The motivation behind the freepali.com logo comes from Naji Al-Ali, a political cartoonist noted for the sharp political criticism in his work. Perhaps one of the most popular cartoonists in the Arab World, Naji Al Ali drew with brutal honesty analyzing the relationships between the governments of the United States, Israel and Palestinian and Arab leaders and the ramifications for the Palestinians suffering under occupation. Resolutely independent and unaligned to any political party, Naji Al Ali strove to speak to and for the ordinary Arab people
Through his drawings, Naji expressed his opposition to corruption and occupation. He is best known for his creation of the Hundala character, which has come to signify Palestinian defiance and resistance.
“I presented him to the poor and named him Hundala as a symbol of bitterness. At first, he was a Palestinian child, but his consciousness developed to have a national and then a global and human horizon. He is a simple yet tough child, and this is why people adopted him and felt that he represents their consciousness.” – Naji Al Ali
Naji Al Ali’s philosophy can perhaps be best encapsulated in his explanation about Hundala, the little boy who appears as a spectator in each of his cartoons: “This child, as you can see, is neither beautiful, spoilt, nor even well-fed. He is barefoot like many children in refugee camps. He is actually ugly and no woman would wish to have a child like him. However, those who came to know ‘Hundala’, as I discovered, later adopted him because he is affectionate, honest, outspoken, and a bum. He is an icon that stands to keep me from slipping. And his hands behind his back are a symbol of rejection of all the present negative tides in our region.”
Naji Al-Ali was born in 1937 in the Palestinian village of Al Shajara. In 1948, Al Shajara was one of the 480 villages destroyed in what is known as the “Nakba,” or catastrophe. The Nakba is the devastation of Palestine in the creation of the Israeli state: The Palestinians lost more than half of their land, massacres took place and 750,000 refugees were created. Naji Al-Ali was 10 years old when he and his family were expelled from Palestine to Ein Al-Hilweh refugee camp in Lebanon.
The talent of Naji Al Ali was revealed to the world by pure chance. It was during a visit to Ein Al Helweh refugee camp in the 1950’s, the well-known Palestinian novelist, poet and journalist Ghassan Kanafani discovered the drawings of Naji Al Ali. Kanafani inquired about the artist and encouraged him to pursue this as a career. He was the first to publish some of his drawings in Al Houria (Freedom), a magazine whose editor was Kanafani. It was after this that Naji Al Ali felt the importance of caricature drawing, embarking on a thirty-year career that would see his cartoons published daily in newspapers around the world.
In 1982 during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Naji Al Ali was forced to leave the country. After a number of years of being displaced he eventually settled in Kuwait. During this period, he worked for both Al Qabas and Al Khalij newspapers. In 1985, political reasons and censuring of his work led to his expulsion from Kuwait. He settled in London and continued to work for the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Qabas. On July 22, 1987, a gunman shot him in the head as he left Al Qabas newspaper office in London. After five weeks in a coma, he died on August 30th, 1987. Naji Al Ali left behind a wife and five children.
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.
By refusing to pass on the relevant information to their British counterparts, Mossad earned the displeasure of Britain, which retaliated by expelling two Israeli diplomats from London. A furious Margaret Thatcher, then prime minister, closed Mossad’s London base in Palace Green, Kensington.
Israel and Britain had been in contact for several months via diplomatic channels concerning Suwan’s revelations that he had worked with the Mossad. Despite the arrests by Scotland Yard and an investigation by MI5, the assassin’s identity has never been revealed.
The cartoons of Naji Al Ali that depict the complexities of the plight of the Palestinian refugees are still relevant today and Hundala, the refugee child who is present in every cartoon, remains a potent symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and self-determination.
“Handala was born ten years old, and he will always remain ten. At that age, I left my homeland, and only when he returns will he grow up and exceed the age of ten. The laws of nature do not apply to him.
He is an exception and things will only be natural in his case when he returns to Palestine. The child is a symbolic representation of myself and the group who lives and educes the situation we are all in. I offered him to the readers and called him Hundala as a symbol of bitterness. In the beginning I offered him as a Palestinian child and with the development of his awareness he had a patriotic and a human outlook.
“The character of Handala was a sort of icon that protected my soul from falling whenever I felt sluggish or I was ignoring my duty. That child was like a splash of fresh water on my forehead, bringing me to attention and keeping me from error and loss. He was the arrow of the compass, pointing steadily towards Palestine. Not just Palestine in geographical terms, but Palestine in its humanitarian sense—the symbol of a just cause, whether it is located in Egypt, Vietnam or South Africa.”
Naji Al Ali was posthumously awarded the annual Golden Pen Award of the International Federation of Newspaper Publishers in 1988. This award is given to recognize outstanding actions in favor of freedom of expression and the jury was composed of publishers from 27 member countries.
“Hundala is loyal to Palestine and will not allow me to be different. He keeps me from cowardice and taking steps back. When will the people be able to see his face? When Arab dignity will be unthreatened and regained its freedom and humanity. However, the greatest struggle is continuity in spite of all contradictions. He is witness to a generation that did not die and he will not leave life ever. He is eternal.
Hundala, who I created, will not end after my end. I hope that this is not an exaggeration when I say that I will continue to live with Hundala, even after I die.” – Naji Al Ali
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