Occupied Jerusalem: Yasser Arafat’s widow has said she tried to leave her husband hundreds of times and that had she known what marriage to the Palestinian leader would be like, she would never have gone through with it.
Suha Arafat told the Turkish newspaper Sabah that she had loved her husband, but the marriage “was a big mistake and I regret it”. “I know there were a lot of women that wanted to marry Arafat, but he wanted only me. It was my fate,” she said.
The couple married secretly in Tunisia in 1990, when Suha was 27 and Arafat 61, and their daughter Zahwa was born five years later.
Her mother had opposed the match, she said. “Later I understood why. Had I known what I would endure, I clearly wouldn’t have married him. True, he was a great leader, but I was lonely.
“I tried to leave him hundreds of times, but he wouldn’t let me. Everyone knows how he wouldn’t permit me to leave. Especially those in his servitude, they know very well what it was like.”
Suha converted from Christianity to Islam at the time of her marriage. She said that she led an isolated life for security reasons. “I had to be careful in my phone conversations because of bugging, and we were always moving from one location to another,” she said. “My identity was completely destroyed.”
Even though life with Arafat was difficult, “my life without him is even harder”, she said.
Since the death of the former Palestinian president eight years ago, she said she had received dozens of marriage proposals, but had rejected all suitors. Based in Malta, Suha and her daughter live on a Palestinian National Authority pension of €10,000 (Dh49,079) a month — “that’s not secret, it is documented”.
Suha is reviled by many Palestinians, who are sceptical about her conversion to Islam and suspicious of how her affluent lifestyle is funded. She denied allegations that millions of dollars were channelled to secret bank accounts.
“All the stories about Arafat putting millions in my bank account are nonsense and lies. The money is with those who were close to Arafat, and anyone who is determined can find it.”
Arafat died in a Paris hospital in November 2004 after falling ill while under Israeli military siege in his presidential compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. French doctors concluded that he had a stroke after suffering from a blood disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation. Many Palestinians, however, believe Israeli agents poisoned him.
Suha refused an autopsy on Arafat’s body at the time of his death, but last year she handed over items including a toothbrush and underwear to scientists at the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne to test them for evidence of poison. They detected traces of Polonium-210, a deadly radioactive substance.
In November last year, Arafat’s body was exhumed from its mausoleum in Ramallah for further tests.