As the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to combating Israel for the sake of his nation’s right to self-determination. After decades of activism and leadership, Arafat’s life came to an end on November 11, 2004 after having suffered from a mysterious month-long illness. More puzzling than the onset of Arafat’s undetermined illness was his unexpected death.
Since Arafat had died while undergoing treatment in a French military hospital, no autopsy had been carried out immediately after his death. Under French law only his wife, Shuha, had the legal authority to request an autopsy at that time. Due to the absence of an autopsy, in the years since Arafat’s passing, a spectrum of rumors ranging from HIV to poisoning have been circulated. However, after years of speculation, Arafat’s body was exhumed for an autopsy in 2012.
To the dismay of many, even the autopsy of Arafat yielded inconclusive results. After separate laboratory testing conducted by Al Jareeza, France, and Russia, each result yielded inconsistent findings. According to Russia, an insufficient amount of polonium-210 was found in the remains of Arafat in order to conclusively declare poisoning as the cause of death. However, Al Jareeza ardently maintains the conviction that Arafat had indeed succumbed to poisoning by polonium-210. On the other hand, France stands a slightly neutral stance by concluding that while unusually high levels of polonium had been discovered in Arafat’s system, the cause of death was most likely natural causes in conjunction with a generalized infection.
Although the results and interpretation of Arafat’s autopsy are inconclusive, the staggering price of his exhumation is less bewildering. No official statements regarding the cost of the former Palestinian leader’s exhumation has been issued yet. However, according to The Guardian, a typical exhumation in the UK is priced at approximately £5,000 or $6, 867.
Under the assumption that a family of four needs $146 per week to purchase adequate and healthy groceries, the cost of exhuming Arafat could have bought a family of four living in the United States groceries for 46 weeks. Furthermore, since 50 percent of the world’s population subsides on less than $2.50 a day, Arafat’s exhumation could have also enabled an individual living in a non-industrialized nation to secure shelter, food, and clothing for almost 2,747 days, or roughly 7.5 years.
Although uncovering the truth behind Yasser Arafat’s death holds momentous political implications for Palestine and its international relations, the cost of the exhumation also has enormous political merit- we live in an age in which digging up the past is given more care than shaping the immediate future. The cost of a single exhumation could also have been utilized to allow an impoverished child to see his or her 7th birthday.
– Phoebe Pradhan