Two days ago, Al Ahram published a cartoon in which a child angel asks another:
“Were you too killed by an Israeli fighter jet?” The other victim replies: “No,
by an Egyptian train,” a reference to the tragic collision four days ago of a
train and a school bus, which killed 50 children. What’s wrong with the analogy?
As a researcher in cognitive linguistics and critical discourse analysis, I can
say that the reason bad analogies are so dangerous is that they can constrain
and direct our policies. The above analogy, for example, highlights that Israel
is a killer of innocence, suppressing the fact that Hamas fires rockets at
innocent Israeli civilians. Importantly, depicting Israel as a demon implies
that there can be no peace with it. If this were the case, how can Egypt play
the role of peace broker between Israel and Palestine?
Another prominent cartoon
appeared in the Jordanian newspaper Al Rayi. In it, Israel is depicted as a
serial killer fond of collecting skulls. Again, this analogy hides the
fact that in Israel there are innocent civilians, women and children who know
nothing about killing. Furthermore, it suppresses the fact that Israel wants
peace with its neighbors, as evidenced by its 32-year-old peace treaty with
Strikingly, the same analogy (i.e., Israel as serial killer) has
been employed by the Egyptian news outlet El-Masry Elyoum, though in a different
form. The outlet ran a picture in which a smiling Israeli soldier asks another,
while pointing to the word “Gaza” written in skulls, “isn’t my handwriting very
nice?” The message here is that Israeli soldiers kill for fun, ignoring the fact
many of them are wounded or killed. Furthermore, the message is that the
soldiers of Israel are irrational. But are they?
Israeli soldiers have to defend
themselves, their children, and their wives against Hamas attack. Furthermore,
they dream of same things everyone else does: to be able to spend a nice weekend
with their families, for security, for a calm life. In short, they’re not
A fourth striking example can be found in the Saudi economic
newspaper Al Iqtisadiah. In it, the Israeli flag is planted on the corpse of an
Arab drowning in his own blood. This implies that the Jewish state must be
demolished if Arabs want to live, which is another way of saying Israel has no
right to exist.
The photos of innocent Palestinian victims made my heart
bleed and left me for some days unable to think or write. But viewing Israel as
a demon is dangerous and doesn’t fit the facts very well.
As a general
finding in cognitive science, if a mental framework doesn’t fit the facts, the
facts will bounce off and the framework will stay. As such, we need to pay more
attention to our metaphors and analogies, especially because as we have seen,
demonization of Israel works against peace.
Finally, I recall some
important words said once by deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak in a TV
interview: “We Egyptians went into wars with Israel, but in the end we sat down
together around the table and solved our problems. Importantly, only
negotiations can bring peace to the region, as can be read in the book of
On this account, let’s stop demonizing Israel.
analogy I invite Arabs to use can be rendered: “Israel Is a Sister.” More
importantly, the Palestinian people suffer, and so does the Israeli people. In
other words, both sides need and want peace.
The writer is an Egyptian
artist and a PhD student.