The November 22nd edition of the BBC World Service radio history programme ‘Witness‘ was titled “The Last Days of Yasser Arafat” and visitors to the webpage were told that: [emphasis in bold added, emphasis in italics in original]
“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him said he had an unidentified blood disorder. But some Palestinians claim he was poisoned.”
“The Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died in November 2004. French doctors treating him at the military hospital in France where he died said Arafat had an unidentified blood disorder and gave the cause of death as a stroke. Since then there have been allegations that he was poisoned. Leila Shahid was the Palestinian ambassador to France in 2004, and was with Yasser Arafat during his final days. She’s been talking to Louise Hidalgo about that time.”
Leila Shahid is repeatedly described both by herself and by Louise Hidalgo as an ‘ambassador’ throughout the programme despite the fact that she did not represent a state.
Hidalgo introduced the programme thus:
Hidalgo: “Today we go back to November 2004 and an account of the last days of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The 75 year-old had been airlifted from his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah 13 days earlier and flown to a French military hospital near Paris where he died.”
After Shahid was introduced by Hidalgo as someone who “had known Yasser Arafat since the 1960s”, listeners heard the interviewee describe the background to Arafat’s arrival in Paris.
Hidalgo: “But, Leila was told, Arafat was refusing to go [to hospital]. He was worried that with relations with the Israelis so bad, if he left the West Bank he’d not be allowed to return. Could France intervene?”
Following Shahid’s description of her approach to the then French president Chirac, “whom Arafat liked”, Hidalgo continued:
Hidalgo: “Leila Shahid had first met Yasser Arafat when she was a student in Lebanon. He was just emerging as the leader of the Palestinians’ armed struggle, already organising attacks against Israel.”
Shahid went on to extol Arafat’s feminist credentials before Hidalgo told listeners:
Hidalgo: “By the time of his death, almost 40 years later, Yasser Arafat had become an international figure who was both loved and reviled. To his supporters he was the father of Palestinian nationalism. To many Israelis he was an unreformed terrorist, responsible for decades of attacks including the suicide bombs that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians in his last years. The brief optimism of the 90s that had followed the Oslo peace accords had, by the turn of the millennium, given way to yet more violence and hatred.”
Following that sanitised portrayal of the Second Intifada terror war initiated by Yasser Arafat, Hidalgo told listeners:
Hidalgo: “For the last two years of his life Yasser Arafat was blockaded by Israel in his West Bank headquarters in a virtual prison, cut off from the rest of the world. Even in those conditions though, Leila Shahid says, the ageing Arafat tried to continue to look after his health.”
After Shahid had described Arafat’s diet and exercise regime, Hidalgo implied that Arafat’s living conditions had affected his health.
Hidalgo: “You saw for yourself of course the conditions he was living in – this tiny compound that was crammed with people. When you got that call saying that he needed hospital treatment, were you surprised?”
The next part of the programme was given over to Shahid’s subjective accounts and lay speculations concerning Arafat’s medical condition prior to his death.
Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat died in the early hours of November the eleventh 2004.”
Shahid: “Every organ fell one after the other; stopped functioning. The reason that they wrote on the death certificate of Yasser Arafat is undetermined reason for death. So I asked them what is undetermined? They say we have not been able to locate a specific disease and of course this is what ultimately made the doctors think that there was an intrusion of something that came from the outside. Whether it is a poison, whether it is an infection – we will never know.”
BBC World Service listeners around the world were not told that the main reason for the fact that the cause of Arafat’s death was “undetermined” was that his wife, Suha Arafat, refused to allow an autopsy to be performed.
Hidalgo: “Yasser Arafat’s body was flown to Cairo where he was given a state funeral. He was then flown back to Ramallah where he was buried amid crowds of mourners. In 2013 his remains were exhumed and tests by Swiss scientists found high levels of radioactive Polonium. The scientists said however that the results were not conclusive.”
The programme closed there, with listeners not having been told that two additional teams of scientists had ruled out poisoning, determining that Arafat had died of natural causes. As previously documented on these pages:
“In March 2015 French experts officially announced that they had ruled out foul play and that “the polonium 210 and lead 210 found in Arafat’s grave and in the samples are of an environmental nature”. There was no coverage of that announcement on the BBC News website.
In July 2015 the French prosecutor “said there is no case to answer regarding the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat”. The BBC News website’s one report on that announcement promoted the ‘Israel killed Arafat’ conspiracy theory no fewer than three times.”
As we see, over three years on the BBC continues to amplify baseless conspiracy theory despite two teams of experts having ruled that Arafat died of natural causes.