Under his habitual kaffiyah, Yasir Ararat is completely bald. His most celebrated exploit with a pistol was to shoot himself in the leg. In all likelihood he spent his early years, not in Jerusalem, but in a Palestinian quarter of Cairo. . . . From the testimony of relatives, friends, and other witnesses, Kiernan (The Arabs, 1975) pieces together a tale far more intriguing than the myth he dispels--for if Arafat is almost nothing he pretends to be, how did he become the Palestinian chief? According to his siblings, he was a fat, withdrawn child and the pampered protege of his grand-uncle, the family religious leader, because of a presumed divine gift--discovered at eleven to be a photographic memory. By this time he was insufferable and not a little frightening: ""His eyes were hypnotic, and they could stop you cold."" Already imbued with hatred for the Jews, he fell under the sway of a young teacher-provocateur, Majid Halaby--a.k.a. Abu Khalid--who took him into his small guerrilla band, and his bed (apropos of forging ""a sexual bond between brothers""). Yasir was fifteen when Khalid, overstepping himself, was killed--not by Jews, as Yasir was told, but by one of the ever-warring Palestinian factions with the connivance of his father. Whereupon the murderer of Khalid charged the boy Yasir with monitoring his father's activities and organizing a group in memory of ""the martyr Abu Khalid""! Kiernan unfolds this phantasmagoria quietly but not without dramatic effect. The rise of Fatah, Arafat's terrorist organization, is traced in like detail. Arafat himself, it seems, conceived the strategy of involving the Arab states in war, and raised the money to keep the movement alive; but it was Syrian-engineered guerrilla raids that put Fatah--and Arafat--on the front pages. Post-1967 developments are sparsely covered, and throughout the Arabs appear as the injured party. But as the first to penetrate Arafat's defenses, Kiernan has produced an engrossing, ominous book.