Guest Columnist: Srulik, meet Handala
Introducing the two iconic cartoons, known respectively by Israelis and Palestinians yet unknown to each other, is not a bad way to begin.
Driving east from Jerusalem on the winding Jordanian-built road that once led
down from the Mount of Olives to the Dead Sea, one passes through a series of
Arab villages and soon comes to a dead end in front of the grotesque West Bank
Called geder hahafrada (separation fence) in Hebrew and jidar
al-fasl al-unsuri (apartheid wall) in Arabic, the insurmountable (if still
incomplete) barrier has no doubt contributed to a reduction in terror and car
theft. However, my objection to it is more existential: Like some of those in
West Berlin who spray-painted their protest for freedom on the Bundesrepublik
side of die Mauer even as armed East German guards used deadly force to prevent
anyone from approaching the Wall’s eastern side, I believe all walls must
It is a metaphor that has repeated itself from Joshua’s encircling
of Jericho, to the Berlin Wall and its remaining East Side gallery, to Garth
Hewitt’s ballad, “They’ve Cancelled Christmas in Bethlehem,” about the
stranglehold the wall has placed on both day-to-day life and religious
pilgrimage in the place where Jesus was born 2,000 years ago.
today is caught between two conflicting ideologies: the growing trend of some
democratic countries to join in unions with open borders, joint legal systems
and a common currency, of which the European Union – notwithstanding its
problems – is a great success; and the trend of other countries – many
repressive and undemocratic – to defend their borders with minefields and walls.
Like John Lennon, I prefer the first vision – of a growing global union without
barriers. Imagine that.
THUS ARMED with the tools of the graffiti artist
– an exacto knife, cardboard and spray paint – I recently made my way to Abu Dis
with my friend Haj Ibrahim Abu el-Hawa, my daughter Bareket and fellow artist
Eva Feld to make our mark. Reasoning that a picture is worth a thousand words,
we chose a symbolic image whose meaning is unequivocal.
The image we
created depicts “Handala” raising hands with “Srulik.”
The two iconic
cartoon characters are respectively well known by Palestinians and Israelis, yet
each is equally unknown by the other. It is a symmetry of ignorance of the
other’s narrative that will have to be overcome before true peace can be
Allow me to explain the mirror meanings of the twin
Handala – an omnipresent image on T-shirts and key chains in
the aswak (plural of shouk) of Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip – was
created by Naji al-Ali in 1969. As a 10-year-old in 1948, he was driven from his
Galilee village of ash-Shajara (14 km. from Tiberias) to the Ein al- Hilweh
refugee camp in Lebanon and went on to become the leading political cartoonist
in the Arab world.
Before being assassinated in London in 1987, he
produced more than 40,000 bitingly sarcastic cartoons lampooning Arab leaders
and lamenting the stateless status of his people. His autobiographical image of
Handala – a barefoot, faceless, refugee youth – remains a potent symbol of the
struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and
Ali wrote: “Handala is my signature. I gave birth to
this child in the [Persian] Gulf. He was born 10 years old, and he will always
be 10. At that age, I left my homeland, and when he returns, Handala will still
be 10, and then he will start growing up.
The laws of nature do not apply
to him. He is unique. Things will become normal again when the homeland
IMPISH SRULIK – a diminutive of Yisrael – carries an equally
rich symbolism in depicting nascent Israel and, in particular, its native-born
sabras. The character was first drawn in 1956 by the cartoonist Kariel Gardosh,
better known by his nom de plume Dosh. The Hungarian-born Holocaust survivor
drew Srulik for decades in the pages of Ma’ariv until his death in
Dosh generally depicted Srulik as a young man wearing a kova tembel
hat, biblical sandals and khaki shorts. He drew him as a pioneering Zionist and
lover of the Land of Israel, a dedicated farmer who in time of need dons an IDF
uniform and goes out to defend the state – equipped with an Uzi. In contrast to
the anti-Semitic stereotype of the weak or cunning Jew, which appeared in the
Nazi weekly Der Stürmer and other European and Arab newspapers and journals,
Dosh’s Srulik was a proud, strong and sympathetic Jewish
Shalom Rosenfeld, editor of Ma’ariv from 1974 to 1980, wrote:
“Srulik became not only a mark of recognition of [Dosh’s] amazing daily
cartoons, but an entity standing on its own, as a symbol of the Land of Israel –
beautiful, lively, innocent...
and having a little chutzpah, and
naturally also of the new Jew.”
INTRODUCING SRULIK to Palestinians and
Handala to Israelis is not a bad way to begin to redress each side’s ignorance
of the other’s narrative. The ways in which they epitomize the historical and
cultural narrative of their own people imbue these cartoons with an impact
stronger than words.
When a peace treaty is ultimately implemented
between Israel and Palestine (as I’m sure it must), perhaps the image of Handala
and Srulik holding hands could be adopted as a neutral symbol of coexistence.
Their creators Naji al-’Ali and Kariel Gardosh both knew firsthand of
persecution and exile; the iconic figures they bequeathed us share the hope of
living in freedom and peace.
When peace finally arrives, new and
emotionally satisfying images and symbols will need to be created to bridge the
chasm between Jews and Arabs in our broken Promised Land.
The writer is a
journalist and tour guide in Jerusalem.