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The biography and bibliography (in Italian) of Naji al Ali, the greatest Palestinian cartoonist ever
The origins of Naji al Ali
Naji al Ali was born in 1938 in Al Shajara, a village of 700 located between today’s Tiberias and today’s Nazareth. In 1948, with the birth of Israel, the latter (along with at least 530 others) was razed to the ground by the Zionist government and Naji was forced into refugee status, an element that would accompany him throughout his life; the first stop on his journey will be the nearby Ain al Hilwa (The Beautiful Spring) refugee camp Sidon, where he spent several years before moving to Tripoli to attend a two-year mechanics course, then going to Beirut, where he found himself living in the Shatila refugee camp. In 1957 he emigrated to Saudi Arabia for two years working as a mechanic, but then, in 1959, he definitively returned to Beirut, where he enrolled at the local Academy of Fine Arts.
Around those years he also began his increasing political involvement, joining the Arab Nationalist Movement, a pan-Arab formation founded by George Habash in 1951 which remained alive until 1967; this, however, will lead him to have more and more problems with the Lebanese justice system, so much so that he is even arrested; once released he will travel to Tyre to teach in a drawing school and, in that period, he met the person who would change his life: Ghassan Kanafani.
Naji al Ali the cartoonist
In the future we will certainly dedicate ample space to this extraordinary character of the Arab and Palestinian cultural epic, but suffice it to say that at the time he was the editor of the magazine Al Hurriyya (Freedom) and will be the first to publish Naji al Ali’s cartoons, launching him so officially in the world of professional cartoonists. In 1963 he moved to Kuwait, where he collaborated with the weekly At-Tali’a (The Avant-garde) and with the newspaper As-Siyasat (The Politics), on whose pages he gave life to Handala, his most important and famous character of he; 10 years later, following the Arab-Israeli war of ’73, he returned to Lebanon, where he began to collaborate with the magazines As-Safir, Al-Khalij and Al Watan. With the Israeli invasion of ’82 he was particularly active in protest together with his people against the crimes of the Zionist state, denouncing more than ever the ignoble massacre of Sabra and Shatila by the Lebanese Phalangists. Precisely because of his support for the Palestinian cause he was expelled from the country, finding refuge again in Kuwait, where he collaborated with the newspaper Al Qabas for 2 years.
In 1985 he took refuge definitively in London, where he continued his work tirelessly, definitively becoming the most famous cartoonist in the entire Arab world; unfortunately this fame will turn into the end of him. In fact, on 22 July 1987 he was murdered outside the London section of the newspaper Al Qabas; to this day it is not clear who actually instigated the murder, but in 2017 the investigation into his death was reopened.
Bibliography (in Italian)
At the moment there are 3 works by Naji Al Ali published in Italian:
“Handala. Un bambino in Palestina” published by the publishing house Marotta e Cafiero (2022)
Naji Ali is the greatest cartoonist in the history of Palestine. With his ink he was able to tell the horror, resistance and suffering of the Palestinian people. He criticized the illegal Israeli occupation, the Palestinian government and the Arab regimes, he turned his pencil into a sword. Naji created over 40 thousand cartoons, an unprecedented political cartoonist. Handala, a child always from behind with his hands crossed behind his back, has become his signature. A barefoot child dressed in rags, a spectator of a war lasting over 60 years. No one knows the face of Handala, bitter grass, his face will be “revealed only when the Palestinian refugees return to their homeland”. Graphite at the service of the people, Naji Ali is the example of how a cartoon of a few square centimeters can serve more than an intifada, stop the occupation, and dispel the veil of lies that covers Palestine.
“Filastin. The art of resistance of the Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali” published by the publishing house Eris (2013)
Naji Al-Ali was assassinated in London in 1987 for those political ideas that he forcefully expressed in his works every day of his life. He is one of the most important cartoonists in the history of the Arab world and upon his death he left a legacy of over forty thousand cartoons. Filastin in Arabic means Palestine. Naji Al-Ali is one of his sons and as a child he had to leave her to become refugees like the majority of Palestinians due to the proclamation of the State of Israel. Filastin is the land to which he was unable to return and is the center of all his artistic work but “not only in the geographical sense, but also human and symbolic, that is, the just cause wherever it is in the world”. His goal was to have a direct and daily dialogue with those who lived the same reality as him: from the Palestinian refugee camp to the large Arab cities. Naji Al-Ali has worked for major newspapers in the Arab world and is still widely published.
“No al silenziatore” published by the publishing house Tracce edizioni (1994)
Handala is a child, small, a little mangy, with bare feet and patches on his dress, it is difficult to see his face because he always has his back turned. A silent but stubborn presence, the symbol of Palestinian childhood, victim of the hatred between two peoples generated by the political will of those who, being in power, experience the rhetoric of ideologies on the skin of people. The collection of cartoons by the famous Palestinian artist Naji Al Ali are a sublime act of denunciation against the policies adopted by the various governments, both Israeli and Palestinian, which to defend their interests have never worked seriously to start a peace process capable of to guarantee respect for human rights for both peoples.
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