The last time I saw Naji al-Ali, the well-known caricaturist, was at a dinner in his house a short while before he was assassinated. I was with colleague Adib Abu Alwan and some other mutual friends. We did not politically agree with each other but we appreciated Naji a lot for he was a creative artist. It never crossed our mind that someone may think of assassinating an artist no matter how much a dispute escalated. The media society in London was shocked by this unprecedented terrible crime but that was it as perhaps many avoided engaging in the mud of politics.
The British police has decided to reopen the case 30 years later. Perhaps they have new leads and perhaps the sleeping consciences will awake as even if the perpetrator is not arrested or if the masterminds are not exposed, it’s still important to awaken the public conscience which forgot about this crime. He who opened fire killing Naji is one criminal but those who colluded through their silence over the truth are actually many or rather an entire society. They kept silent as a result of a culture that steps on values and people in the name of slogans and the cause.
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 as caricatures and articles do not have the power the change no matter how expressive they are.
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 killing off rivals - though there are doubts that his organization is behind killing Naji in London 30 years ago. Was Arafat the one who gave the order to kill him? Or was it one of his intelligence apparatuses? Or was it a party that was in harmony with Arafat or a party against him and against Naji? This is something that only police and time can reveal.
Arafat’s anger towards Naji was no secret as in the same year when Naji was killed, many noted this anger. Arafat had asked Kuwait to shut Naji up so it opted it keep him away so he settled 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 evil 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 the aim is not to fuel differences.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.