Meeting Mrs. Arafat

November 29, 2012

Sliema, Malta

By Darrin Zammit Lupi

With the body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat being exhumed as part of an investigation into whether he was murdered eight years ago, it was pretty clear that we were going to need some reaction from his widow Suha, who has lived in Malta for the past few years. A journalist from The Times, the local paper I also work for, and I fixed an appointment to meet her at her apartment in the seaside town of Sliema, a short drive from the capital Valletta. Coincidentally it’s only some hundred or so meters away from the spot where Fathi Shaqaqi, the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, was assassinated by Israeli Mossad agents in 1995.

Ms Arafat welcomed us into the bright and spacious seafront apartment. Sideboards and tables were full of framed photos of Yasser Arafat – some showing him with world leaders, others depicting him as a family man playing with his young daughter. She asked that I shoot the photos I needed before we started the interview, so my eyes immediately settled on a large painted portrait of her late husband, which I felt would make an ideal background.

Conversation was relaxed and friendly. I had the pictures I needed after shooting for a minute or two, so I sat down, enjoyed an exquisite cup of Arabian coffee prepared by her personal assistant, and listened in on the interview. The plan was to then get a brief comment from her on video afterwards.
She talked at some length about her memories of her husband and wanted to set the record straight that, contrary to what had been widely reported in the build-up to the exhumation, she had refused to allow an autopsy to take place in 2004, that she was never asked for permission and that his body was never in her possession, but that it was with the Palestinian Authority and was taken to Ramallah and buried there.

The interview was interrupted intermittently by her ringing phones – “they hadn’t stopped all morning,” she sighed.

On the stroke of noon, she suddenly sprang up from the sofa and hurried to the next room and switched on her TV, inviting us to join her. She wanted to watch the wreath laying ceremony at Yasser Arafat’s mausoleum in the West Bank live on TV. She sat down on the sofa beneath a large landscape oil painting in her TV room just as the live transmission started on Palestinian TV. This was unexpected for us. My colleague and I never imagined we would have this kind of opportunity. We suddenly found ourselves witnessing a small slice of history, as this 49-year-old woman, wiping tears from her eyes, watched people she knew and recognized paying their respects at her husband’s tomb as his body was exhumed behind large blue tarpaulin sheets by an international team of forensic experts.

Convinced that she would ask me not to take pictures (the arrangement had been only for a few posed portraits before the interview) I nevertheless asked her if she would mind if I made some pictures. A lesson I learned a long time ago – if you don’t ask, you definitely won’t get. She nodded that she was fine with it and I immediately sensed that I was extremely privileged to be able to witness and document this historic but intimate moment. She then seemed to forget I was in the room, as her eyes glazed over and memories came flooding back to her – memories of a man the world knew and regarded as a freedom fighter, a terrorist, a statesman, the father of a people, but who she knew primarily as a loving husband and father to her daughter.

4 comments

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This one very large room alone is EXTREMLY PRICY! WOW! Two-toned marble flooring, huge HDTV, pricy paintings, treadmill, excercise bike…

And we didn’t see the room 1st room he referred to, with “Sideboards and tables…full of framed photos of Yasser Arafat…” – a tiny part of that room is shown in the linked video.

She was 41-years-old when Arafat died, living in a luxuious apartment in Paris (no wonder she praises the French in the linked video), with millions in bank accounts. She’s been living in luxury for many years, will never have to work for living–yep, Arafat and the other higher-ups in the PLO, now conveniently renamed, got their “take” from the generous UN, U.S. and European handouts, intended to go to the Palestinian people. This is why a lot of Palestinians don’t trust their administrators and leaders. But they can’t do anything about it, so they target Israel. Of course. How convenient.

Posted by carlrobertson | Report as abusive

How does the widow of a “freedm fighter” have so much money?
Because he husband, Arafat, skimmed off the top and made sure that a good amount of what he got I donations from the Europeans and Saudis for the Palestinians was squirreled away in Swiss bank accounts.

Posted by JackVigdor | Report as abusive

For most of the years in which I was aware of the existence of Yasser Arafat I believed what the press (back in those days, newspapers were the primary source of information from outside my personal environment) told me about the murderous monster Arafat.

In the last few, too few, years before his death, the publicized image of him began changing and I began seeing a man who was intent on solving a problem, not worsening it as I had theretofore been taught.

I firmly believe that I and the world had been terribly misled about who and what Arafat was.

There is no blame on anyone or thing for that misinformation. All involved were doing what they thought best for their interests – be it statesmanship, humanity, politics or journalism.

But it was only after the few who enjoyed a position from which they could be heard and who believed Arafat was trying to solve problems began voicing opinions that painted Arafat as other than a terrorist that the press began softening its reports on him with articles recognizing him as a normal human being that the possibilities of solution to the seemingly eternal mid-East crises began to emerge.

Then, he died.

I do so hope that there is some believable conclusion derived from this latest epoch.

Israelis live under the terrifying specter that their existence may cease if they lose on the field of battle (whether that is true or not is beyond my pay-grade – witness the last major conflict with Hezbollah) and Palestinians live under the constant oppression engendered by the Israeli fears.

Who is keeping this awful situation alive? There cannot be any father or mother among either the Israelis or Palestinians who does not want this to stop. Why won’t it stop?

I digress. I pray to the god that all faithful Jews, Muslims and Christians recognize as the one god to let this problem end.

And it doesn’t really matter now whether Arafat was murdered or died a natural death – he’s dead but we’re not — yet, anyway.

Posted by rgarrig | Report as abusive

How much of the Palestinian refugee money is sitting in her bank account?

Posted by Anonymous | Report as abusive