Amid much speculation and despite an already volatile situation in the region, Palestinian authorities gave the green light to exhume the remains of deceased Palestinian Liberation Organization leaderthis week. Since Arafat's relatively sudden illness and death in 2004, many unresolved issues surround the demise of the Palestinian leader.
Initially when Arafat fell ill during a meeting on Oct. 25, 2004, the report was that he was suffering from the flu. This report gave way to food poisoning as Arafat's condition worsened. Within the span of slightly more than a week, Arafat had lapsed into what was described as a deepening coma. By Nov. 11, Arafat was dead. At first, doctors said the cause of death was a brain hemorrhage possibly brought on by some unknown underlying infection.
Subsequently, the leader's death was categorized as due to a "blood disorder." By this time, there were already rumors of Arafat's death being caused by more sinister means. To complicate things even more, Arafat's wife, Suha, refused to allow doctors to perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
And so, Arafat was interred without an official investigation into how he may have died. It appeared that the death would be blamed on natural causes and the case would be closed. All of this changed when officials said that Arafat's personal effects were showing higher than normal readings of the highly toxic and radioactive polonium-210.
Polonium-210 is a rare isotope of the element polonium. In fact, it is so rare and difficult to synthesize that only a handful of nations and civilian operations can produce it. Polonium-210 poisoning is an extremely exotic method of assassination but due to its properties, ease of concealment and relatively low killing dosage, it can be a first choice for covert assassination where there needs to be a guarantee of certain death of the target.
Polonium-210 kills by introduction of the poison into the target’s system. This is usually done via food or drink. Once a sufficient dose is given, death is virtually inevitable. The exposed person will begin to manifest symptoms almost immediately. Vomiting is one of the first symptoms. The victim can also suffer severe acute hair loss among other symptoms.
Eventually, a fatally exposed person will begin to suffer several symptoms that become progressively worse. Finally the victim will die. This is usually caused by multiple organ failure brought on by the bombardment of internal organs with alpha particles emitted by the substance.
Here is where things concerning Arafat's death begin to break down. Experts in the field of radiation exposure have said that the symptoms were not all consistent with radiation poisoning. However, doctors ruled out most of the usual suspects that a man of Arafat's age might die from. He was 75 at the time of his death.
The refusal of Arafat’s widow to allow an autopsy along with strict privacy rules concerning a patient’s condition left a void surrounding his death that was immediately filled with several accusations and rampant speculation.
It was during this time rumors began to spread that the deceased PLO president may have died from HIV/AIDS. The implication was that Arafat engaged in homosexual activity because the disease tends to be associated with those who are gay, despite the fact that heterosexuals can contract the disease as well.
Once again, there were experts who concluded that not all symptoms matched the way Arafat reportedly died. Recently there has been renewed interest in how he died, so much so that the Palestinian leadership allowed his remains to be exhumed for examination to find the cause of death.
This is a move that will either allay further suspicion or bolster what many have suspected all along.
If the evidence points to assassination, then the question arises concerning who did it and how. Of course Israel will be on the short list, but there would be a few other things to consider. For instance, what if he was killed by a faction within his own sphere of influence? Also, how was it carried out? Was it in fact polonium-210 poisoning or something else? There was talk among those who subscribe to the assassination theory that suggested thallium poisoning. Thallium is another toxic chemical element.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “Acute thallium poisoning produces gastrointestinal symptoms and signs, such as vomiting and acute abdominal pain, in the first few hours after ingestion, and initially is indistinguishable from other causes of acute gastrointestinal toxicity. However, within several days of ingestion, acute thallium poisoning often produces neurologic symptoms, such as extreme pain and acute muscle weakness ascending from the lower extremities, consistent with heavy metal toxicity.”
Thallium poisoning is difficult to detect and since it mimics other conditions, there is a slim likelihood that unless there is a reason to suspect thallium it would be overlooked. This however, would not explain the alleged presence of high concentrations of polonium-210 on Arafat’s belongings.
Of course there is always the possibility that he died of natural causes. A man of his age could have easily suffered from any number of conditions that may have led to his death.
Of all possibilities, natural causes are the least controversial. In fact, if it is determined Arafat died from anything other than that, there will likely be some kind of lasting fallout. This would especially apply if he was murdered and the evidence points to Israel. Such a revelation would surely spark more unrest among the Palestinians. To find out that their beloved leader was murdered would be tantamount to an act of war. There is no doubt that such a disclosure would reinforce the already festering hatred and brewing hostility among those who want nothing more than to see Israel obliterated from existence.
Hopefully for the sake of amity, nothing will be discovered that could bring about an end to the already tenuous peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
For now however, the question remains, did Arafat die a natural death or was he murdered?