The Palestinian people have used many tactics in their legitimate resistance against the Israeli occupation which has robbed them of their land, rights and holy places. The use of caricature is one of these modes of resistance which have angered and even hurt the Israeli occupation. The 1987 assassination of the famous cartoonist Naji Al-Ali, the creator of the iconic "Handala" figure, is evidence of that. Any discussion about Palestinian cartoonists and their political impact on the confrontation with the Israelis, and exposing the occupation state's crimes against the Palestinian people, must include Alaa' Allaqta.
Allaqta is one of the most prominent cartoonists in the Arab World. In 2013, he came second the Arab Cartoon Contest organised by Dar Al-Sharq in Qatar under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture. "I was proud to represent Palestine in an Arab national competition," he told me. His cartoons are honest in criticising not only the Israeli occupation, but also inhumanity elsewhere in the world. "Caricature is the art of challenging ease," he says. "It is outwardly simple lines, but it is deep in meaning and expressive in its significance. Caricature combines humour and pain, which is why they call it the art of 'bitter laughter'."
According to Allaqta, a political cartoon should be strong and profound, and cover topical issues. The influential cartoonist should grab the idea, adapt the event, find out how the effect occurs, and then provoke the feelings of those who see his work.
Alaa' Allaqta was born in Al-Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip in 1972, although his family are from Al-Faluja in occupied Palestine, from where they were displaced by the Israelis in 1949. It comes as no surprise, therefore, that his art was born out of suffering.
"I have been blessed with the talent to draw since the first day I grabbed a pen. I still remember the admiration in my kindergarten teacher's eyes. My cartoons are built out of a lifetime of experience, a broad cultural base, a relentless follow-up of events and, above all, an authentic belonging to the homeland."
Although he has been away from Gaza for many years, he follows events there closely. He has drawn about Israel's military offensives against the Palestinians in Gaza; the persecution of the people by the Israeli occupation forces; the poverty and the shattered economy; and the coronavirus crisis. Lately, he has drawn cartoons about the upcoming elections in Palestine. No Palestinian event will pass without Allaqta turning his artistic skills and creativity towards it.
On top of all of this, Allaqta is also a cosmetic surgeon. " My family insisted on me studying medicine because I got high marks in school. However, I didn't forget my first dream, so I specialised in plastic surgery as a study that relied on art, taste and beauty." He likes to define himself as a cartoonist not a doctor. "I am more inclined towards the art, because it is through art that people got to know me. Medicine may be a high-ranking profession, but there are many qualified doctors who can do my work if I am absent. In contrast, caricature art is a unique specialty; cartoonists are few and they need a talent with special specifications that that may not study in colleges or universities."
In Allaqta's opinion, there is a common factor between medicine and art: the wound. The doctor heals the patient's wounds with a scalpel, while the artist heals people's wound with a pen; both are indispensable.
However, Allaqta the doctor and cartoonist may heal people with his medicine and his art, but he is unable to heal himself from an old wound inflicted by the Israeli occupation. Every time he looks at the scar, he is pushed to be even more creative, and display even more resistance. How did he get the scar? "During the first days of the intifada, Israeli armour cordoned off my neighbourhood after confrontations with stone throwers. Even though I wasn't even sixteen years old, at least ten armed soldiers surrounded me and my older brother and beat us with nail-studded sticks."
Alaa' Allaqta's cartoons emphasise the power of the pen as a creative mode of resistance against the occupation. All forms of resistance are legitimised by international laws and conventions for everyone whose land is occupied.
"Cartoons," the doctor-cartoonist concludes, "are soft resistance which can have the same effect as a bullet, but without the blood." A powerful pen indeed.