Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Middle East Media Sampler 7/5/2012: Media Aboard "Arafat Poisoned" Claim

From DG:
The phantom menace

One of the big stories coming out of the Middle East today is that Yasser Arafat's body may be exhumed for testing of traces of Polonium 210, a toxic radioactive element. For years Palestinian leadership have claimed that Arafat was murdered by Israel.

Ma'an News from August, 2007:
Former political adviser to the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Bassam Abu Sharif, said on Saturday that former French President Jacques Chirac and three French doctors, who treated the late leader, are adamant that he was killed and know which poison killed him. 
Ynet from January, 2009:
Nearly five years after Yasser Arafat died from what French doctors called a massive brain hemorrhage, Arab doctors will meet in Jordan to look into lingering suspicious the Palestinian leader was poisoned.
Saeb Erekat on Al Jazeera from March, 2009 (translated by MEMRI)
Let me recount two historical events, even if I am revealing a secret. On July 23, 200, in his meeting with President Arafat in Camp David, President Clinton said: “You will be the first president of a Palestinian state, within the 1967 borders – give or take, considering the land swap – and East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, but we want you, as a religious man, to acknowledge that the Temple of Solomon is located underneath the Haram Al-Sharif.” Yasser Arafat said to Clinton defiantly: “I will not be a traitor. Someone will come to liberate it after 10, 50, or 100 years. Jerusalem will be nothing but the capital of the Palestinian state, and there is nothing underneath or above the Haram Al-Sharif except for Allah.” That is why Yasser Arafat was besieged, and that is why he was killed unjustly.

Elder of Ziyon in April, 2009
As I reported on Monday, two days before the AP noticed it, Arafat's nephew is trying to put together a commission of doctors to prove that Arafat was poisoned. In Al-Quds today he even says that they are ready to take the "evidence" of poisoning to the International Criminal Court. But first, they have the pesky problem of, you know, proof. 
Unfortunately, the initial meeting of Arafat's doctor cronies has been delayed. 
Arafat's nephew, Nasser al Kidwa, who by sheer coincidence was also once the former "Palestinian Foreign Minister," said that the delay was simply because they couldn't get all the proper doctors together, and they will meet, although they don't know when.
He followed up in November, 2009.

Press TV from January, 2011 
Former special advisor to Arafat, Bassam Abu Shareef, said the investigation conducted by British forensic experts had revealed that the late Palestinian leader was poisoned by thallium, IRNA reported on Tuesday.
Palestinian Media Watch has a few more instances and shows how the charge that Israel murdered Arafat is an element of Palestinian political culture.
At a PLO cultural celebration in the presence of the PA Minister of Culture, a child on stage performed a skit comparing Arafat's death to the death of Jesus by the Jews.  
Boy 1: "Father, father the Elder (Arafat). Why did it happen this way? Why did it happen this way? Death chose you, and you did not complete the path."  
Boy 2: "Do not ask why it happened this way. Yesterday they (i.e., the Jews) crucified Jesus; today they poisoned the father, the Elder (Arafat)."  
[PA TV, June 4, 2010, Dec. 31, 2010]
The Washington Post reported in Yasser Arafat’s body may be exhumed to investigate claims that he was poisoned:
The debate gained fresh momentum on Tuesday night, when the al-Jazeera news channel broadcast a new investigation into Arafat’s death. It revealed the findings of a Swiss forensic institute that examined some of his belongings preserved by his widow. 
According to al-Jazeera, the scientists found unexplained traces of polonium-210 in his clothes and other effects used by the former leader after he fell ill. The institute also concluded that the levels of polonium found in his belongings were unusually high – up to 10 times higher than in control tests. 
The Lausanne-based institute issued its own statement on Wednesday, confirming it had found an “unexplained amount of polonium-210” on Arafat’s personal effects. However, it cautioned that the results were “not sufficient to determine the cause of death.” The institute also pointed out that any interpretation of its results was difficult, not least because of the long time that had passed between Arafat’s death and the laboratory tests.
"Debate" is an odd term here. Is there anything to the charge that Arafat was poisoned? It's facts on one side and rumor and innuendo on the other.

I guess that the Washington Post felt that it had fallen behind the reporting curve, because this report was credited to the Financial Times. But is this really a news story?

The New York Times reported Palestinians May Exhume Arafat After Report of Poisoning:
Mr. Arafat became ill in October 2004 and was flown by helicopter out of the Muqata, his headquarters in Ramallah, in the West Bank, where he had been confined under an Israeli Army siege and virtual house arrest for more than two years. He was transferred to a French military hospital, where he died about two weeks later of unannounced causes. 
Though the hospital records were never made public, fueling speculation and rumors about the cause of death, they were obtained by The New York Times in 2005. The records showed that he had died of a stroke that resulted from a bleeding disorder caused by an underlying infection. The infection was never identified. The hospital found no traces of poisons. 
Two Palestinian investigative committees have so far failed to produce any conclusive findings. At a fractious convention of Mr. Abbas’s Fatah Party in 2009, the first such gathering in 20 years, one point of consensus was the notion that Israel was responsible for the death of Mr. Arafat, the founder of Fatah. Delegates blamed Israel for having kept the leader under siege, and Fatah officials said they would continue to investigate the circumstances of his death, and the suspicions that Israel had poisoned him.
There is some good solid information in these paragraphs. First of all, that the Times obtained Arafat's records, showing a cause of death. The second is that two Fatah committees, so far, have failed to prove that Arafat was killed. Given this, the Al Jazeera report seems more like a fishing expedition than anything.

(One aside on the New York Times article. The report reads:
The legacy left by Mr. Arafat is as confounding as he was in life. Revered by many as the revolutionary founding father of Palestinian nationalism, he was also reviled, particularly by many Israelis, who considered him a terrorist. He was among three recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 for his role in accepting the Oslo accords, a blueprint for peace with Israel, but nearly 20 years later his promises of a Palestinian state remain unfulfilled. Corruption was also rampant under his leadership.
That he was a terrorist is proven. The only question is whether or not he gave up the terror. Lately it's been proven conclusively that he never changed. What's confounding is not his legacy, but the degree to which people - many who should know better - obfuscate what an evil and corrupt man he was.)

Still neither the Washington Post nor New York Times was clear about the level of doubt expressed by the Swiss institute. Challah Hu Akbar found the document and tells us what it says in Al Jazeera’s Arafat Polonium Story Around Since At Least 2006:
We therefore chose to conduct 210Po measurements on samples that had been manifestly worn by Mr. Louvet and where stains of residual biological liquids could be suspected by direct eye observation. 
Some of these samples show 210Po activities that are clearly above the values measured on other samples that had either not been worn or that were not containing visible suspect stains.  
This observation alone is however not sufficient to draw a final conclusion because out of the 10 measurements performed on local samples totally unrelated with Mr Louvet's belonging, two show 210Po activities above the value of 2 mBq/g, which can be set as a limit for background value.
(Emphasis added by Challah Hu Akbar. "Louvet" is a pseudonym for Arafat.)

But the next paragraph in the report is fascinating too.
To clarify the origin of the measured 210Po, we should take into account that this nuclide is naturally present in the environment as a decay product coming from lead-210 (210Pb): 210Po is said to be supported by 210Pb. Therefore, we propose to wait until the beginning of June 2012 and measure the samples again. If we observe a significant amount of 210Po in the samples with high activities in the first measurements, this would show that 210Po is supported by 210Pb. This would therefore be a very strong argument in favor of a natural origin of the observed 210Po,although such a quantity would be very uncommon. Alternatively, if we do not measure a significant amount of 210Po, we should conclude that the high activity measured the first time does not come from the 210Pb decay and therefore is not explainable by a known natural phenomenon.
So a month ago a second test should have taken place to determine the source of the Polonium. Did it take place? If so what was the result? If it hasn't why is there talk of exhuming Arafat's body? Shouldn't the second test be performed first?

I could infer from this that the second test showed that there the Polonium in Arafat's personal effects was naturally occurring and that the reason the Palestinians are talking of exhuming his body is to keep the doubts alive.

This episode suggests three questions.
  • What does this say about the Palestinian political culture? Erekat was (and might still be) a major Palestinian political figure. Nasser al-Kidwa is too. Both have peddled this paranoid fantasy. They aren't crackpot columnist for some fringe newspaper.

  • What does this say about Al Jazeera? Numerous American media stories tell us that Al Jazeera is a professional news organization but it just comes from a different perspective. This shows that it doesn't even pretend to have any sort of journalistic standards.

  • What does this say about the mainstream media? Two major American papers ran stories based on the Al Jazeera report without doing the minimum level of checking.
Only some right wing pro-Israel American blogger did that checking.
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