Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali
34th anniversary of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali assassination
Naji Salim Hussain al-Ali is a Palestinian cartoonist who is known for his political critiques of Arab regimes and Israel. He has been dubbed the greatest Palestinian cartoonist and the Arab world's most well-known cartoonist.
He is most known for creating the character Handala, a juvenile witness to the satirized policy or event shown in his cartoons, who has since become a symbol of Palestinian defiance. He created approximately 40,000 caricatures, many of which mirrored Palestinian and Arab public sentiment and were severely critical of Palestinian and Arab politics and personalities.
Al-Ali was shot in the neck and killed outside the London offices of al-Qabas, a Kuwaiti weekly for which he produced political caricatures, on July 22, 1987. Naji al-Ali died in Charing Cross Hospital five weeks later.
Naji al-Ali, a cartoonist, was assassinated on the streets of London thirty four years ago. Ali was a Palestinian refugee who was a fearless critic of all authorities. After getting death threats, he had fled Kuwait three years before. His assailants were never caught.
Despite this, his images continue to connect with all people who are victims of injustice.
“A lot can change in 30 years – allegiances shift, and those who were unwilling to talk at the time of the murder may now be willing to come forward with critical information,” said Commander Dean Haydon of the Metropolitan Police's Counter Terrorism Command in a statement.
Handala, the small refugee kid - shoeless and in tatters — who witnesses the world's catastrophes on behalf of the reader, is Ali's signature character. Handala is a refugee from Palestine. Handala was also a global narrative of a young boy whose innocence is lost in the late Cold War era of power politics and geopolitical warfare. Handala's face is never seen to the reader; his back is constantly turned toward us.
With the formation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the accompanying Nakba, or "catastrophe," as the Palestinian mass exodus is called, Ali once remarked that the cartoon figure mirrored his lost youth as he had emigrated from a village near Nazareth in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1985, Ali informed Egyptian novelist Radwa Ashour about his renowned character:
“He was the age I was when I had left Palestine and, in a sense, I am still that age today. … 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.”