The character was created in 1969 by political cartoonist Naji al-Ali, and first took its current form in 1973. Handala became the signature of Naji al-Ali's cartoons and remains an iconic symbol of Palestinian identity and defiance. The character has been described as "portraying war, resistance, and the Palestinian identity with astounding clarity".
The name comes from Citrullus colocynthis (Arabic: حنظل, romanized: Handhal), a perennial plant local to the region of Palestine which bears a bitter fruit, grows back when cut and has deep roots.
Handala's impact has continued in the decades after al-Ali's 1987 assassination; today the character remains widely popular as a representative of the Palestinian people, and is found on numerous walls and buildings throughout the West Bank (notably on the Israeli West Bank barrier), Gaza and other Palestinian refugee camps, and as a popular tattoo and jewellery motif. It has also been used by movements such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions and the Iranian Green Movement.
Handala was born 10 years old and he will always be 10 years old. It was at that age that I left my homeland. When Handala returns, he will still be 10 years old, and then he will start growing up.
His posture, with his turned back and clasped hands symbolise the character's "rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way" and as "a symbol of rejection of all the present negative tides in our region."
Handala's ragged clothes and standing barefoot symbolise his allegiance to the poor.
Al-Ali described Handala as "the symbol of a just cause:
He was the arrow of the compass, pointing steadily towards Palestine. Not just Palestine in geographical terms, but Palestine in its humanitarian sense—the symbol of a just cause, whether it is located in Egypt, Vietnam or South Africa.
Al-Ali stated in an interview prior to his assassination that: "Handala, whom I created, will not end after I die. I hope that this is not an exaggeration when I say that I will continue to live in Handala, even after I die". Current usages of the Handala motif include:
- Graffiti on numerous walls, buildings and souvenir shops throughout the West Bank (notably on the Israeli West Bank barrier), Gaza and other Palestinian refugee camps
- A primary symbol of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement
- A popular tattoo and jewellery motif
- The web mascot of the Iranian green movement
- In Israeli artwork, particular alongside the Israeli character Srulik
- Singh, Ashutosh. "Time and Waiting: The Fulcrum of Palestinian Identity." Arab Studies Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 4, 2019, pp. 317–331. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.13169/arabstudquar.41.4.0317. Accessed 7 June 2020.
- Oweis, Fayeq. "Handala and the Cartoons of Naji al-Ali: Characters, Symbols, and Relevance." Palestine Lecture Series, George Washington University, Washington, D.C., 17 November 2004. Paper/Presentation
- Margaret Olin, How Long Will Handala Wait? A Ten-Year-Old Barefoot Refugee Child on Palestinian Walls, Timescapes of Waiting, pages 176–197, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1163/9789004407121_012
- Habashi J. (2017) The Evolvement of National Identity: A Never-Ending Process. In: Political Socialization of Youth. Palgrave Macmillan, New York
- Gandolfo, L. K. (2010). Representations of conflict: Images of war, resistance, and identity in Palestinian art. Radical History Review, 106, 47–69.
- Woznia, M. (2014). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Political cartoons of the Arab spring. Hemispheres, 29(2), 5–23.
- Faber, Michel (11 July 2009). "Pens and swords". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
- Alazzeh, Ala. "Abu Ahmad and His Handalas." Struggle and Survival in Palestine/Israel, edited by Mark LeVine and Gershon Shafir, 1st ed., University of California Press, 2012, pp. 427–444. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1ppwdk.34. Accessed 7 June 2020: "...one of the most popular symbols of Palestinian nationalism."
- Gandolfo, 2010, p.60
- Oweis, 2004: "The handhal is a resilient plant that has deep roots and the ability to grow back regardless of attempts to cut or weed it out. It is always associated with bitterness and thus bitterness and resilience became common features of Handala."
- Oweis, 2004: "On the walls of occupied Palestine, in protests and demonstrations all over the world, Handala has become a symbol of Palestinian struggle and resistance. He is a representative of the refugees and their right of return to their homeland. A group of Palestinians created a network called "Handala Palestine" and adopted the name of Handala as a symbol for educating others about the injustice that has been committed against the Palestinians. Handala has also become a symbol for the campaign to boycott Israeli products. He appears as the logo of various human rights organizations and media groups. He can be found as a tattoo on the bodies of thousands of people, and as a gold or silver pendant hanging around the necks of millions. Handala, crafted from the wood of olive-trees uprooted by Israel, can also be found in souvenir shops all over Palestine."
- Ashley, John; Jayousi, Nedal. "Discourse, Culture, and Education in the Israeli-Palestinian Co nflict 49 The Connection between Palestinian Culture and the Conflict" (PDF). Netanya Academic Centre. Retrieved 17 September 2014.
- Naji Al-Ali (1 January 2009). A Child in Palestine: The Cartoons of Naji Al-Ali. Verso Books. ISBN 978-1-84467-365-0.
- Owais, 2004
- Owais, 2004
- Shirin Sadeghi (18 September 2009). "QODS DAY: Protesters Transform Jerusalem Day Into Iran Day".
- Gil Stern Stern Zohar, 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, 7 January 2011, Jerusalem Post