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Who is Naji El-Ali? PDF Print E-mail
Apr 20, 2007 at 09:10 PM

Hanthala watches barbed wire sprout into wheat

Naji Al-Ali was assassinated in 1987. The small child turning his back to us is called Hanthala which means bitterness in Arabic. Below is an article that Naji Al-Ali wrote about how he created Hanthala. “Tanabel” means morons, devoid of any sense.

I had friends with whom I shared my work, protests, and prison days until one day they became “tanabel” running businesses and buying stocks. I was worried about myself from turning to a “tanabel” too and being consumed. In the Gulf I gave birth to this child and offered him to the people. He is committed to the people that will cherish him. I drew him as an ugly child, with hedgehog-like hair because the hedgehog uses its hair as a weapon.

Hanthala is not a fat spoilt comfortable child, he is bare footed like the other bare feet from the refugee camps. He is an icon that protects me from wrong and disarray and despite his looks he has a pure heart with a conscience that smells like musk and unbar and for his sake I am ready to kill anyone who intends to harm him. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection during a phase that this region is undergoing with “solutions” offered by the US and “the system”. I made the shape of his hands after the October war when I smelt the scent of developments in Kissinger’s briefcase.

Hanthala was born at the age of ten and will always remain ten. At that age I left my country and only when Hanthala returns to Palestine will he grow up and exceed the age of ten. The rules of nature do not apply on 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 endures the situation we are all in. I offered him to the readers and called him Hanthala 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.

What are the political duties of a caricature drawing? Incitement, preaching the birth of a new Arab human being. Incitement is a historically well-known operation and is it not right to say what is right in front of a Sultan? Caricatures set life bare in front of it, spreads life on strings in the open air, public street, capturing life wherever found and taking it to the surface for the world to see where there is no opportunity to hide the gaps and flaws of life. In my opinion, caricatures preach hope, revolution and the birth of a new person.

The picture is the element of the suppressed because they pay a high price for their lives carrying on their shoulder the burden of mistakes committed by authorities. Everything they have was difficult to get and everything that is tough and cruel is surrounding them. They struggle for their lifes and die young in graves without coffins, they are always on the defensive in order to continue living. I am with them in the dungeons observing and feeling the pulse of their hearts, the flow of blood in their veins and I look helpless with no power to stop their bleeding or to carry some of their burdens. My weapon, the expression of caricatures, is the most noble profession.

I derive my facts from the poor people. Their children died as martyrs and they still sacrifice for Palestine. I started drawing on the walls of the refugee camps and the clubs when political awareness started finding its way among the people of the refugee camps. Demonstrations took place which helped us by coinciding the protests with the Algerian revolution in the 50s and with the July revolution in Egypt.

I defined my duty by grasping the same people in the refugee camp, in the south and the Nile. That’s how I express myself and I am one of the tools of this great nation. My drawings are not for exhibition they are an expressive language. I gamble with my spirit to utilise them for the sake of my country and my cause. I learnt to draw in prison when other prisoners learnt handcrafting, poetry et cetera, and there I drew on the walls of the prisons.

The martyr Ghassan Kanafani who visited us in the club and saw my drawings, took some of them and published them in the magazine “Freedom”. This is when I felt the importance of caricature drawing. After prison I went to the Gulf. I worked as a farmer, mechanic, electrician, but drawing was my obsession. I approached the magazine ”al Tali’a” in Kuwait and worked as a cleaner and editor (with all respect to the editors). We would print the words and sweep at the same time and I managed to obtain some space in the magazine.

A caricature that expresses the price of tomatoes is a political message in my opinion. I draw for Palestine. When I left Palestine and lived in the refugee camp Ein Al-Hilwe, me and my companions obsession was returning to Palestine. We were children and that did not prohibit us from thinking about our cause and think of the ways of which we would be able to return one day. Any artist will die, whenever he is placed out of his home. The artist that does not resume his work with the people will not reach his goal. I am a man who carries his tent on his back and my people are the poor.

In Kuwait I was pregnant with Hanthala and I gave birth to him. I was afraid that the waves would take him away from me, far away from Palestine. Hanthala 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.

Hanthala, 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 Hanthala, even after I die.

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