Handala

Having spoken a lot about cartoons in class, I decided to research some Israeli/Palestinian cartoons. One of the most interesting things I came across was a little cartoon character by the name of Handala. Created by the late Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, Handala is a ten-year-old boy who is always depicted with his back to the viewer and his hands folded behind his back. He is generally just standing and watching, but occasionally is involved in the action.

Cartoons featuring Handala are often critical of Israel but also of Palestinian and Arab politicians and leaders. Handala’s position, with back turned and hands clasped, indicates the cartoonist’s views that an outside solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not possible, and that the answer must come from within the two nations.

What struck me the most about Handala is the way he is still used as a symbol of Palestinian identity in cartoons, graffiti, and other artistic works, even after the death of his author. Handala has become somewhat of a meme, in that his caricature is reproduced and placed in various different settings. Check out Naji Al-Ali’s original Handala cartoons here.

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3 Responses to Handala

  1. I really enjoyed this post, and think that Handala is something that everyone studying Arabic grafitti should see. I just wanted to ask what leads you to conclude that Handala’s figure is a symbol of “the cartoonist’s views that an outside solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is not possible, and that the answer must come from within the two nations.” Is it because of the unity suggested by his two hands being clasped and his back being turned on the viewer? If the viewers of these cartoons are mainly Palestinians and Israelis and his back is turned toward them, not an international audience, what is the message? I’d be very interested to look into how the meaning that Handala was intended to convey has transformed after the author’s death, as anyone with access to spray paint now has the ability to invoke the image as a part of their greater message. The fact that the character is a child also send an interesting message about innocence, guilt, observation and objection that I would love to learn more about.

  2. Zara Juneja says:

    I am also glad you posted about the Handala cartoons because I feel political cartoonist Naji Al-Ali’s work is very critical to what we have been discussing in class. I have also seen a number of his cartoons before. Although I see where you are coming from with the interpretation that his hands clasped behind his back signify a sense of rejection of outside intervention and so forth, but with regard to Caitlyn’s question, I feel that it may symbolize a sense of passivity and perhaps, emphasizes an underlying sense of cynicism surrounding the helpless state of the Palestinian refugees, as after all, Handala has been known to be Naji Al-Ali’s representation of the displaced Palestinian refugee. Therefore, Handala’s turned-back is a comment more on the simple, observing status of the refugees which is relatable to all audiences. But what is particularly interesting is this one cartoon, (copy paste the following link to view it) ahttp://www.flw.ugent.be/cie/images/cartoon_naji_al-ali.gif
    In this cartoon, it is one of the few times Handala does not have hands clasped behind his back and is instead running towards what appears to be the establishment/roots of the establishment of a Palestinian state. This sudden sense of active participation or enthusiasm that contrasts to the usual observing Handala, represents a sense of optimism. Maybe this particular cartoon was a product of the Oslo peace-process era thus representing this sense of optimism and zeal for a new Palestinian state, (although later, as we know and perhaps resorts back to clasped hands, ends in disappointment.) I just thought this was really interesting, and something that could be explored with regard to the differences between the representations of Handala (like the more prominent figure you analyzed and this one) given the changing political context. I would have loved to study Naji Al-Ali’s work in class but I understand there is only that much we can cover given our class time!

  3. It’s really interesting how the figure of Handala has become an icon. From the site that was linked in the post, the author, Naji Al-Ali, said that Handala is a poor 10-year-old boy, a representation of refugee camp children, who’s a symbol of the Palestinian struggle. Although he has been given a name and there is somewhat of a back story, he’s still a vague enough figure to be a powerful symbol of struggle. And as a symbol, he is applicable as a sort of judge of the situations he’s placed in — both in the cartoons and in the graffiti. He is a character who is both innocent and aware. Another interesting point that Naji Al-Ali made was that Handala will always be ten years old — until he returns to his homeland.

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