Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Palestinian myrter Naji Al Ali

Naji Salim al-Ali (c. 1937 - 29 August 1987) was a Palestinian cartoonist, noted for the sharp political criticism in his work. He drew over 40,000 cartoons, often expressing opposition to Palestinian and Arab leaders, and is perhaps best known as creator of the character Handala who has since become an icon of Palestinian defiance. He was assassinated by unk
nown persons in 1987.
Early life :
Naji al-Ali was born in 1938 or thereabouts in the northern Palestinian village of Shajra, located between Tiberias and Nazareth. He went into exile in the south of Lebanon with his family in 1948 during the Nakba and lived in Ain al-Hilweh refugee camp near Sidon, where he attended the Union of Christian Churches school. After gaining his Certificat he worked in the orchards of Sidon, then moved to Tripoli where he attended the White Friars' vocational school for two years.
Naji al-Ali then moved to Beirut, where he lived in a tent in Chatila camp and worked in various industrial jobs. In 1957, after qualifying as a car mechanic, he travelled to Saudi Arabia, where he worked for two years.
Career as a cartoonist and journalist :
In 1959 Naji al-Ali returned to Lebanon, and that year he joined the Arab Nationalist Movement (ANM), but was expelled four times in the space of a year for lack of party discipline. Between 1960 and 1961, along with comrades from the ANM, he published a handwritten political journal entitled Al-Sarkha ('the cry').
In 1960, he entered the Art Academy of Lebanon, but was unable to continue his studies there as he was imprisoned for political reasons soon afterwards. After his release he moved to Tyre, where he worked as a drawing instructor in the Ja'fariya College.
The writer and political activist Ghassan Kanafani saw some of Naji al-Ali's cartoons on a visit to Ain al-Hilweh and printed the artist's first published drawings along with an accompanying article in Al-Hurriya no. 88 on 25 September 1961.
In 1963 Naji al-Ali moved to Kuwait, hoping to save money so as to be able to study art in Cairo or Rome. There he worked as an editor, cartoonist, designer and newspaper producer on the Arab nationalist Al-Tali'a newspaper. From 1968 on he worked for Al-Siyasa. In the course of these years he returned to Lebanon several times. In 1974 he started working for the Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir, which permitted him to return to Lebanon for a longer period. During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, he was briefly detained by the occupying forces
along with other residents of Ain al-Hilweh. In 1983 he once more moved to Kuwait to work for Al-Qabas and in 1985 moved to London where he worked for its international edition until his death.
Handala :
Handala is the most famous of Naji al-Ali's characters. He is depicted as a ten-year old boy, and appeared for the first time in Al-Siyasa in Kuwait in 1969. The figure turned his back to the viewer from the year 1973, and clasped his hands behind his back. The artist explained that the ten-year old represented his age when forced to leave Palestine and would not grow up until he could return to his homeland; his turned back and clasped hands symbolised the character's rejection of "outside solutions". Handala wears ragged clothes and is barefoot, symbolising his allegiance to the poor. In later cartoons, he sometimes appears throwing stones or writing graffiti.
Handala became the signature of Naji al-Ali's cartoons and remains an iconic symbol of Palestinian identity and defiance; the artist remarked that "this being that I have invented will certainly not cease to exist after me, and perhaps it is no exaggeration to say that I will live on with him after my death".