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Gendering the Palestinian Political Cartoon

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This paper examines the representation of the distribution of agency and responsibility across gender roles in Palestinian political cartoons. Cartoons are read to discover the nature of family dynamics, the relationship between the home and what lies outside it, and public and private sources of culture and Palestinian identity. Included are the work of Naji al-Ali whose widely-read cartoons appeared in Arabic language newspapers from the 1960's until his assassination in 1987, and that of six contemporary cartoonists: Baha Boukhari, Khalil Abu Arafeh, Omayya Joha, Muhammed Sabaaneh, Naser al-Jafari, and Emad Hajjaj. In al-Ali's cartoons, Palestinian men and their families are deeply affected by the pressures of dispossession, violence, and exploitation by elites. However, because the disruption affects mainly the public sphere of military action, politics, and wage labor, it is men who are most negatively affected by those pressures. They are often at a loss as to how to respond, and do not always make wise choices. On the other hand, al-Ali locates the idea of Palestine squarely in the private sphere, in women's roles in biological and social reproduction. Because this idea is intact, women are able to perform their roles even in states of extreme violence and dispossession. The cartoons of later artists differ in that masculinity is divorced from military action, and although politics is largely ineffectual, men are endowed with agency in the public sphere. Women in the later cartoons continue to be defined chiefly, though not exclusively, by the domestic sphere, but Palestinian motherhood is in crisis and women in grave danger in many of these cartoons, a reflection of the crisis of the idea of Palestine as a whole and sound homeland.

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