7 Nov 2013

Death in Ramallah, Poirot Investigates Arafat’s Murder


Hercule Poirot paused before he entered the study. The unpleasant encounter with the Israeli soldiers at the gate had irritated the great detective. I didn't come out of retirement to be humiliated like this, he thought to himself. The soldiers had mocked his moustache of which he took great care, and inquired whether he was smuggling any ‘humanitarian aid’ under his bulging waistline. M. Poirot’s demeanour was always a sensitive subject to him, but he wasn’t going to let those goons distract him from the job at hand. His greatest challenge perhaps. He opened the door and walked in.

Suha Arafat greeted him with a smile. She was dressed in an elegant black suit and had the pampered look that comes with great wealth. Mrs Arafat had asked Poirot to investigate the murder of her husband, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. The fact that several years had passed since his death was one of several complications surrounding the case. Arafat was thought to have died of natural causes initially, but recent evidence suggested foul play. Poirot couldn’t resist the case. One last time. 

Did the deceased have any enemies? Did he now! Everyone from his main foes the Israelis to rival Arab leaders to many of the leaders on his own side could be included in that large club of Arafat’s enemies. Poirot was familiar with those facts but he wanted to hear Mrs Arafat’s version. With his typical meticulousness, Poirot decided not to dismiss the widow as a suspect, despite that fact that she had hired him. 

Arafat’s main enemy and the chief suspect was lying in a coma not very far from where Poirot was talking to Mrs Arafat. Ariel Sharon had tried to assassinate Arafat several times before and had talked openly about it. But it was impossible to get any answers out of him now. Poirot’s only option was to talk to his successor and close ally Benjamin Netanyahu, a man who had hated Arafat and wanted to get rid of him as badly as Sharon. 

“I personally think it’s Iran”. Netanyahu confides to Poirot after their brief greetings. Poirot supresses a smirk. “But M. Netanyahu, that seems to be your answer to everything these days! You can’t be serious.” The response was harsher than Poirot had intended, but the nerve of the man! “The Iranians hated Arafat and they had access to people in his inner circle. Why would we murder him like this? If we wanted him dead, we would have bombed his compound.”

“Yes, that is more your style, we all know your trademark. But there would have been bigger consequences. Are you denying that it was convenient?” Poirot was visibly rattled by the impertinence of the other man. “We can’t be held responsible every time someone dies conveniently for us.” Replied Netanyahu with a grin. He was clearly enjoying this. Still, Poirot thought, one must keep an open mind.

Poirot was scheduled to meet Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, in half an hour. An ambitious man but without the personality to match, in fact some say with hardly any personality at all, he was also an obvious suspect. He would benefit from replacing Arafat and would serve the interests of external powers. Poirot decides on a line of questioning.

Poirot interest is momentarily raised by the sight of Abbas’s moustache, but the thought quickly dissipates. The man's moustache is a disgrace; he clearly doesn’t take good care of it or use any ointments. It’s a hairy mess above his lip that is hardly deserving of the name. “Did you assassinate Arafat?” Poirot’s first question comes out as a surprise to them both, reflecting Poirot’s irritation with the man’s messy facial hair.

“Absolutely not! What did I have to benefit? He was my comrade.” The man fires back but with hardly any conviction. Poirot is disgusted by the man’s lack of spine. “But you clearly benefitted from his demise. And you had access to him.” Poirot hopes to break M. Abbas’s weak defences by sustaining the attack. “I will not accept to be interrogated like this! I will launch a complaint at the United Nations! I will not be intimated and sit back while I am framed for this murder. The Israelis did it. If not, it must be Dahlan. Or they did it together!”

On the way back to his hotel, Poirot goes back over the facts. He decides there’s one more suspect he needs to talk to. It will be impossible to visit Damascus so he arranges a telephone call with Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian rulers were old enemies of Arafat and had always tried to cut him back to size. Poirot decides it’s best to go for the soft approach.

“This is clearly a Zionist plot aimed at the heart of the Arab nation, whose beating heart is Damascus. We had our differences with Arafat who made peace with the Zionist entity, but his assassination clearly served their interests.” Poirot times his next question, “But you yourself negotiated at length with the Israelis. Wasn’t it in your interest to remove Arafat?” Poirot starts to think about Assad’s moustache. “Look, who killed Jesus? We both know the answer to that. And it’s the same answer in this case.” Assad’s rhetorical answer amuses Poirot. The Romans could hardly have murdered Arafat, he jokes to himself.

Back at the hotel Poirot tries a local tisane as he reflects on the events of the day. The aromatic flavours wake up his senses, this is good he thinks to himself, I must remember to take some back with me. He was confident that every single person he talked to today had lied to him. Any of them could have been the murderer and perhaps two or more of them had colluded to carry out the assassination. Poirot’s task was to bring order to these chaotic situations, strip away the distractions and voila there’s the truth.

It won’t be the case this time, the great detective accepts with resignation. He arrives at a conclusion that many before him had stumbled upon. Reason and the Levant aren’t easily reconciled. Unless someone saw a fat man leaving Arafat’s house on the night the poison was administered, we shall never know the truth, Poirot chuckles to himself.

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Karl reMarks is a blog about Middle East politics and culture with a healthy dose of satire.

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