From butcher to nerd, and back again

More and more cartoons in the Arab media have recorded a transformation of the Israeli military man.

For decades the image of the Israeli soldier in the Arab media has generally been one of a demonic, bull-necked, Nazi-like trooper with bloodthirsty eyes and a huge nose. Israeli soldiers are often portrayed killing innocent women and children, or confronting unarmed Palestinians. But something has changed lately. More and more cartoons in the Arab media have recorded a transformation of the Israeli military man. He's now portrayed less as a menace, and more as a childlike geek. A nerd. A weakling. A nebbish. One of the missions of the Anti-Defamation League's office in Israel is to monitor the Arab media for anti-Semitism and hate. But we have also noticed this new trend. It began to appear after the June 25 assault on an Israeli tank outside the Gaza Strip and the kidnapping of IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit. The photo of this grinning, baby-faced soldier wearing large round glasses plastered on the front pages of Israeli newspapers suddenly became the model for the Israeli warrior. A series of cartoons began appearing in the Palestinian daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida showing the metamorphosis of the strong, superhuman soldier to a wimpy one. The first cartoon showed a Palestinian "resistance" fighter striking a huge statue of an Israeli soldier which cracks - the caption saying "the shattered illusion." In the days that followed the Israeli soldier was presented less as a fearsome and more as a childlike figure, someone who couldn't provide protection for either Israelis or himself. He was also portrayed as a toy soldier, or as a prize given to the child whose parents were killed on the Gaza beach by an explosion blamed on Israel. ALL THE cartoons until June 30 were by one cartoonist, Omayya Jouha, the only female Arab cartoonist, who is also Palestinian. Her husband was a Hamas member assassinated by the IDF. In one cartoon Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gestures to a baby-faced soldier. The caption says: "It's been three days since I last went to the bathroom. I'm afraid I'll be snatched from the (sewer) tunnel there." As the Israeli incursion into Gaza escalated, other cartoonists began drawing the Israeli soldier in weak images, small, dressed in uniforms too large for them and helmets way too big, as if they were children and not professional soldiers - as shown in the Syrian daily Tishrin or in a Qatari newspaper. In the Saudi daily Al-Watan, a Palestinian gunman carts off a skinny, unarmed Israeli soldier, while Olmert carts off Gaza. FOLLOWING Wednesday's attack by Hizbullah in the north and the kidnapping of two IDF soldiers, a cartoon appeared in the Qatari Ar-Raya showing a harmless Israeli soldier as a key opening the door that releases Palestinian prisoners. The Jordanian Ad-Dustur newspaper ran a cartoon showing a sickly-looking, bucktoothed IDF soldier with a rocket hitting his rear end, under the caption: "The Gaza (poke) of south Lebanon." This weakened image of the Israeli soldier has by no means totally replaced the traditional image of the vicious one, which also continues to appear. In Al-Watan from Oman, a soldier with a satanic countenance and large nose aims his rifle at a Palestinian mother holding two children. The caption above him reads "an innocent Israeli soldier," and above the Palestinians "the terrorists." Cartoons are one way the Arab world deals with the "Israeli monster." In a way, one could say that the kidnappings burst the myth that IDF troops were invincible. In the past six years of conflict with the Palestinians, most (1,115) of the 1,429 Israeli casualties have been civilians and the vast majority of the servicemen and women killed were not in combat. In combat, the IDF often emerges unscathed. It is difficult to say whether this new cartoon image is simply a manifestation of wishful thinking on the part of Arab cartoonists, or if there is a growing inclination by the Arab world to see Israeli soldiers as nerds in light of the kidnappings and few successful strikes that have killed at least 10 soldiers on the border with Gaza and Lebanon. How long this trend will last is also a question of the developments in Lebanon and the territories. It could certainly evaporate as quickly as it appeared as the IDF begins to show the Arab world a more bellicose face. By Sunday morning, we had already seen a return to the old, hideous image of the Israeli soldier. One cartoon in Al-Watan turns the soldier into a butcher chopping up Lebanon, while the Lebanese Ad-Diyar daily portrays the Jewish soldier as massacring civilians under the headline "Kahane all over again." Still, not all cartoons depict "good" or evil images of the Israeli soldier. The London-based Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat, for example, showed a chubby Israeli soldier winning over the Lebanese "street" by literally stomping it on top of an equally chubby Hizbullah fighter. O'Sullivan is director of communications and Abu Nadda is an Arab Affairs Analyst for ADL Israel.