Baddawi (2015), a graphic novel written by Leila Abdelrazaq, follows protagonist Ahmad as he grows up in Lebanon as a Palestinian refugee. Based on the life of Abdelrazaq’s father, Baddawi contains roughly 100 pages of black and white illustrations and text to outline both the political context of the Palestinian conflict between 1959 and 1980, as well as the personal implications these conflicts had on individuals such as Ahmad. In the aftermath of the Palestinian Nakba in 1948, which dispersed Palestinians into occupied territories or into neighboring countries in light of the establishment of Israel, Palestinians no longer had legal citizenships to call their own. Baddawi explores what life was like for one such Palestinian refugee as he dodged violent attacks and bounced between refugee camps in Lebanon amid rising political tensions and the beginning of the Lebanese civil war.
Near the end of the graphic novel, Ahmad got accepted into a university in Texas right around the same time his parents approved of a marriage between him and his study partner, Manal. Having only a refugee status and no actual Lebanese citizenship, if Ahmad were to go to the U.S., he would be unable to return to Lebanon for years. Abdelrazaq illustrates Ahmad’s internal struggle of how to proceed with his life in a full-page drawing which utilizes metaphoric visual imagery. In the drawing, Ahmad is facing two paths. One leads through a shape resembling the United States, where he can attend college and start a new life for himself. The other path leads through the shape of Lebanon, where he would remain in the Palestinian camp to marry his friend Manal and raise a family. Neither of these paths, however, lead to the shape of Israel/Palestine, pictured glowing in the background sky, unattainable by either of the two paths drawn. Drawn onto the country of Israel is a stripe of the traditional Palestinian tatreez embroidery pattern (Abdelrazaq 113). This final detail of visual imagery completes the metaphor by exhibiting how Ahmad, as just one of many Palestinian refugees, has different choices he can make as he enters adulthood, but none of these choices will lead him back to his homeland, the source of the tatreez and his Palestinian identity.
On this same page, Abdelrazaq provides an allusion to the Palestinian cartoon figure Handala. A political cartoon character created by Naji al-Ali in 1975, Handala is represented as a young Palestinian refugee boy. The ideology behind his figure is that the world would only see Handala turn around when the people of Palestine could return home (Abdelrazaq 11). In the illustration where Ahmad is facing his two separate paths, he is depicted in a similar stance as Handala—back facing the reader with hands clasped behind his back. In this way, the allusion to Handala ties in to the notion that Ahmad is unable to reach Palestine.
Abdelrazaq, Leila. Baddawi. Charlottesville, Just World Books, 2015.