death in some weird caper.

Why polonium? Because Yasser Arafat’s widow, Suha Arafat, turned over her husband’s personal effects to some Swiss doctors, and they say there were abnormally high levels of polonium-210 in his hat, in his comb and a few other things. They did NOT say it was evidence that Arafat had been poisoned. They said they couldn’t tell that without actual biological samples.

Suha Arafat, in the Al-Jazeera documentary

And there used to be some biological samples. They were destroyed in 2008 apparently; nobody knows why, but then there was never an official investigation into his death, so it wasn’t obvious that they should save samples. In fact, Suha did not allow an autopsy, and the Palestinian Authority won’t release Arafat’s medical records, which makes the Israelis go “Aha!”

Suha asked that her husband be exhumed and examined, to clear up the whole mystery. Meaning, it will create more mystery.

In other words, like all good conspiracy theories, it looks to be a bottomless pit lined with what-ifs and could-bes.

Forensic tests on Arafat’s bio samples won’t be done for a few months. It’s unlikely the “truth” will change anyone’s opinion. As we know, you can always question the science, or the scientists, or the reports of the science, or the reporter who reported on the science, and so on.

To read more about Arafat, see the Who2 biography of Yasser Arafat

To read more about other famous exhumations, go to our feature Common Bonds: Exhumation Celebration.

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