Children of immigrant parents are often forced to accept truths that non-immigrant children never have to think about. Aside from being your parent’s translator and trying to bridge the gap between the culture of your ancestry and the culture that you live in, there are harsher truths that we have to face. We don’t see our extended families that often unless they too have migrated. So my siblings and I grew up not really knowing what it was like to have an aunt or uncle within an hour drive of each other like my kids do. As we grew up and had our own families, we saw them even less; that continuum of space and time seems to spread further and further apart.
That truth is never more evident then when there is a death in the family. This week, we buried Baha Boukhari, an influential political cartoonist to the world, but to me, he was “Khali;” my uncle. I felt the best way to honor him, is to tell as many people about how he spent his life through “the power of the pen,” just as he did.
Khali was born in Palestine in 1944 to my grandparents; Rasheed and Nafha Boukhari, and his two older sisters: Kalthoom and Afaf. Later, my grandparents had five other rugrats, Yacoub, Zakiah, Najwa (my mom), Alaa and Hana. Art was in the genes. My grandfather — though generous to a fault — was a free-hand architect. As a matter of fact, the Boukhari lineage goes back to their migration from Bukhara, Uzbekistan to 17th century Palestine.
In 17th century Palestine, civilization was rapidly developing in the areas of law, medicine, engineering, banking, creating a robust economy and a diverse culture of Muslims, Jews, and Christians. Peaceful coexisting actually existed. In the 1600’s — long before the ideology of Theodore Herzl and Arthur Balfour –Palestine had become a thriving prosperous land with its own inventive path to technological advancement. The Jews were Palestinian, the Christians were Palestinian, and the Muslims were Palestinian. You were just Palestinian — religion was a family tradition not a divisive tool. It was a land of Arabic and Hebrew languages. They had no problem “separating church and state.” Just to put things in perspective –the United States did not exist for another 170 years.
Perhaps Khali was always meant to achieve greatness, but somewhere between his meager childhood to adulthood, Khali discovered a universal language; cartooning. Khali had a lot to say and he wanted everyone to listen. He knew pictures spoke thousands of words for thousands of people. He identified the power of art, it transcends through that space and time continuum.
At 20, his first political cartoons were published in Kuwaiti newspapers: Al Rai, Al A’am, and Al Anba’a. In 1971, he married his wife, Sahar A’laf. He traveled throughout the Middle East, creating political cartoons to expose political injustice throughout the world. They traveled to Tunisia, Syria, and Jordan, and in the process created what I believe was their greatest legacy; my 7 seven cousins; Lina, Dina, Hiba, Biba, Laila, Alia, Dalia.
Khali became a member of a number of organizations, including the General University of Palestinian Writers & Journalists, Federation of Arab Journalists, General Union of Palestinian Artists, and the Arab Cartoonists Association. Khali was a founding member of the Cartooning For Peace Organization, which uses political humor and cartoons to inform and expose social injustice.
In 1994, he returned to where it all began; Ramallah, Palestine. There, he focused on how it all started; the occupation. In his 50 years of political cartooning, Khali reminded the world that we all have the right to exist in a free and fair society. He was critical of the Israeli government, the American government, and the Palestinian government. That’s right. He was not blinded by the hypocrisy of the PLO, Arafat, Hamas, Abbas, or whoever happened to be in power of the Palestinian people at the time. Khali never waivered from his position; equality and freedom for all.
Though he and the newspapers he worked for would have their lives and livelihood threatened, neither would back down. Fatah attempted to paint him as “anti-Islamic.” After the community rallied, Fatah was forced to back off. He had been at Al-Ayam Newspaper since 1999, but in 2008, Khali was still raising hell. Hamas court-ordered a cease and desist order to end distribution of Al-Ayyam in the Gaza Strip because a cartoon mocking Hamas leaders. That same year, Khali was awarded the CRNI’s 2008 Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning. Earlier this month, he was awarded the 2015 Palestine Order of Merit Award.
Khali was not only a cartoonist, but a well known portrait artist in the region. Last year, Mahmoud Abbas was visiting The White House and wanted to give President Obama a gift for his hospitality — it’s an Arab thing – our parents have shamed us into bringing a token of appreciation when we visit people. He commissioned Khali for an oil painting, which now hangs in The White House halls.
He never forgot where he came from; The Boukhari’s 400 year-old history in Palestine of living side by side as Muslims, Christians, and Jews. They had respect for each other. They were judges, mayors, journalists, doctors, architects, engineers, and clerics of all three major religions, not the brushes of savagery that people like to paint Palestinians with today.
Khali was not an artist nor an activist, but an artivist. Khali was one of the good guys. He fought for the underdog no matter what breed. He is best known for his characters, “Abu-Arab,” and “Abu-Abed;” two characters that represented the humble people of Palestine in his cartoons. Khali was one of those humble characters. At age 71 he passed away in Ramallah, where it all began, but its not over! Abu-Arab and Abu-Abed have assured me they will keep his memory alive — as will all of us as his family. Rest in peace Khali. You will surely be missed in this world.
Written by Shirin Zarqa-Lederman.
Shirin Zarqa-Lederman, BCPC, LCADC, LPC, MA, MS is a wife, mother of 4 daughters and 1 son as well as Child and Adolescent therapist and award-winning author of children’s books. Her most recent release The Trotters of Tweeville: Harraf Namrattle is the second book in the Trotters of Tweeville book series. In this second book of the Trotters of Tweeville series, one little girl works hard to practice kindness and care when speaking to others.
Zarqa-Lederman earned her MA in Communication & Information Studies in 2000 from Rutgers University and her MS in Child & Adolescent Psychology in 2010 from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, IL. In 2015 Shirin was selected as Alumna of year for the Chicago School of Professional Psychology and gave the commencement speech Washington, DC campus graduation ceremony.
For more information about Shirin Zarqa-Lederman, or to order any of The Trotters of Tweeville book series please visit www.tweevillers.com.