Nine years after the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, his widow said she regrets the marriage and given the choice again, would not have wed him.
“The marriage to Arafat was a big mistake and I regret it,” said Suha Arafat in an interview published last week in the Turkish-language Sabah newspaper. “We were married for 22 years and it felt like 50.”
Arafat added that she had repeatedly tried to leave her husband but was denied her freedom.
“I tried to divorce Arafat more than 100 times and he didn’t let me,” she said. “Everyone knows about this story, especially those who were in his inner circle.”
According to the report, the two first met in 1986 when she was a student in Paris and engaged to a local lawyer. At the time, Suha recalled, the Palestinian leader, 33 years her senior, was a much sought after man.
“There were many women who wanted to marry him but he only wanted me, despite the objections of my family,” she said.
Suha said that although her relatives, a well-established Ramallah family, were opposed to the union, the pair married in secret on her birthday four years later. Her mother was furious at the development and flew to Tunis where she angrily berated Arafat for entering into a marriage with her daughter, which she deemed inappropriate.
“Fate chose me and it wasn’t easy right from the start,” she said.
As soon as she became Mrs. Arafat she was locked away behind walls for security reasons, Suha said.
“I had to be careful in my phone conversations because of bugging, and we were always moving from one location to another.”
Suha recalled that after her husband initiated the first intifada in 1987 — it actually began as a spontaneous uprising — the world’s media attention was focused on him, “and it is no secret that it [the media] is controlled by Jews” she noted.
As the wife of man who spent so much time in the international media spotlight, Suha said she felt like the weakest link in the chain.
“My identity was completely destroyed,” she said.
Since Arafat’s death in a Paris hospital in 2004 — she has claimed that he was poisoned — Suha said she has had dozens of marriage proposals, but rejected all hopeful suitors with the same answer: “Arafat was my hero.”
Suha lives on a stipend she gets from the Palestinian Authority, which she said is barely sufficient to support her and her daughter, and is a far distance from reports on millions of dollars that went to her through secret bank accounts.
“All the stories about Arafat putting millions in my bank account are nonsense and lies,” she said. The money is with those who were close to Arafat and anyone who is determined can find it.”
She also denied a rumor that the apartment she now shares with her teenager daughter Zawa in Malta was purchased as a gift by the former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The apartment, she said, is rented.
“Even if I have regrets I accept the reality. Arafat was a great leader and I was very lonely in my marriage. I was always on the defensive because of the rumors that they spread about me. But life without him is even harder.”
“If I could turn back time I wouldn’t marry Arafat,” she added.
Arafat was a strong supporter of the decision to exhume her husband in November 2012 amid claims he was poisoned.