Cartooning for Peace

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Political cartoonists who comment on the Arab-Israeli conflict have a lot of material to work with. Anchor Marco Werman speaks with two who take on that challenge. Khalil Abu Arafeh is a Palestinian editorial cartoonist and Uri Fink is an Israeli political cartoonist.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Political cartoons can raise an eyebrow, they can make you laugh out loud, or they can be deadly serious. for Israeli and Palestinian political cartoonists, there is an added layer, the day to day reality of living in a tense relationship with one another. We spoke with two cartoonists from the region. Khalil Abu Arafeh is an editorial cartoonist with the Palestinian newspaper, Al-Quds. His work appears seven days a week. Uri Fink is an Israeli political cartoonist best known for the comic strip "zbeng!" about a group of fictional Israeli teenagers. He's also the author of "Tales from the Ragin' Region" which is about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I asked Uri Fink what's so funny about the conflict.

URI FINK: I think that the best way to deal with it is to laugh about it. That is the job actually of the cartoonist, to find the funny, not the funny but the ridiculous thing and point them out. We Jews, we've used humor to deal with our problems all throughout history and that's, I think, a continuation of the same thin.

WERMAN: And Uri I think it's important that our listeners kind of understand that in Israel, you're a really big deal. You do not just political editorial cartoons, but graphic novels and a strip called zbeng which is about a group of Israeli teenagers. Its kid of in popularity like Doonesbury over there right?

FINK: Well Doonesbury is my inspiration and my idol. And also is zbeng. I mean zbeng is my full time job to publish every week. And every week I do something about Israeli reality. And eventually zbeng also deals with politics.

WERMAN: I was going to ask you, does zbeng deal with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict?

FINK: All the time. All the time. There is suicide bombings; I have to relate to that in my comics. Every character of mine deals with the situation differently. I once got the most into trouble when one of my character, who is very left wing, she is called Siegal, she wanted to have a day of mourning, a national day of mourning for the election of Netanyahu. That appeared in the magazine, she said it, and then I got my first letter from the Prime Minister's office. Naturally my editor threw it to the garbage because it's nonsense. It's a right of free speech and nobody can do anything, but that's the only time I got into trouble. In my regular strips, not my political strips, I use too much politics, then I get into trouble.

WERMAN: Let me turn to Khalil Abu-Arafeh. Do you think that you could have drawn that cartoon of a woman wanting a day of mourning for the election of Netanyahu? As I look though a lot of your work, which we can see online, I notice that you're not that critical of Israel.

KHALIL ABU ARAFEH: I am critical of Israel. Israeli authority, I think is very easy to criticize, but in a subtle way without saying there is a day of mourning, for example.

WERMAN: Here's a cartoon that you did where the people who have just killed the Palestinian people are representatives of Fatah and Hamas, the two parties of the Palestinian people. That's pretty harsh.

ABU ARAFEH: Yeah it's harsh, but if you realize I couldn't write even the name of these movements, Fatah or Hamas. It is some sort of symbolic cartoon that there was a battle between Fatah and Hamas and the victims are the innocent Palestinian people.

WERMAN: Do you feel the pressure to make your cartoons kind of consistently pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel?

ABU ARAFEH: There is some sort of pressure, but my work is to criticize everything that I feel that is wrong, whether it was through the Israeli policy or Palestinian policy. It's easier for me to criticize Israel. I'm not looking for making drawing cheering the Palestinian authority.

WERMAN: Interestingly, Uri, I just found out that though the two of you work right there essentially in the same city, you've hardly ever met. You see Khalil for the first time really, here in Boston and yet I'm wondering if you hear anything in what Khalil was saying about the pressure he faces to kind of draw a certain way or skew his opinions a certain way. Do you feel the same way on your side?

FINK: I don't feel it directly. I have to be very sensitive to the Israeli way of thinking, their way of feeling. Because you know, Israel and the Jewish people have a very complicated relationship with cartoons. Ever since the 30's in Europe the way they drew Jews it was always very the nose, the nose, they have a big problem with the nose. So every time I have to draw like a religious Jew, I have to pay attention on the nose. If I draw it too big, then everybody shouts Der Strimmer. You know Der Strimmer was the Nazi newspaper. Don't draw a Strimmer - - . So every time I have to draw religious Jews with all, sometimes you have to if it's a politician or something. I have to give him the smallest nose possible. It's like there's a big Swedish community of Jews somewhere that they all came to Israel.

WERMAN: But I mean, isn't that kind of the irony of the Mid East conflict that Palestinians and Israelis both have big nose?

FINK: Yes, you know I was just saying that you know. The ultimate anti-Semitic cartoon is Yasser Arafat. He just looks like a Strimmeruder, you know? It's classic that this guy looks like a Strimmeruder is giving us that much trouble.

WERMAN: Can you remind us what that is?

FINK: Strimmeruder is the way the Jew looked in the Nazi cartoons, the Strimmeruder.

WERMAN: Khalil your cartoons are very nuanced. Sometimes, and I'm not even sure I get the joke, there's one that shows Israeli bulldozers about to destroy Palestinian tents in east Jerusalem. Did Israeli actually destroy tents that belonged to Palestinians? Or what's the joke?

ABU ARAFEH: In fact it happens. The meaning is maybe you find it real and actual when you see or you hear that Israeli bulldozers are destroying Palestinian houses. But it's ironic when you see that Israel is trying to destroy Palestinian tents, this is the idea. Palestinian people were obliged to live in these tents because their houses were demolished so this is the irony.

WERMAN: Khalil have you ever been censored?

ABU ARAFEH: Yeah. I have three censors in my work. Israeli military censorship, Palestinian which is indirect and Hamas which is indirect too. What I have as a proof is some cartoons that were canceled by the Israeli military censorship, I have the stamp of the censor and am very proud of these cartoons. But actually this happened during the Intifada, when the situation in the Middle East was so critical and the Israeli censor was very sensitive, he did not want to hear anything about criticizing Israel, so he censored my work.

WERMAN: Uri have you ever been censored?

FINK: Not by the government of course. Sometimes I do well in very dark humor, especially during times of war and suicide bombings. So once I was censored in a cartoon I did about the Israeli astronaut that was killed in Colombia. I combined it with a period of suicide bombings and I drew these people who pick up the body parts and they got a call from NASA and NASA says to them "Houston we have a problem". So this was a bit insensitive.

WERMAN: That's tough, yeah.

FINK: So my editor censored me and I am fortunate he did at that time. You know sometimes I get carried away, sorry.

WERMAN: So primarily your audience is Israeli and Khalil your audience is Palestinian or Arabic and some parts of the Mid East.

ABU ARAFEH: That's right, but let me tell you one thing. You have here a cartoon about the Palestinian flag and Hamas is trying to take part of it.

WERMAN: Right.

ABU ARAFEH: This cartoon I made in 2006 after the Hamas - - in Gaza. And - - from Jerusalem, Israeli - - had me the same cartoon two years after. He didn't see my cartoon, but this was proof that whether Palestinian or Israeli live, they have something in common.

WERMAN: Khalil Abu-Arafeh's editorial cartoons appear seven days a week in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds. Uri Fink writes the comic strip zbeng about a group of fictional Israeli teenagers and he is also the author of "Tales from the Ragin Region". You can find cartoons by both gentlemen and watch Uri Fink do the impossible, turning a Hasidic Jew into Yasser Arafat at the world dot org. Thank you both very much.

FINK: Thank you.

ABU ARAFEH: Thank you.