Thursday, July 22, 2004

Naji Al-Ali, Remember Him… Remember Palestine

On Wednesday July 22 1987 at five in the afternoon, Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali parked his car in southwest London, and walked a few meters towards the offices of the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Qabas where he worked. He was shot in the head by a gunman. After five weeks in a coma on a life support machine, Naji Al-Ali died at 5am on Saturday, August 30, 1987 at the age of 49.

* Who is Naji Al-Ali?
Naji Al-Ali is one of the most influential commentators on Palestine. His work influenced all kinds of people, who used to wait impatiently every morning, to see his drawings on the last page of many Arab dailies. He used only simple lines and traces to depict his ideas and thoughts onto paper. His works and thoughts were impressive and unusual.
Every cartoon that Al-Ali drew, featured his famous hand-made character-the bare-foot little boy “Hanthalah” who turned his back to the world and who became a trademark throughout his long career. The idea came to him when he was working in Kuwait during the early 1960s. "I created this character to symbolize my lost childhood," he said. "This child, as you can see is neither beautiful, spoiled, nor even well-fed. He is barefoot like many children in refugee camps. Those who came to know “Hanthala” , as I discovered later, adopted him because he is affectionate, honest, outspoken, and a bum. He is an icon that stands to watch me from slipping. And his hands behind his back are a symbol of rejection of all the present negative tides in our region."
He often defined himself as a realist, one aligned to his social class, the poor. This point of view was apparent in the majority of his cartoons. "The poor people are those who suffer, are sentenced to jail, and die without shedding tears," Al-Ali once said.

* His life in lines:
Born in Al Shajarah village near Nazareth in 1937, Naji Al-Ali was a victim of the Nakba in 1948. His family was forced to leave to Ein Hilwa refugee camp in south Lebanon. His artistic career began in Lebanon during the late 1950s. "I started to use drawing as a form of political expression while in Lebanese jails. I was detained by the Deuxième Bureau (the Lebanese intelligence service) as a result of the measures the Bureau were undertaking to contain political activities in the Palestinian camps during the sixties. I drew on the prison walls."
In the refugee camp Al-Ali witnessed the constraints imposed on the Palestinian people. He swore then to immerse himself in politics and serve the Palestinian revolution by all the means at his disposal. Al-Ali was originally trained as a mechanic, but his first love was always drawing, which led him to a one-year art course at the Lebanese Art Academy. Later he worked as a journalist in Kuwait, where he first worked as an editor, reporter, and even as a secretary, at Al Tale'ah weekly magazine. Later on, he returned to the old camp in south Lebanon.
During the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, Al-Ali was forced to leave his home again. After several years of displacement, he finally settled back in Kuwait, where he found work with the prominent Arab daily, Al-Qabbas. He soon found pressure and threats from certain political groups, and was forced to move to Al Qabass' branch in London. It was his last move before his death in 1987.

* After his assassination:
Ten months after Naji al-Ali was shot, Scotland Yard arrested a Palestinian student who turned out to be a Mossad agent. Under interrogation, the Jerusalem-born man, Ismail Suwan, said that his superiors in Tel Aviv had been briefed well in advance of the plot to kill the cartoonist.
Israel and Britain had been in contact for several months via diplomatic channels concerning Suwan's revelations that he had worked with the Mossad. Newspapers reported that the action was partially a result of accumulating British grievances against the Mossad, including the abduction of Mordechai Vanunu and the use of British passports, found in a phone booth in West Germany in 1987. However, despite the arrests by Scotland Yard and an investigation by MI5, the assassin's identity has never been revealed.
In 1992 an Arabic motion picture about his life was made. The movie "Naji al-Ali" featuring Egyptian actor Noor El-Sharif gained widespread admiration and respect from around the Arab world.

Naji Al-Ali is still the most popular artist in the Arab world. His books and cartoons are everywhere, and people have also made silver medals, key-holders and necklaces of his character “Hanthala”.
Naji Al-Ali is an Arab to be proud of, a Palestinian to be remembered. He might have been assassinated, but his thoughts, his cartoons and his work made him immortal; easy to remember, impossible to forget.
Let’s all pray his soul rests in peace, let’s pray his and our beloved Palestine will be the peaceful Holy Land it once was, let’s pray the suffering of all Palestinians will be put to an end…
Source: ElectronicIntifada