Cartoonists from around the world gathered this summer to discuss using their art to facilitate dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, and others in the region.
It might not look like it on CNN, but the majority of people who live in Israel and the region – Jewish and Arab Israeli citizens along with Palestinians – are rooting for peace. There are dozens of projects bringing Arabs and Jews together to show the positive face of the Middle East: Israel has Interns for Peace, Chefs for Peace, Belly Dancers for Peace, bloggers, musicians and even dentists in the name of peace.
One of the latest projects to land in Israel is Cartooning for Peace, founded by famous French political satirist, Jean Plantureux (Plantu). This past June, cartoonists from around the world gathered in Israel and the Palestinian Authority at four simultaneous exhibitions in Ramallah, Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and Holon.
The artists met to share how cartooning can be used as a means for peaceful dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as others in the region including Turks, Algerians and Egyptians. Participants also included Japanese, Americans, and French citizens.
Selected cartoonists, such as Plantu, who works for French paper Le Monde, were present at the event where the artists got a chance to present their work and participate in master classes attended by an audience that included diplomats. The meet was supported in part by the Peres Center for Peace in Israel.
A founding member of Cartooning for Peace, Israeli political cartoonist Michel Kichka, spoke with ISRAEL21c about the importance of the event: “Cartooning for Peace, or any other professional meeting gives you opportunities to talk,” he says. “We are trying to put together people who, let’s say, have a common understanding of what should be done with cartoons, or more correctly, what should not be done.”
Commenting on the recent attacks on cartoonists in Europe, Kichka, who is originally from Belgium, says he personally believes that offending a person’s religious beliefs is the lowest form of cartooning, but that the furore showed there is a long way to go in achieving public understanding of a cartoonist’s right to free speech.
When cartoonists meet, says Kichka, “We learn nothing can be taken for granted. There is still a fight that has be done. Democracy is not something that should be taken for granted. The freedom of speech should not be taken for granted. We have to fight for it… Even when you mean to be liberal and positive, anything you say [as a cartoonist] can be turned against you.”
When the members from Cartooning for Peace gather, it allows people who normally don’t meet each other to participate in panels and debates, says Kichka. This last meeting in Israel wasn’t the first time he’s met with Arab and Palestinian cartoonists, however.
And although it is important for Israelis and the Arab world to meet, it is also important for regional cartoonists to be in touch with Americans, Japanese and other representing nations among the group. Says Kichka, “Through them we understand their culture, country and concerns and can feel how much we have in common and how similar is our fight.”
Aliza Savir, deputy director general of the Peres Center, said her organization helped the cartoonists arrange entry permits to Israel and other details. She tells ISRAEL21c: “Humanization of the other side is crucial for any good relations between Jews and Arabs in the future.”
Kichka said this past opportunity in Israel, “allowed us to understand what it means to be a cartoonist in a different country, whether in a country with heavy censorship or a democracy in which dissenters deal with sensitive issues. Each cartoonist brought his own experience with him and together we’ve put together something unique.”