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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cartooning for Peace in Ramallah

Ramallah samples 'peace cartooning'

By Wyre Davies
BBC News, Ramallah

French cartoonist Plantu
The initiative was organised by French cartoonist Plantu

Never underestimate the power of a picture. The anger and violence in the Muslim world that followed the publication of drawings of the Prophet Muhammad in a Danish newspaper, showed just how influential and divisive a cartoon can be.

That may have been an extreme case but a strong image has always been able to convey a strong message.

For more than 200 years writers and commentators have used cartoons in newspapers and magazines to challenge authority, to criticise official policy or merely to poke fun.

It's no different in the Middle East. This week several well-known political cartoonists from around the world are in the region under the banner of Cartooning for Peace.

On a visit to the Amari refugee camp in the West Bank town of Ramallah, they were hoping to use their art as a vehicle for change.

In the drab surroundings of the camp's UN-run school the cartoonists gathered in the small playground, visibly bothered by the early summer heat.

Respect for faith

Baha Boukhari
Cartoons are an international language. You'll never find a cartoonist calling for war
Baha Boukhari
The French cartoonist Plantu had organised the event.

He didn't think the threat of violence, as happened in the Danish case, would ever deter him or his colleagues.

"Our message is very clear, because although we draw about tragedy and about war and criticise intolerance, we respect all faiths - Christians, Muslims and Jews," he said.

Palestinian cartoonist Baha Boukhari may draw from an Arab perspective but he is no less critical and questioning in his illustrations of authority.

"Cartoons are an international language," he said. "You'll never find a cartoonist calling for war. We're only interested in peace."

Another well-known and well-travelled cartoonist is Patrick Chappatte of the Herald Tribune.

He led the master-class with a dozen eager young Palestinians, but his first question left them all staring clueless at their blank sheets of paper.

"Think of something happy, something positive," Chappatte had told them.

"There is only war, no happiness!" came the response from two of the students.

Violent reality

After some reticence the students got into their task. Fascinatingly, one half of the class - the girls - drew positive images of life in Palestinian society.

Cartoon by Munir, aged 14
The children's work was far from the happy, positive vision asked for
The other half - the boys - focused overwhelmingly on the negatives.

Their art-work reflected the bloody, violent aspects of the uneasy relationship between Israel and the Palestinians.

Images of death, of the separation barrier and of freedoms these children could only dream of.

Of course this is a view from just one side of this complex conflict, but later on display in Ramallah alongside the work of professional cartoonists, the students' efforts were striking.

Asked to come up with happy, positive themes many of these works were anything but - reflecting the violent reality of life in the region.

Cartoons they certainly are. Cartoons for peace were perhaps too much to expect.


UPDATE: Thanks to Carol who commented on this post concerning the above beautiful cartoon of the dove holding the Israeli and Palestinian flags. The reporter who did this article left out the fact that the cartoon is by Avi Katz, an Israeli cartoonist who ALSO attended "Cartooning for Peace"
Go to his website and see more of his amazing work. Thank you again Carol!

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