A symbol of the Palestinian cause: Artists pay tribute to Naji Al-Ali

Naji Al-Ali with his youngest son Osama in London in 1986.
Updated 28 October 2017
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A symbol of the Palestinian cause: Artists pay tribute to Naji Al-Ali

LONDON: The incisive pen strokes of cartoonist Naji Al-Ali were feted at a British Library event on Friday which paid tribute to the artist’s enduring legacy in Palestine and beyond.
Al-Ali continues to serve as an inspiration for young artists and activists hoping to represent the struggle of the Palestinian people, the event heard.
By the time Al-Ali was assassinated in London 30 years ago, his iconic adolescent character Handala had become a well-known symbol for the Palestinian people’s suffering and the world’s silence surrounding it.
“He represents Palestine, very simple,” political artist Hafez Omar said of the Handala character. Al-Ali’s young, barefoot boy who observes caricatured tableaux of Palestinian life, appeared in many of the artist’s 40,000 cartoons.
Omar, who spoke at Thursday’s event alongside The Guardian’s cartoonist Steve Bell, said that generations of artists born after Al-Ali’s death use Handala as an emblem for the Palestinian cause.
“When you want to talk about Palestine, when you want to talk about what everyone in Palestine believes in as a political project, Handala sums it up very simply: To return, self-determination, and for the liberation of Palestinians,” he said.
Today, the character is as likely to appear in digital form on Facebook walls as be graffitied on the barriers dividing the West Bank and Gaza from Israel. Handala, an avatar for Al-Ali himself, has become a potent symbol in part because he is not tied to any political party or ideology, representing instead the people directly affected by occupation.
Naji Al-Ali, who was forced to flee his village in the “Nakba,” or catastrophe of 1948, did not spare Arab leaders from his ballpoint indictments, often caricaturing their seeming indifference to the lived reality of the Palestinian people. A prescient critique, Omar says, repeated by Palestinians today who feel politicians don’t always have their interests at heart.
“Whenever you go to the camps and you see Handala, you know what these people are looking for. It’s not the politicians, it’s not the parties — they have their own agendas and tricks,” he said, remarking on how often the character appears spray-painted on the walls of Palestinian refugee settlements.
Today, as the two main Palestinian factions struggle to reconcile and Israeli settlement-building expands, Omar said Naji Al-Ali serves as a sort of moral compass for activists, a reminder to stay grounded and focused on the Palestinian people.
“That’s what we learned from him, as political artists and political cartoonists, that it’s our duty whenever things are going backward to step forward and to try to lead and to try to light the way for our people.”
Karma Nabulsi, a professor of international relations at Oxford University, also spoke at the tribute, extolling Al-Ali as a “a quintessential hero of freedom of expression, free speech, always in the cause of the marginalized and the downtrodden.”
A “revolutionary in the fullest sense of the world,” Al-Ali and the character Handala “embodied the ideals of challenging the status quo,” Nabulsi told the audience.
Al-Ali’s images depicting the dispossession of Palestinians have transcended both time and geography, added Steve Bell, whose own pro-Palestine cartoons have landed him in hot water on occasion. “When the state of Israel was set up there was a crime committed and it’s never been acknowledged,” he told Arab News.
“Al-Ali’s stuff challenges us with that view. What’s the world going to do?
“His work speaks across borders, it’s wonderful visually, wonderfully simple but also incredibly powerful. We all aspire to be like that, I think,” Bell added.
Ultimately, Al-Ali paid with his life when an unknown assailant shot him in Knightsbridge, London, as he was walking to his office at the newspaper Al-Qabas in 1987. Police have recently reopened the case, hoping that new witnesses will emerge.
Omar reflected on the “sacrifice” made by Al-Ali.
“When you’re an artist under pressure, under threat, either from the Israelis, the occupation, or from the Palestinian government, you think of Naji. Naji gave his life for the cause, as an artist.”


Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

Updated 22 February 2019
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Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles

  • More than 100 vessels taking part in the three-day war games in an area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean
  • Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles

DUBAI: Iran on Friday began large-scale naval drills at the mouth of the Gulf, which will feature its first submarine cruise missile launches, state media reported, at a time of rising tensions with the United States.
More than 100 vessels were taking part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, the state news agency IRNA reported.
“The exercise will cover confronting a range of threats, testing weapons, and evaluating the readiness of equipment and personnel,” navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said in remarks carried by state television.
“Submarine missile launches will be carried out ... in addition to helicopter and drone launches from the deck of the Sahand destroyer,” Khanzadi said.
State media said Iran would be testing its new domestically built Fateh (Conqueror) submarine which is armed with cruise missiles and was launched last week.
Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile US action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
US President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran. He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles.
Iran launched its domestically made destroyer Sahand in December, which official say has radar-evading stealth properties.
The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf in December, ending a long absence of US aircraft carriers in the strategic waterway.
Iran displayed a new cruise surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,300 kilometers earlier this month during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.