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Palestinian's keen caricatures keep censors occupied

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Tens of thousands of Palestinians start their day with her cartoons, which have been published since 1999 on the back page of Al Quds, the most popular Palestinian newspaper. A recurring theme is the suffering of the common Palestinian at the hands of Israel and the United States, and the indifference and hypocrisy of the Arab regimes.

In a political culture and climate where censorship has always been heavy, Palestinian cartoonists are seen by their print colleagues and the public as having leeway for greater freedom of expression than writers. But there are limits. Naji Ali allowed himself to criticize top leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization, including Yasser Arafat in the Kuwaiti Al Qabas daily. He was assassinated near his office in London in 1987 by unknown assailants. Many Palestinians believe the killing was the work of the PLO or the Mossad or both. Ali continues to be revered as a martyr, especially in the refugee camps of Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Joha believes she is in a more secure situation than Naji Ali was, in part because the Internet provides her with supportive feedback from people all over the world, fortifying her courage.

Still, being a cartoonist in the Palestinian territories is not easy. Unlike colleagues whose newspapers are published in Ramallah, Joha must contend daily with censorship from Israeli authorities because Al Quds is published in East Jerusalem, an area declared by Israel as part of its sovereign territory. And Al Quds, according to Palestinian journalists, although officially independent, is in practice heavily influenced by the Palestinian Authority and anxious to maintain its working relations with Israel, Palestinian journalists say. That has a direct impact on the writers and Joha, the journalists say.

"The Israeli censorship has translated into a kind of self-censorship for the newspaper," Joha said. "I send in the cartoon and the paper calls me and tells me I have to remove things. There is a negotiation, and sometimes it doesn't work out," Joha says. Sometimes no cartoon appears in the paper - a sign, she says, that agreement could not be reached. Cartoons that do not make it often end up on Joha's website, www.omayya.com.

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