Did Israel kill Yasser Arafat? That is the question being discussed as the Palestinian Authority exhumes his body for French prosecutors investigating his death. This follows the announcement by a Swiss institute that they found remnants of the poison polonium on Arafat’s clothes.
However, the more fundamental questions are why would Israel have wanted to kill Arafat and would it have been justified. The assessment must be based on the objective data as to Arafat’s role at the time. Was he just a political leader or was he also an archterrorist leading the most systematic and deadly terror war that Israel ever faced? Yasser Arafat died in November 2004 after four years of a PA terror campaign, also called the second intifada. One thousand Israelis had already been murdered in attacks coming from PA territory under Arafat’s leadership.
Was Arafat directing this terror campaign? If so, he would belong in the same category as terror leaders like Osama bin Laden and Hamas leader Ahmad Yassin, who were killed by the US and Israel respectively, as measures in the war on terror being fought by democracies.
Evidence abounds that Arafat was the force behind the terror war against Israel. First, the PA actively promoted terror and glorified terror through the structures under Arafat’s control.
PA-owned official TV was used repeatedly to call for killing Jews in the name of Islam.
For example, Ahmed Yusuf Abu Halabiah, a Palestinian religious leader, preached on PA TV: “The Jews are the Jews … it is necessary to slaughter them and murder them, according to the words of Allah … It is forbidden to have mercy in your hearts for the Jews in any place and in any land … Any place that you meet them – kill them … Have no mercy on the Jews, murder them everywhere.” (PA TV, October 13, 2000)
Likewise, PA cleric Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Madi preached: “I was delighted when a youth said to me: ‘Oh, Sheikh, I am 14 years old, I have four more years, and then I will blow myself up among Allah’s enemies’ … We blow them up in Hadera, we blow them up in Tel Aviv and in Netanya … they will not be deterred except by the color of the blood of their filthy people. They will not be deterred unless we blow ourselves up willingly and voluntarily among them.” (PA TV, August 3, 2001) Then as now, PA TV was the official PA mouthpiece and controlled by the PA leadership.
It is impossible that ongoing directives like these to kill Israelis/Jews could have been expressed regularly for four years unless Arafat wanted it.
A second indicator that Arafat supported the killings was the way the PA honored those who succeeded in killing Israelis, including suicide bombers. For example, PA TV repeatedly broadcast a song-tribute honoring Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber, who killed one and wounded more than 150 Israelis: “My sister Wafa … Oh the heartbeat of pride, Oh blossom who was on earth and is now in Heaven. Allah Akbar! [Allah is greater] … you chose Martyrdom. In death you have brought life to the aspiration.” (PA TV, May 1, 2002)
The PA leaders actively gave their stamp of approval for murders that were committed by all the various terror organizations. In 2003, the PA Ministry of Education held the Abd Al-Baset Udeh football tournament for 14-year-olds, named after the suicide terrorist who killed 31 at the Passover celebration in Netanya. Each team in the tournament was named after a different terrorist. (Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Jan. 21, 2003) Another example was when the PA held a football tournament, sponsored by the top PA leadership including Arafat, Saeb Erekat, the Mufti, the minister of sport and others. The event honored the “Martyrs of the Palestinian National Struggle” and the teams were named after 24 “martyrs,” including: Hamas bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash; head of the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Abu Ali Mustafa; Fatah’s Dalal Mughrabi, whose bus hijacking killed 37, and 21 other “martyrs.”
Had the PA not supported suicide terror and not wanted to encourage more terror, as some Arafat apologists claim, these sermons inciting murder and genocide would not have been preached on official PA TV by PA clerics, suicide bombers like Idris would not have been honored by official PA TV, and sporting events glorifying terrorists like Udeh would not have been held by the PA Ministry of Education. And these are only representative examples among many.
More evidence that Arafat and the PA were actively directing the terror war is found in the testimonies of PA leaders themselves, both during the campaign and since its conclusion.
In 2002, the year 452 Israelis were murdered by Palestinian terror, Mazen Izzadin, deputy director of PA National Education, said proudly on PA TV that Arafat was directing the entire campaign: “The Al-Aqsa intifada – if we want to be truthful and open, history will reveal one day – that it [the intifada] and all its directives belong to the President and Supreme Commander Yasser Arafat.” (PA TV, May 28, 2002)
Ashraf al-Ajrami, former PA minister of prisoners, likewise credited Arafat with being responsible for the terror war: “The master of resistance is, without doubt … Yasser Arafat. Even this intifada, whose flag Hamas has tried to wave unjustly, forcibly, falsely and fraudulently – that flag belongs to Yasser Arafat alone … The greatest number of [Palestinian] prisoners is from the [PA] security forces [under Arafat]. They are the ones who bore arms and carried out the greatest and most important [military] operations.” (PA TV June 29, 2009)
More than once, PA leaders have emphasized Arafat’s duplicitous strategy of condemning the terror as part of a facade to please the West and conceal his responsibility and at the same time orchestrate it and encourage Palestinian terror.
Sultan Abu al-Einein, currently an adviser to PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, explained: “Yasser Arafat used to condemn martyrdom operations [i.e., suicide attacks]. He used to condemn these operations in very severe terms, but at the same time, it is clearly determined that the martyr Yasser Arafat financed these military operations.” (Al-Quds TV, April 6, 2009)
Muhammad Dahlan, then member of the Fatah Central Committee, also highlighted Arafat’s successful deception strategy: “Arafat would condemn [military] operations [i.e., terror attacks] by day while at night he would do honorable things. I don’t want to say any more about this.” (PA TV, July 22, 2009)
Even the current PA chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, has admitted publicly that Arafat and the Palestinian Authority were the ones who ordered the killings. During a PA TV interview, Abbas argued for the release of all terrorists in Israeli prisons, saying: “I demand [the release of] prisoners because they are human beings, who did what we, we, ordered them to do. We – the [Palestinian] Authority. They should not be punished while we sit at one table negotiating. This is war. One [i.e., Israel] ordered a soldier to kill, and I ordered my son, brother, or others, to carry out the duty of resistance. This person killed and the other person killed.” (PA TV, February 14, 2005) Significantly, Abbas admitted that it was “we” – the PA led by Arafat – who had given the orders to kill. The killers according to Abbas were merely following orders, and “did what we, we, ordered them to do.”
Arafat, according to Abbas himself, had instructed his people that killing Israelis, even civilians, was their “duty of resistance.”
So was Arafat the leader of the terror war responsible for the murder of over 1,000 Israeli civilians. His religious leaders called to kill Jews. His social frameworks and media glorified those who succeeded in murdering Israelis. Abbas said Arafat “ordered them… to kill” and al-Einein said Arafat “condemned” and “financed” the same suicide bombings.
In fact, the people closest to Arafat and the current internal Palestinian narrative, unanimously credit Arafat with the decision to start the terror war and the overall responsibility for the killings.
Did Israel kill Arafat? Certainly, there is no evidence of it, nor is it the critical question. What is important is that Arafat’s role as the terror leader made him no different than the other terrorists who pulled the triggers or detonated suicide belts. The year was 2004. Over 1,000 Israelis had already been murdered under Arafat’s guidance and direction. Arafat wasn’t just a political leader during a conflict; he was leading a terror war that was targeting and murdering civilians at every opportunity.
There was ample justification if Israel had wanted to kill him.
Itamar Marcus is director and Nan Jacques Zilberdik senior analyst of Palestinian Media Watch. They are the authors of Deception: Betraying the Peace Process. This article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post, republished with permission of the author.