Ten years after the death of the most prominent symbol of Palestinian aspirations, the widow Suha Arafat sounds an appeal to her husband’s people: “The way to follow is through negotiation, weapons will not lead to anything.”
“Many say that my husband was an obstacle to peace. We saw, after his death, what happened to peace, ” Suha Arafat told Italian news website Repubblica.it.
Mrs. Arafat is unhappy to see the Palestinian “brothers” fighting even on the day of the commemoration of Abu Ammar, the nom de guerre of Yasser Arafat, who died on November 11, 2004, in a hospital in Percy, near Paris.
It was an anniversary of blood in Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas has banned the celebrations in the Gaza Strip, Fatah leaders and buildings were attacked.
“My husband was the only one capable of uniting the various Palestinian factions, ” Suha Arafat said over phone from Malta, where she lives with her daughter Zahwa, born in 1995, after her marriage to Arafat.
There was a thirty-four year difference between Chairman Arafat and his secretary and translator.
“I loved him and he loved me very much. But if you go back, I’m not sure I’d do it, ” she says. “I have suffered many injustices and gossip. Even now that I am a widow, they continue to invent stories about me.”
She was accused of embezzling funds belonging to the Palestinian Authority to support her life of luxury. “They also said I was not with him at the hospital while he was in a coma. Fortunately, the doctors were witnesses. I could sue, but my husband has taught me that we should not to care.”
The dictator Arafat is buried in the mausoleum erected to his memory in the Muqata compound in Ramallah, which became his prison in the end of his life.
What is your final memorable image of Arafat?
“I spent fifteen days at his bedside. I tried to wake him from his coma, talking to him. I read verses from the Koran. I put up a medal of the Miraculous Virgin of the Rue du Bac in Paris, where I meditate a lot. He cheated death so many times, was saved from assassination attempts and attacks of all kinds. I was convinced that he would make it this time. His last words were spoken to Zahwa, who was nine years old.”
Was Arafat the victim of political murder?
“Based on the samples that have been taken from the body, the Swiss experts have shown an excessive dose of polonium that could have caused death. The French experts argue there were traces of polonium contamination coming from the outside. The judiciary is still investigating. I am confident that the French courts will find the truth.”
And who would have poisoned the Palestinian leader?
“Many wanted to get rid of him. I cannot blame anyone, neither Israel nor anyone in the circle of people close to him.”
Abbas has implicated Mohammed Dahlan, the former Fatah leader in Gaza.
“They are two Palestinian leaders that I respect. I’m friends with both of them. I would not want the investigation into Arafat’s death to be used as a political weapon. We have to work towards national reconciliation. Ours is still a tribal society where revenge can last for generations.”
Why did you begin to seek the truth only eight years after Arafat’s death?
“I had my suspicions. Arafat died of an intestinal infection but had not suffered a fever. It all happened so fast. It is only thanks to an Al Jazeera journalist in 2012 that I began to see too many inconsistencies and, and noted the similarities to the 2006 polonium poisoning of [fugitive Russian secret service officer] Alexander Litvinenko.”
Ten years later, what’s left of Arafat’s struggle?
“My husband would suffer if he saw how small our country is. We are dispersed throughout the Arab world. Arafat had turned Palestine into a secular country, people went to the beach in Gaza. He never imagined that it could become an Islamic state. I remember when George Bush said he had to talk to a new generation of Palestinian leaders. The Americans are satisfied talking with Hamas.”
The Palestinians in Gaza yesterday could not properly remember Arafat.
“Hamas did not have the right to ban the commemoration of the death of Arafat. It was unacceptable. And anyway, nothing can erase the memory of Arafat. It is in the heart of all Palestinians.”
Is the Abbas leadership too weak?
“He is a man of good will. It is not easy to take the place of Arafat. Anyone would feel inadequate. I always wondered where my husband got all that energy. He was the only one that united all the Palestinian factions in the PLO. He could decide on a line and enforce it. When he decided to recognize Israel, he was criticized, but he continued, he accepted his responsibility.”
But he also launched the Intifada. Arafat’s legacy was the return to “armed resistance, ” as claimed by the now imprisoned Barghouti, the former head of the Fatah militias.
“History will tell whether Arafat was right to declare the Intifada. But now we have millions of refugees. We must protect our children. It’s easy to make war, difficult to stop. The armed struggle today will not lead to anything. We will only end up being crushed. The forces are unequal. We have to continue negotiations, proving, if anything, that Israel does not want peace.”
The recognition of the State of Palestine by Sweden is an encouraging sign?
“I hope that Italy will follow suit. Federica Mogherini said the right things about the Palestinian cause. I remember a picture of her when she was younger, visiting the Muqata, meeting with Arafat. Your Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, should speak more clearly in favor of a Palestinian state. And, of course, none of us should question the existence of the State of Israel.”
But that it is not the position of Hamas.
“Hamas has taken its people hostage. When I see what is happening in Gaza … It’s a genocide. A generation that is growing up in violence, with no education, with only the hope of emigrating. I hope that Hamas will finally understand and work towards peace negotiations .”
Zahwa Arafat didn’t really know her father. How do you to talk to her about him?
“From the political point of view, she knows almost more than I do. She is enrolled in the Faculty of Political Science. She is studying the history books, learning a lot about her father. He is an international leader who will be remembered like Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.”
Why don’t you return to Palestine?
“I cannot imagine going to Palestine, especially to Gaza, as if I were a guest. You are in my house. And as long as you will not accept me under these conditions, I will not go.”