The last time I saw Naji al-Ali, the well-known Palestinian cartoonist, was at a dinner at his place. This was a short while before he was assassinated.
Adib Abu Alwan, other mutual friends and I all were at the dinner. We did not necessarily come together politically, but we appreciated Naji for the creative artist he was. It never crossed our minds that someone may consider killing an artist, no matter how grand the differences were.
The cartoonist was shot on July 22, 1987. He died in a hospital one month later at the age of 51.
London media groups were all left in shock by this unprecedented terrible crime. Although denunciation took place, many took an unbiased position for they mostly avoided engaging in the mud of politics.
British police decided on reopening the case some three decades later. Perhaps they have new leads and perhaps they are hoping for sleeping consciences to awaken as even if the perpetrator is not arrested or if the masterminds are not exposed, it’ll reboot the public’s memory which forgot about this crime.
Whoever shot Naji dead is one criminal, but those who joined by silencing the truth are actually many or rather an entire society. They kept silent and followed a culture of overstepping values.
Naji as a political caricaturist had his opinions against peace and against the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its leader Yasser Arafat. The crime was a personal vendetta for regardless of how expressive cartoons and articles are, they do not have the power for change.
It was not even easy to voice suspicions but we know that the PLO, like all ideological military institutions such as Hezbollah and Hamas, resort to distortion in the name of higher interest and license murder for its causes.
When Arafat was told that he was accused of lying and equivocation, he said: “If I kill for Palestine, I will most certainly lie for it.”
Truth be told, the late president, despite his love for conspiracies and enthusiastic speeches, was not known for violence or for ordering off the heads of rivals – though there are doubts that his organization is behind killing Naji in London 30 years ago.
Was it Arafat? Or was it one of his intelligence apparatuses? Or was it a party that was pro- Arafat or a party against both the PLO and Naji altogether? This is something that only police forces and time can reveal.
Arafat’s anger towards Naji was no secret. The late PLO leader had asked Kuwait to reign Naji in—but instead of doing so, the cartoonist resettled in London.
Everyone colluded with whoever committed the crime either through silence or through denial.
To avoid embarrassment, Israel was accused because it is the usual suspect and it’s easy to accuse it of killing heroes, good men and even bad men.
In Arab media, Israel was accused because it killed Ghassan Kanfani and Kamal Nasser before. However, evidence which surfaced during the trial of suspects involved in Naji’s assassination suggested otherwise.
It turned out that there were Israeli spies who had known about the weapon and about one of the suspects and that they were tracking him down in case the target was Israeli. It seems the Israelis were aware of the plot but they let the criminal kill Naji. They did not order the hit and it did not harm them – or at least this is what the investigation showed at the time.
Reopening the case of Naji’s murder is a historical and moral duty, and by no means aims at fueling differences.