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

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.”


Lebanon to start repatriating nationals from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Africa from Sunday

A municipal worker cleans the Martyrs Square in front of Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in Beirut’s deserted downtown district during the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis. (AFP)
Updated 1 min 25 sec ago

Lebanon to start repatriating nationals from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Africa from Sunday

  • Lebanese security forces have so far issued 3,511 tickets to people violating the country’s general mobilization rules which include a nighttime curfew

BEIRUT: The repatriation of Lebanese nationals from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast is expected to get underway on Sunday, the government has revealed.

Lebanon’s plans to fly home thousands of expats trapped abroad under travel restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), have hit delays due to concerns about virus testing procedures and the large number of returnees involved.  
Fears over health risks have also been raised by Lebanese residents in communities where isolation and quarantine centers have been earmarked to house returning expats.
Announcing the planned Sunday start of the repatriation program, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti said: “Four Middle East Airlines (MEA) aircraft will be charged with the task of flying those wishing to return (from Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Nigeria and the Ivory Coast).
“If there is a delay in the procedures due to the challenges facing the concerned states as a result of the spread of the virus, the repatriation might be delayed until Tuesday.
“A medical team will be on board the aircraft to oversee procedures. All those wishing to board the planes will be tested to ensure that they are in good health. They will again be tested upon arrival at Beirut Rafic Hariri International Airport.
“If their test comes back positive, they will be transferred to hospital, but if their test comes back negative, they will be transferred to an isolation facility to spend two weeks there,” Hitti added.
In a statement, MEA said: “All those wishing to come back to Lebanon, whose names are on the lists prepared by the Lebanese embassies abroad, should contact its offices in the concerned countries to book and receive their tickets.”

HIGHLIGHTS

• The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Friday rose to 508 with the total number of deaths up by one to 17.

• The Lebanese Ministry of Health said 644 people tested for the virus in the past 24 hours were awaiting results.

To be allowed on board, the airline pointed out the need to complete the mandatory medical form and email it to the Lebanese Ministry of Health at [email protected]
Hezbollah and the Amal Movement in Lebanon have been working to provide buildings for the isolation of returnees but despite assurances about safety many communities remain concerned about the dangers of expats coming in from abroad and fueling the spread of the killer virus.
One resident in Nabatiyeh, who wished to remain anonymous, told Arab News: “They said that they are preparing an abandoned hotel in the area to isolate those who are brought back. This hotel cannot accommodate the large number of returnees they mentioned.
“In addition, we do not know the accuracy of the preventive measures to be taken. The general mobilization is not being respected in the region. How will the situation be when expatriates come back, keeping in mind that some of them have political protection?”
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Lebanon on Friday rose to 508 with the total number of deaths up by one to 17. The Lebanese Ministry of Health said 644 people tested for the virus in the past 24 hours were awaiting results.
Friday prayers in mosques throughout the country were canceled by religious authorities with imams calling from minarets for worshippers to stay at home.
Lebanese security forces have so far issued 3,511 tickets to people violating the country’s general mobilization rules which include a nighttime curfew. The Lebanese Army used social media to again urge people to remain in their homes and not to breach measures brought in by the government aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.
Meanwhile, in a bid to lift spirits, a video of 30 members of the national orchestra performing singer Fairuz’s song, “Lebanon, I Love You,” took the country’s social media by storm. The artists each played from their home using video conferencing to synchronize their performances. They were accompanied by a choir and led by the Maestro Andre Hajj.