PA minister: Jews poisoned Muhammad, Arafat

In televised sermon, Mahmoud Habbash declares ‘martyred’ Palestinian leader died like Islam’s prophet, who he claims was fed bad meat by a Jew

Yifa Yaakov is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Habbash (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Habbash (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Amid suspicions that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, a Palestinian Authority minister has compared the PLO leader’s death to that of the Prophet Muhammad, in a sermon broadcast on official Palestinian television, saying both were poisoned and murdered by Jews.

Citing a hadith (a report on the deeds and sayings of the prophet) that says Muhammad told his wife Aisha on his deathbed that a Jewish woman from Khaibar had served him poisoned meat three years earlier, PA Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Habbash claimed Arafat was murdered in the same fashion.

Last year, the PA ordered the Palestinian leader’s remains exhumed and sent to laboratories in Russia, France and Switzerland for tests to examine whether he was poisoned. The Swiss team, whose results were published last week, found higher-than-normal levels of the radioactive substance polonium in Arafat’s bones, and said its tests “moderately” supported the notion that Arafat had been poisoned. The Russian results, published the following day, said the findings were “inconclusive.”

Despite the lack of consensus on the matter in the international scientific community, leading figures in the Palestinian Authority were quick to blame Israel — and in Habbash’s case, the Jews — for the alleged poisoning.

According to the watchdog Palestinian Media Watch, Habbash repeated the claim that the prophet had been poisoned in Khaibar — known as a Jewish town in Islamic tradition — three times.

“Yasser Arafat died a martyr,” Habbash said in his televised sermon. “We don’t have the slightest doubt that they killed him. One way or another, they killed him. Even Allah’s Messenger, they killed him with poison,” he added. “When he was dying, he said to his wife Aisha: ‘I feel the same pain I felt from the poison that I ate at Khaibar.’ Poison that he ate at Khaibar — he continued to feel the pain until he died. ‘I feel the same pain I felt from the poison that I ate at Khaibar.’

“Be satisfied, o mighty one, o Martyr Arafat, that you were killed the same way Allah’s Messenger was killed,” Habbash continued. “We have no doubt, and I don’t think there is a single one among us who has the slightest doubt that Arafat was killed. Deep inside we all know who killed him.”

While the Palestinian Authority leadership has refrained from directly accusing Israel of the alleged poisoning of Yasser Arafat, the head of a Palestinian committee appointed to investigate the former PA president’s death said that evidence is being collected to bring Israeli leaders to justice before an international court.

Speaking to official Palestinian television on Sunday, Fatah official Tawfik Tirawi, a retired general who served as chief of Palestinian General Intelligence in the West Bank and currently advises PA President Mahmoud Abbas on security affairs, said that Israel could no longer claim innocence.

“How can it deny this? There is not one Palestinian leader that Israel didn’t kill. It killed leaders from all the Palestinian factions, and admits to it 10 or 20 years later. In 20 years they’ll admit to [killing] Arafat,” Tirawi said.

But Tirawi said that circumstantial evidence collected by his committee left no room for doubt that Israel was to blame. Statements made by Israeli officials in then prime minister Ariel Sharon’s cabinet calling for Arafat’s “removal” fill 70 pages of his committee’s report.

“The crime has three pillars: the first is the perpetrator, which is Israel. The second is the method, which is poisoning. The third pillar is the means of delivering the poison, which we will get to, God willing,” Tirawi said. “Whether the tool was an Arab, a foreigner or a Palestinian makes no difference. When the investigation is completed, Israel will not be able to deny it.”

Israel has ridiculed the notion that it had anything to do with Arafat’s death.

Elhanan Miller contributed to this report.

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