Friday, September 16, 2005


Hubbub over Arafat's Cause of Death

Last week, there were a number of high profile articles in Ha'aretz about the release of Yasir Arafat's medical records to two Israeli journalists, Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff, and, subsequently, speculation as to the cause of his death (an excerpt from Harel and Isacharoff's forthcoming book was published in the Friday magazine section of Ha'aretz). The articles sparked conversation given allegations that Arafat was either poisoned or suffered from AIDS, or even both (Arafat's personal physician posits a theory that Arafat was poisoned but that the AIDS virus was introduced into his blood to cover up the poison). Interestingly enough, the New York Times ran a more sober story on the medical records, giving no credence of the AIDS theories (headline: Medical Records Say Arafat Died from a Stroke), causing debate as to whether Ha'aretz had been overly sensational in their claims or whether the Times had ignored important evidence. The Times ran a correction, stating that the paragraphs dealing with the AIDS speculation had been cut because of space. Two of the paragraphs that were cut read:
"The records make no mention of an AIDS test, an omission the experts found bizarre. An Israeli infectious disease specialist said he would have performed the test, if only to be thorough and to refute the rumors that surrounded the case.

"He said news accounts during Arafat's illness made him strongly suspect that Arafat had AIDS. But after studying the records, he said that was improbable, given the sudden onset of the intestinal troubles."
Hardly sensational stuff. Ha'aretz ran an article by Harel with the headline "NY Times and Haaretz - why the different stories?" And why? Harel wrote:
How did Haaretz and The New York Times come to such different conclusions, based on the same report? A copy of the report was first obtained during research for the book, "The Seventh War," written by Amos Harel and Avi Isacharoff. The copy was presented by the authors to a Times reporter who was present at the meetings with Israeli experts.

The experts posited three principal causes of death: poison, infection or AIDS, with each doctor assigning a different probability to each option.

The Times, after consulting with its own medical reporters, decided to rule out almost completely the probability of poisoning or AIDS. The Israeli doctors, and Haaretz in their footsteps, thought differently.
Finally, after all the back and forth between an Israeli and an American newspaper, Khaled Amayreh in al-Ahram Weekly writes on the Palestinian perspective, both on the medical records and the reporting on them in Israel and the U.S. The concencus?
For the vast majority of ordinary Palestinians, and also for most PA officials, the widespread belief among Palestinians that Israel killed Arafat has not translated into any serious preoccupation with the affair. In other words, the Palestinian nation as a whole is not very enthusiastic about -- or even interested in -- unravelling the mystery of Arafat's death. Part of this apathy is probably related to the quiet realisation on the part of most Palestinians that it really wouldn't make a big difference if it were proven that Israel killed Arafat.

One Palestinian schoolteacher scoffed at the media fanfare regarding the released medical records. "I can't understand why people are so excited about the possibility that Israel killed Arafat. Israel has killed tens of thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of political leaders. Israel is our enemy and our gravedigger. Why wouldn't they kill him?"

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