November 11, 2004
Ah Paris! Yasser Returns at Last
I have a mere two degrees of separation from Yasser Arafat.
Down the street from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is a little hair salon where I get my hair
cut. My hairdresser is a typical French glamour boy who survives on espresso, Cartier cigarettes and gossip. Every time I settle onto the throne of my scissor-happy friend, he regales me with juicy details about his other clients.
"Don't tell anybody," he whispered loudly, "but you, ma chérie, are sitting in the same chair as Suha Arafat. She comes to me for her roots. She is not une blonde!"
Suha is the Christian, 40ish wife of Yasser Arafat and the mother of his 9-year-old daughter. The independent faux blonde lives in Paris, far away from the Mukata Compound where her husband had been "struggling for his people," waging war against Jews and operating his vast economic empire.
"She just loves those $8,000 Hermes bags," my hairdresser told me. "She can do the Rue St. Honoré and spend $100,000 in one hour. I love her!"
I might have been getting the identical haircut as Suha, but the similarity ended there. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to get $100,000 a month wired into my personal bank account -- money said to be skimmed from the budget of the Palestinian Authority.
What is it like to be the mother of "all Palestinian martyrs' orphans" and live so far away from her children? Doesn't she miss them, these children who as she says, "have been submitted to the daily and intensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces?"
It must be hard to know that your loved ones are living in squalid refugee camps while you sip champagne in your 19-room penthouse at Le Bristol. I might have a hairdresser in common with Madame Arafat, but I have no idea what it's like to be a size 16, squeezed into a size 4 $20,000 Chanel suit and carrying the extra weight of all that Bulgari jewelry around the Place Vendôme.
Suha has it all. The one thing she is not schlepping around in her Fendi tote is guilt.
Now, as her husband is in his final hours, it is likely that Suha has canceled her monthly root bleach appointment for a more serious rendezvous with a lawyer about who is going to inherit the bulk of the $900 million that has been siphoned into her husband's private bank accounts.
According to a study by the International Monetary Fund, around $1 billion has been misappropriated and diverted into Arafat's private accounts.
Suha has reason to be in a panic. Her comatose connubial partner is a very rich guy -- a billionaire with questionable brain activity -- a loaded vegetable with an empire of cement, flour, oil, telecommunications and international real estate.
My hairdresser thinks Suha makes Anna Nicole Smith look like an amateur. If you think about it, Anna Nicole actually had to live with the old man for a while before he kicked the bucket and left her $94 million (chump change compared to the 10 percent of Palestinian Authority gas, tobacco and alcohol taxes that Arafat allegedly steals from his people). And Suha hasn't visited her husband in Ramallah in more than three years.
The Marie-Antoinette of Ramallah prefers Paris. So does Yasser.
My hairdresser told me that before Arafat was unable to breathe on his own, he used to come to Paris and do lunch at that tiny little restaurant near Avenue Marceau.
"He likes those $500 bottles of Bordeaux," said my coiffeur. "He would gorge himself on foie gras and get so drunk he couldn't walk. He'd stumble out of the door, and they'd have to carry him into the car."
Still, who could question his commitment to his people? It must have been very difficult for Arafat to stay in Ramallah all these years, struggling to free his people from the tyranny of Israel and unable because of his love for his people to go to Paris and enjoy the billion dollars he stole from them.
Poor Yasser! Committed to his cause, restrained by the Jews, all he could do was dream of returning to his wife and Paris and the apartment they just renovated for $2 million with the help of Mrs. Chirac's decorator.
How he must have longed for his beloved Paris, a city so congenial to his way of thinking. This city where they tried Dreyfus, where they collaborated with the Nazis and where they keep their Holocaust memorial underground -- ah, Vichy!
Paris is a place where he has millions of admirers -- a city chockablock with pro-Palestinian professors, pundits and politicians, yet Arafat stayed on in the wrecked remains of his Mukata Compound, pretending to work on a plan for peace. He hung in there, writing out checks to suicide bombers' families -- ironically, the leader of the fight against Israel grifted his own people.
Poor Arafat. If he wasn't hooked up to life support, he could have been eating a crepe at the École Militaire, where they rounded up Jews to send them to the camps. He could have strolled over to Ile de la Cité to stand on top of the Holocaust memorial, flashing his victory sign. Then he could have walked around the Sorbonne, Suha's alma mater, and heard the happy sounds of French professors calling for a boycott of their Israeli colleagues.
It is ironic that the father of the blessed jihad against Israel -- the father of the "revolution" -- has been airlifted in a specially outfitted private jet by his friend President Chirac to France, the cradle of a real revolution. During the French Revolution, genuine freedom fighters had their own way of dealing with corrupt heads of state. It's called the guillotine.
But Arafat's soon-to-be orphans continue to love their deadbeat dad.
Suha Moolah (as she is known in New York), the merry widow-in-waiting, now sits in the soins intensifs ward of the military hospital in Clamart, practically the only person allowed near Arafat, except for the medical staff. The heads of Fatah, Islamic Jihad and all the warring factions of the Palestinian Authority are stirring a thick soup of conflicting information about the health of the ailing leader. But only Suha knows where the money is. Or does she?
Maybe she is waiting for a code name of a secret Swiss account. But he is unresponsive, in a vegetative state, hovering between life and death -- much like the "road map" to peace.
There are sordid rumors that Arafat is a homosexual and that he has AIDS. He is also said to have been poisoned by political rivals. The truth about his condition might never be revealed, but we do know that he has had an EEG (to analyze brain activity) and a colonoscopy.
I don't know why Arafat had to have a colonoscopy. Maybe the doctor is Jewish.
Arafat probably thought he'd always have Paris and with any luck, if he dies there, he always will.
Carole Raphaelle Davis lives in Nice and Los Angeles. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org