On July of 1987, the London Observer published a caricature with the title: "The Deadly Joke That Cost a Cartoonist His Life".
Starting from the right side of the caricature,
Two days before his assassination, Naji Al-Ali was interviewed by Al-Azminah Al-Arabiya (Arab Times) Magazine, which represented the opposition in the United Arab Emirates, produced by Mr. Ghanim Ghabbash (also killed later on). The interview was published in the 170th issue on August 15, 1987. In that article, it was mentioned that Chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, had once stood before Abdallah Al-Salim highschool in Kuwait, 1975, to present a speech to the students. In that Speech, Arafat said: "Who is this Naji Al-Ali? Tell him if he doesn't stop drawing cartoons I will put his fingers in acid!"
Ghanem Ghabbash, who himself interviewed Naji, reported Naji's words: "Do you know this Rashida Mahran? Don't mistaken her for one of the freedom fighters. Rashida Mahran is a very important lady who rides Arafat's private jet and lives in a castle in Tunisia, where she has great influence on the organization (i.e. PLO) and its institutions. I made a cartoon about her, and after that I have received dozens of threats, blessings, and sympathy. Can you imagine that someone contacted me on behalf of Abu Iyad [one of the major leftist figures of PLO, who was killed later on by Israelis], and told me how delighted he was with the cartoon, and said that I have done something [great] that no other top official in the organization could do. But he also said that I have crossed the red lines and that he was worried about me and asked me to take care of myself. So I told him: My brother, if I'd take care of myself, I wouldn't have enough time to take care of the rest of you."
Naji was born in Palestine. In 1948, his family had fled their homeland along with Naji, leaving behind their house, furniture, orchards, and belongings. They fled to Lebanon, where they all became refugees. Since his childhood, Naji had a natural instinct for drawing. He drew on the wall, he drew on paper, he was drawing and painting wherever he was. Later in his life, Naji educated himself, and developed a political edge into his drawings.
Naji's icon, Al-Hanthalah, which you see in every cartoon he published (The short man with a bald head, torn clothes, and his hands behind his back), has a very deep meaning. Naji no longer needed to write his name on his work. He simply added Al-Hanthalah, which is an Arabic term for a desert plant with a sour taste. To Naji, the taste of pain. As you can see, the icon, which represents Naji himself, has his back always to the viewer. A representation of the Palestinian ... One who can only watch the misery, and can do nothing about it. An overwhelming hopelessness.
In his earlier cartoons, Naji unleashed his art against the Israeli oppression and daily massacres on the Palestinian defenseless people. With the start of the Intifadah, Naji placed a rock in one of the hands of Hanthalah, as a symbol of resistance. Nevertheless, his later cartoons began to criticize Yasser Arafat, and his corrupt PLO. Arafat, the so-called leader of freedom fighters, became more powerful than anyone expected, and had declared war on several other Palestinian factions of the PLO, during which hundreds of innocent Palestinian refugees were killed. Naji received dozens of threats from the Israeli Mossad, and the PLO alike. In Lebanon, despite the endless threats from Arafat (PLO), Naji continued to draw and publish in the local Lebanese Newspapers. But when the Newspaper Editors were threatened, they prevented Naji from publishing his cartoons. Naji then turned to Kuwait. The Kuwaiti Newspaper (Al-Qabas) offered Naji a job there, to draw with no restrictions. Then the day came when Arafat caught up with him in Kuwait, and threatened both Naji and the editor of Al-Qabas. Al-Qabas complied with the threats, and so Naji gave up on the Arab World. Naji took off to London, and continued to draw and publish his drawings there with no restrictions. He received threats in London as well, but refused to stop expressing his views. Everyone knows who gave the order ... it was Arafat.
Naji is dead. But his blood will never become dry. Every cartoon he made was spread all over the Arab World. Arabs from every corner yearned for his drawings. People used to flip straight to the newspaper page that had Naji al-Ali's cartoon before they even read the headlines. His dismal art was the voice of Truth. This Palestinian Legend will live in our minds and hearts forever.
The following is a small collection of Naji's work, may he rest in peace. Remember, it's in Arabic, so in the case of a sequence of events, it's drawn from right to left
sign2: United States
Good morning, Beirut
book title: Cinderella
- Your article on democracy was very impressive .. What are you writing for tomorrow?
- I'm writing my will.
I think, therefore I am
sign: Martyrs' cemetary
woman = WestBank's Intifadah (uprising)
feet: surrendering regimes
brick wall: settlements
script: Palestine is our country
big font: The Birth
small font: the revolution
sign2: Arab Capitals
-: I swear I'll shave my moustache if the Arab regimes ever free one inch of Jerusalem
script on mosque: (Quran) And prepare for them all the power you have
Big Font: Palestine
small font: The entire national soil (land)