Cartoonists campaign for peace

Exhibit aimed at countering huge number of negative cartoons in region.

Palestinian Cartoon 224 (photo credit: Baha Boukhari)
Palestinian Cartoon 224
(photo credit: Baha Boukhari)
Hoping to bridge a communication gap between cultures, ethnicities and religions, cartoonists from around the world are gathering this week for a convention on peace through cartooning. In light of the overwhelming number of negative cartoons throughout the Middle East, which portray themes stemming from both historical anti-Semitism and the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Cartooning for Peace project and the Peres Center for Peace hope to display cartoons' positive influence. "[Art] creates a cultural bridge of understanding between people," said Dr. Aliza Savir, deputy director-general of the Peres Center for Peace. "These cartoons convey the cultures of each one of the participants." Cartooning for Peace, initiated by French cartoonist Jean Plantureux, who goes by "Plantu" professionally, will hold a series of events from Monday through Wednesday. The exhibition of positive cartoons will travel to Ramallah, Bethlehem, east Jerusalem and Holon. Organizers decided to hold the event in both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to convey a message of good will, coexistence and hope, Savir said. "The problem is not the media," said cartoonist Michel Kichka, who made aliya from Belgium 34 years ago. "The problem is during history... cartoons have been used as a way to [foster] hatred between people and to make controversies. We want to put an end to it and show that it is possible to use cartoons for positive things - to build bridges between people, more than burning bridges." Baha Boukhari, a Palestinian cartoonist who works at a newspaper in Ramallah, will be participating in the cartoon convention. He began his career over 40 years ago, and his work is considered moderate. "We are calling people for peace," he said. "[It is meaningful to present the cartoons], especially in the Holy Land where the conflict is, in a peaceful way, through dialogue and communication." Due to high illiteracy rates in the Arab world, cartoons are able to reach a wider audience than writings and are extremely popular there, Arieh O'Sullivan, spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League in Israel, said. Cartoons are simple and have the ability to cross countries, he said, adding that "language isn't important." The infamous Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that were circulated throughout the world in 2005 serves as one example of negative cartoons, O'Sullivan said. "Freedom of speech is important as long as it doesn't insight hatred and violence," he said. "Which is why we saw the Muhammad cartoon as a very dangerous issue, and we condemn the violence that was caused. The cartoonist should have respected the sensitivity toward religion." The Anti-Defamation League collects negative cartoons published in media outlets throughout the Arab world and reports its findings to country leaders, according to Carole Nuriel, an Arab affairs analyst for the ADL. The organization separates anti-Semitic cartoons from those that are anti-Israel, according to Nuriel. She said that an anti-Israel stance was legitimate as long as they are not racist. The organization has found a large concentration of negative cartoons in Arab papers, mainly in Jordan and Egypt, she added. "We consider it a violation of the peace agreements," Nuriel said. "Most of [the newspapers] are sponsored by the government, which means that they speak the language of the government. If a cartoonist is being published in the newspaper, they go with the same line and we have to take those cartoons seriously."