Hamas advocating dialogue through children’s cartoon? Not exactly.

Hamas advocating dialogue through children’s cartoon? Not exactly.
By Roi Ben-Yehuda

From France 24’s The Observers:

Last month, on the controversial Palestinian children’s program, “The Pioneers of Tomorrow”, a cartoon was aired (on the Hamas owned Al-Aqsa TV) ostensibly aimed at teaching kids Islamic values. The cartoon features a conversation between a Palestinian boy and a young Israeli Jewish settler. Through their dialogue and interaction, the Jewish settler learns to question everything negative he had been taught about Palestinians.

The problem is that while the cartoon is designed to empower Palestinian children, it does so through the use of anti-Semitic stereotypes. This is not all together uncharacteristic for the Hamas run TV program: Past episodes of the show, for example, have shown a cute and cuddly rabbit who desires to kill and eat Jews. Yet, unlike previous shows, the message of this cartoon is less than clear: Is Hamas (in its unique way) calling for dialogue with the enemy, or is the organization using dialogue to perpetuate fear and mistrust? Have a look and decided for yourself:

[Below are my comments, along with Palestinian and Israeli peace activists Aziz Abu Sarah and Kobi Skolnick.]

Roi Ben-Yehuda: From an Israeli, Jewish and humanistic perspective, this is a disturbing cartoon. The faces of the Jews (who are all settlers) are evil looking: they have angular shapes, scowling eyebrows, and thin mouths. This is in contrast to the rounded facial features of the Palestinian boy, which make him look friendly and unthreatening. Moreover, the film uses some subliminal techniques to carry the anti-Semitic messages home. The opening close-up of the Jewish child, for example, appears (for a second) to have blood spilling from his mouth. While the older brother, with his red eyes and goatee, literally looks like Satan. The physical posture, vocal intonations and actions of the Jewish teacher and father clearly portray them as sinister and diabolical characters. All together, the cartoon depicts the Jews as fearful yet demonic figures who, on the one hand, believe it is necessary to fight against the evil Palestinians, and on the other hand, actually enjoy killing their neighbors. Ironically, this is exactly the type of negative misrepresentation the cartoon criticizes the Jews for originally engaging in vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

However, behind the anti-Semitic caricature of the Jews and the self-righteous image of the Palestinians, I do see a silver lining. Whether intentional or not, the cartoon is teaching Palestinian children that Jewish hatred is a consequence of learned fear, which could be overcome through dialogue (albeit one-sided) and positive experience. This is an important and valuable lesson – all the more so coming from an organization that has vigorously and violently disapproved of dialogue as a type of “normalization.” One can only hope that for the sake of consistency and peace, Palestinian children will grew up and turn a critical eye on the institutions that have spoon-fed them hateful and distorted images of Jews and Israelis.

Aziz Abu Sarah: The cartoon featured in the program starts with a positive message of encounter between an Israeli and a Palestinian child. However, while confronting Israeli stereotypes of Palestinians, the story quickly dissolves into Palestinian stereotypes of Israelis and self-righteous proclamations.

Such videos are aimed at socializing Palestinian children, imprinting a sense of injustice and providing warnings about “the enemy.” This is important because Palestinian children face a reality characterized by violence, death, separation, settlements, and soldiers. Hamas’ programs reflect this existence. Unfortunately, they also perpetuate and feed preexisting notions among Palestinian youth that an Israeli is either a soldiers or a settler. They also reinforce the Palestinian belief that Israeli Jews don’t desire peace but to destroy and kill Palestinians.

Palestinian children do not need self-aggrandizing messages about Palestinian existence in the face of suffering, and they do not need to internalize stereotypes about the depravity of Israeli Jews. Instead, they need to learn about the faults of both sides and the suffering of both sides. Just as the Palestinian boy in the cartoon tried to communicate his suffering to the Jewish boy, Palestinian children need to learn about Israeli suffering. Israeli children should also learn about Palestinian suffering, but Palestinians must realize that the self-righteous tones of the boy in the video will only hinder communication.

Kobi Skolnick: Watching this video I became sad because the way the adults taught hatred and violence to children in such a manipulative manner. Then, I felt encouraged by the fact that a dialogue was taking place. In addition, there was a hard look at the radical education that some children in both sides of the conflict still receive. Yet, this is my adult’s mind processing it, not that of a Palestinian child.

As I was thinking about cartoon, I flashbacked to my teenage years. A chill went through my bones but I let the images in. I was walking in the streets of Jerusalem with a black thick marker and wrote on the walls “Death to the Arabs” and “Long live Kahana” [an extremist Jewish leader who called for the expulsion of Arabs from historical Israel]. I was a young teenager looking for a strong identity and a sense of meaningfulness. I had no moral problem with Palestinians getting hurt and in fact had participated in such attacks. I had a strong enemy image of cruel Arabs killing children.

Yet, with time and experience, I had learned to break this image.

In both sides, the extreme communities are creating violent realities that sustain the enemy image of each other. As a result, the young generation is developing destructive moralistic judgments that continue the doctrine of just war. Clearly, Hamas’ manipulation of facts and labeling the Jewish people as bloodthirsty would result in more foot soldiers fighting “the enemy”, but at the same time would provide “the enemy” with more enemies — just a continuation of the vicious cycle of violence and self-fulfilling prophesies.

It is tragic to manipulate young children’s sense of compassion and honesty with self-destructive tendencies. Classifying people promotes violence not compassion. We need to teach children of both sides about the resolution of human conflict through means other than violence.


This piece first appeared on Roi’s blog.

© Marc Gopin