Naji Al-Ali: An Artist With Vision

Directed by Kasim Abid

52 minutes / Color
Release: 2000
Copyright: 1999

"During the 30 years since I started drawing, I feel I have been through every Arab prison and I ask myself: What is there to come after all this? I was prepared to die defending just one drawing, because every drawing is like a drop of water which makes its way through the minds of people."—Naji Al Ali

Throughout history artists have faced the threat of violence when their work offended the state or the political elite. The late Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali produced thousands of cartoons satirizing the powers that be in the Middle East, and paid the ultimate price for his 'offensive' expression. On July 22, 1987 he was shot in the face, at point blank range, as he left the London offices of the Al Qabbas newspaper. He died after laying in a coma for 5 weeks.

Emerging from humble beginnings in the refugee camps, for over 30 years he was an uncompromising critic of a regressive Arab political culture and of Western intervention in Arab affairs. Interviews with leading Arab journalists and poets, former jail mates, his wife and others give us insight to his unrelenting commitment to his people, and into his subtly satirical cartoons that stirred the hearts of millions of refugees. NAJI AL-ALI, AN ARTIST WITH VISION examines the forces that shaped Naji as an artist, as a human being, and shows how his experiences mirror those of other exiled Palestinians.

Known as the Palestinian Malcolm X, Naji is still the most popular artist in the Arab world, loved for his defense of the ordinary people, and for his criticism of repression and despotism. Paradoxically, strict censorship and widespread illiteracy in the Arab world helped Naji to achieve his remarkable success. His unrelenting cartoons exposed the brutality of the Israeli army and the hypocrisy of the PLO, earning him many powerful enemies. The turning point in Naji's story was the publication of his cartoon satirizing Egyptian journalist Rashida Muhran, Yasser Arafat's official biographer. Arafat was furious and Naji was forced to leave for London.

Despite some arrests by Scotland Yard and an investigation by MI5, the assassin's identity has never been revealed. Who murdered Naji, the Mossad or the PLO?

"Highly Recommended! Especially appropriate for college and university libraries that support programs in politics, Middle Eastern studies and the arts. Commemorates the life of a man who lived according to his ideals and never forgot his people, even when he was among the highest paid journalists in the Arab world. Naji lives on through his cartoons, and the video makes it possible to share this controversial artwork with a new audience, despite persistent attempts at censure."—Educational Media Reviews Online

"This valuable film... goes a long way toward preserving the memory of Naji al-Ali, allowing future generations to draw inspiration from this remarkable individual. Does an outstanding job of introducing not only the personality of al-Ali, but also the most important events shaping his work… Includes an excellent cross-section of the thousands of political drawings Al-Ali published in his lifetime."—Al Jadid: A Review & Record of Arab Culture and Arts

"NAJI AL-ALI, AN ARTIST WITH VISION offers a valuable and vital primer into an extraordinary life, lived in extraordinary times in an unfortunate land. Al-Ali's cartoons illuminate the [film] …and offer a wonderful visual documentation of the pain of Palestine. The history of the Palestinian struggle can never be recorded without some reference to the trenchant cartoons of Naji al-Ali."—Politics and Culture

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Kasim Abid

Select Accolades

  • 2004 Festival of Cartoon Art
  • Audience Award for Best Documentary, 1999 Arab Screen Independent Film Festival (London)
  • Journalist's Choice Award, 2000 Basic Trust International Human Rights Film Festival (Ramallah & Tel Aviv)
  • 2002 Hot Docs Documentary Festival
  • 2002 Chicago Palestine Film Festival


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