Naji Al-Ali, Mohammad Al-Saqr and Umm Tariq

6 November 2017

This article comes on the occasion of the British government’s recent decision to reopen the investigation into the assassination of Palestinian caricaturist Naji Al-Ali, 30 years ago. Naji Al-Ali was a drawing teacher at the Al-Jafariya College in the Lebanese city of Tyre (Sour) in the early 1960s. Umm Tariq, my wife, was among his students at that time. A quarter of a century later, on a hot London day in July 1987, Umm Tariq met Al-Ali and his wife on a London street. This gave an opportunity to rekindle the memories of years ago, and they parted ways after agreeing to meet in a few days time. Hours later, a criminal, who was perhaps lurking nearby shot Naji with a silencer-fitted pistol. Naji lost consciousness and died on August 29 of that year. The incident came as a big shock to us, and Umm Tariq all over these years cannot forget the incident because the man was shot a while after meeting him because the man who drew for AlQabas daily for years was assassinated in such a heinous manner. Giselle Khoury during a TV interview with the businessman, political media man and colleague Mohammad Al-Saqer, who was in charge of publishing the caricatures in his capacity as editor-in-chief of Al-Qabas newspaper responded to a question about Naji’s assassination. Al-Saqr said Al-Ali was sending more than one caricature to the newspaper to choose the suitable one for publication and that the one particular caricature which he published, he was not aware of the political significance behind it. Al-Saqr also said: “The caricature was of the character Handallah asking a Palestinian who wanted to join the Union of the Palestinian Writers and Journalists if he knows how to read and the latter said ‘No’. He also asked him if he knows to write, and the reply was another ‘No’ and then asked him if he knows Rachida Mehran and again the reply was negative. Handallah then told him: ‘Damn, if you do not how to read or write, or don’t even know Mehran, how, can you then become member of the Union’?” Al-Saqr knew the seriousness of the caricature after someone contacted him and told him that Naji Al-Ali had received a serious death threat. Al-Saqr then immediately contacted Abu Ayad, the second man in Fatah command and asked him to intervene. He was surprised and did not believe the threat, and asked him to contact the poet Mahmoud Darwish, who has a role in the Palestinian leadership, he did so and Darwish reassured him and told him that Abu Ammar (Yasser Arafat) cannot threaten Naji Al-Ali. Then Al-Saqr contacted Abu Iyad again and told him that the case was over, for the best. However the threat was carried out and Naji Al-Ali was assassinated a few days later and the British police asked the Swiss police, where Al-Saqr was spending his vacation, to protect him, because he was the next target. Those days were the hardest in his life, AlSaqr said. When asked who he would accuse in the attempt, Al-Saqr said he did not know, but the British police charged a double agent, an Israeli Palestinian, who had already been arrested on charges of possessing weapons, remained free during trial which was pending but disappeared after the assassination. The indictment remains open.