martedì 14 giugno 2011
The Life and Death of Naji Al-Ali
My name is Hanzalah. In case you are wondering what Salam Alikom is; it is the Islamic way of saying halloo and it means "Peace be upon you!”. Well, as I told you my name is Hanzalah, which stands for a small bitter desert bush. I bet you are saying; what was my father thinking when he named me?
My father is Naji Al-Ali. I was born ages ago, to be exact since the beginning of strong and weak, rich and poor, and justice and injustice. Which is strange in a way since my father was born in 1937.
But actually he is not really my father he just adopted me. You see, my father is a Muslim Palestinian who was born in Palestine before the emergence of Israel. He was just a kid when he fled his house in 1948 fearing the Zionist massacres. His family was a middle class family, which was traumatized by the war and turned into refugees living in tents on the border of what used to be their home. Naji never forgot how his mother was full of hope in returning to her house again believing the radios' promises; that they will be back in a fortnight. She kept her house key around her neck till her death like many Palestinian women.
From that point on Naji had a cause. His cause was the quest for justice for his people. He had to work for a living, but his mother never allowed him to compromise his education which is considered since then till now by the Palestinian people as important as bread and water. Although he was raised in a tough refugee camp, he was not a violent person. Drawing was his obsession. The teachers in the UNRWA (United Nation Refugees Welfare Agency) noticed his talent and his ability to draw cartoons so they encouraged him to study Art and that he did. As he finished, the oil money was flowing in the gulf (1000 miles from home). Kuwait was building its infrastructure and needed everyone who could do just about anything. Naji packed his miserable bag and marched to Kuwait to work as an Arts teacher in a school. Kuwait was the best place for a Palestinian to be in back then. Short working hours (relatively), which left enough time to sharpen his political ideologies. George Habash a doctor became the communist founder and leader of the PFLP. Yasser Arafat a civil engineer wore the kefyee – the scarf - and established Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) with some other guys. Gassan Kanafani another Arts teacher went to be a spokesman for the PFLP (you can find some of his novels both in Arabic and English in the UCD library 956/KAN). Naji as I said was a peaceful man and took the road that he knew he will be best in. That was to be a cartoonist! Cartoons in Western newspapers are used to laugh without a real message generally. Cartoon was the magical word for Naji because it is short and powerful and even the illiterate (which is usually the victim) can get the message and understand it fully. Naji had a cause that he wanted to teach.
His cause was really about oppression and the weak. My turn came here. I Hanzalah was the hero of an old Arab myth. As I told you my name stands for a short bitter bush which grows nearly everywhere even in the desert. That was it, a bush that is weak but if you cut it, it will grow back again. Naji drew me like a child turning my back to all the people looking at me watching the scene, which was usually horrible with my hands behind my back. People wondered what I looked like. What am I thinking; am I angry? am I sad? , or just contemplating deeply? or just another coward who is watching without having the nerve to stand up for oppression. This was the trick because YOU ARE HANZALAH! The way you look at Hanzalah is the way you really are.
I became an icon of the ordinary man. Naji used me to show everything he considered wrong. That made people wonder about Naji's political orientation: is he a communist, nationalist, Islamist following his own agenda. I will tell you what Naji was; Naji loved the people so much. He didn't believe that the politician should take the credit of people's achievements. On the other hand he blamed the politicians for the failures. So no wonder Naji had loads of enemies. Yes his friends were in the millions but they were all weak.
Naji talked about the plight of his people their suffering.
Naji held Israel first and foremost as the one responsible for their catastrophe.
He attacked America for standing behind it and arming it with all kinds of weapons to destroy defenseless Arabs and Muslims. He attacked socialist states that were brutal in fighting the teaching of Islam to the degree of considering reading the Q'uran a crime.
He attacked the Arab governments without any exception for blaming Israel for their failures. He attacked the Gulf States, which he lived in for their submission to the west.
He even stood for the abuse of human rights in all Arab and Muslim countries and exposed directly countries and states. He talked about the rich and the poor where a gap was widening in booming Kuwait and the wider Arab and Muslim world.
He even attacked the PLO and PFLP for their corruption and use of honest fighters sacrifices for their own personal glory.
All of that and I was standing watching in creepy silence. No wonder, governments were enraged and sent envoys one after the other to Kuwait which was embarrassed and seemed to be losing friends by every daily edition of Al-Qabas newspaper. After they had failed to buy my silence (which is ironic because I was silent already). Naji was deported with our family to war torn Beirut. I guess they wanted us to get killed there in the civil war. He worked for a Lebanese newspaper called Al-Safeer, which in it he had his most productive years even the threats on his life were getting serious. In the summer of 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon to destroy the PLO once and for all. The Lebanon invasion transformed Naji. He witnessed how the country was invaded by land, sea and air. And how 10 thousands honest Lebanese and Palestinian Muslims resisted 90 thousands Israeli soldiers with all of their modern weaponry for 88 days under siege in East Beirut being bombarded by what is equivalent to the two atomic bombs on Japan. All that happened while Muslim Iraq was fighting Muslim Iran. While most Arab countries were oppressing their own people. Arabs and Muslims just stood and watched the Arab capital of light invaded slowly and painfully, while the world was watching the world cup in Spain. But it even got worse. The PLO decided to leave Lebanon if Israel promised that the Palestinian civilian refugees would be safe. Israel agreed but in September 1982 the Israeli tanks surrounded the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatiela and stopped anyone getting in or out. The next two days were among the ugliest in history. 2800 Men, Women and children Palestinian and Lebanese Muslims were massacred in the streets of camps by guns, knives and axes. The Israeli and their Christian Lebanese allies took their revenge for their failure to control Lebanon. The tanks soldiers even used glowing lights at nighttime because time couldn't be wasted. After the discovery of what happened, the world was enraged but helpless. Israel reacted to this Nazi style massacre by admitting its “indirect” responsibility and “punished” Sharon the engineer of Lebanon occupation and invasion by stopping him for life from being a defense minister. After, he became the foreign an deputy prime Minster in the 1998, and now, the current prime Minster of Israel. America considered Israel admission of its responsibility as a great proof of its democracy that it should be congratulated for!
The shock was huge for us. Naji was changed and so was I. I started moving, turning my head towards the people looking at me. Sometimes I untied my hands. I raised them in anger against oppression. I waved the flag encouraging change. I even dared to throw a stone.
At that point Naji's enemies were terrified from what he made me do. Their security services put our names on top of the WANTED list.
They even considered the time when I turn to my old self again as someone conspiring against the regime, planning a demonstration even a revolution. My action scared them and my silence horrified them.
Naji moved this time to London to work for Al-Qabas paper. He published his cartoons again all over the Arab world. In 1987, while my father was walking to his work, he was stopped by a man who shot him in the head and ran away. After five weeks in the ICU. My father left me, his wife, his five kids and the people who were me and I was them.Who killed my father? Of course no one dared to admit it. But whoever it was they were all in it and certainly all happy to never see me on paper again.Yes, they killed my father; they could erase me by censorship. But can they kill every Hanzalah dreaming of the day when he will go free. Building his determination to untie his hands and ask for what is his right. They may kill Naji but they will never kill Hanzalah.
Written by: another Hanzalah who dared to speak.