Suha Arafat was born on 17 July 1963, Jerusalem, into an affluent Roman Catholic family who lived in Nablus and then Ramallah (both cities under Jordanian rule at the time). Suha’s father Daoud Tawil, an Oxford-educated banker, was born in Jaffa (now part of Tel Aviv). Daoud Tawil had business both in the West Bank and Jordan.
Suha’s mother, Raymonda Hawa Tawil, born in Acre, is a member of the Hawa family of Acre, prominent property owners in the Haifa area. She was a poet and writer. She became a politically active Palestinian militant after 1967 and was arrested several times by the Israelis, making her a media star. She was also a high-profile Palestinian journalist. Suha was raised Catholic. Suha, growing up in Ramallah, was influenced by the political activism of her mother conducted in the 1970s from her PLO-influenced news bureau in East Jerusalem.
Blonde, convent-educated, Suha Arafat makes an unlikely wife for the leader of the Palestinian resistance.
In the days before his death, Suha Arafat was at the centre of a row with the temporary Palestinian leadership over access to the ailing Yasser Arafat in hospital.
Suha Arafat accused her husband’s colleagues of conspiring against him and of trying “to bury Arafat while he is still alive”.
Since their secret marriage in Tunis more than a decade ago, Mrs Arafat has certainly displayed a gift for undiplomatic outbursts.
In 2002, just before her husband condemned “all terrorist acts which target civilians”, Suha Arafat seemingly endorsed suicide bombings.
If she had a son, there would be “no greater honour” than to sacrifice him for the Palestinian cause, she told a London-based Saudi weekly.
“I hate the Israelis,” she said in an interview a year earlier.
“I oppose normalisation with them… [they] are responsible for the problems our children have.”
In 1999, during a meeting with US First Lady Hillary Clinton, she accused Israel of poisoning Palestinian air and water and causing cancer.
Mrs Clinton responded by accusing her of making statements that could adversely affect the Middle East peace process.
Life in exile
Raised a Catholic in Ramallah and Nablus, Mrs Arafat left to study at the Sorbonne in Paris.
Her father was a banker and her mother is a high-profile Palestinian journalist, Reemonda Tawil.
It was through her mother that the future Mrs Arafat met her husband.
After their introduction, Suha moved to Tunis to work for him with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in exile.
She converted to Islam and they wed in 1990, when she was in her late 20s and he was already in his 60s.
According to some reports, they have led almost separate lives since his return to the occupied territories, each with separate quarters in their home.
One report said her apartment is decorated with images of the Pope and Jesus Christ, as well as one of a young Mr Arafat with a gun.
Their daughter, Zawha, was born in July 1995, and since the start of the second intifada, Mrs Arafat has been living with her mother and daughter in Paris.
But while the Arafats may have been living apart, they have been embroiled in a scandal together.
The French authorities recently revealed they were investigating alleged multi-million dollar transfers to her bank account from a number of foreign bank accounts.
The disclosure added fuel to allegations of financial corruption within the Palestinian Authority.
Mrs Arafat hit back by accusing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of leaking news of the French inquiry in order to distract attention from corruption allegations that were being levelled against him at the time.
She, in turn, has accused her husband’s close aides of being responsible for corrupt dealings, saying: “Every beautiful flower ends up surrounded by weeds.”
That has not endeared her to PLO insiders, many of whom regard her as more French than Palestinian.
Some have voiced fears in the past that her lifestyle could damage Mr Arafat’s “revolutionary credentials” – and since she has no social or political standing in the PLO, her influence is unlikely to survive the death of her husband.
Regardless of treaties and the best-laid plans between the two parties, peace was always elusive, and, after issuing a second intifada in 2000 and the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Arafat was confined by Israel to his headquarters in Ramallah.
In October 2004, Arafat fell ill with flulike symptoms and, his situation worsening, was transported to Paris, France, for medical treatment. He died there the following month, on November 11.
In the years since his death, conspiracy theories regarding the true cause of Arafat’s demise have abounded, many holding Israel responsible. In November 2013, researchers in Switzerland released a report revealing that tests conducted on Arafat’s remains and some of his belongings support the theory that the late Egyptian leader was poisoned.
Evidence from the report suggests that radioactive polonium—a highly toxic substance—had been used. Suha Arafat, Yasser Arafat’s widow, supported the findings in media interviews as proof of Arafat’s murder. Other authorities, including a Russian medical investigation team called to the case, have maintained that they believe Arafat died of natural causes.
- Suha Arafat Biography and Profile (BBC / Biography)