On the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Israel, most Americans think of the dramatic changes happening in the Middle East and the threat Iran poses to Israel. The world is a frightening place for Israel — but American cartoonists have something else on their minds, a Palestinian cartoonist who is jailed in Israel for no apparent reason. Here is a letter I wrote to Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren.
Dear Ambassador Oren,
I am writing to urge Israeli authorities to release a Palestinian political cartoonist, Mohammad Saba’aneh, who was jailed by the Israeli Defense Forces on February 16 at a border crossing between the West Bank and Jordan. He is being held without charge and is denied access to an attorney. Under Israeli law, Muhammad may be held indefinitely without charge. Only Israeli authorities know why he is imprisoned.
Mohammad is a cartoonist for Al-Hayat al-Jadida, the official newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, and he works at the Arab American University in Jenin on the West Bank. He is a respected cartoonist; he is not a terrorist or a criminal. Arab cartoonists often draw ugly, racist, offensive cartoons about Israel, but Mohammad’s cartoons are not among those; his work, although critical, is more balanced and artful.
I met Mohammad in 2010, when the U.S. State Department sent him to our Association of American Editorial Cartoonists convention in Florida, where he got to meet many of his American colleagues. Mohammad told me he was a fan of my work; he is a charming guy, eager to show his own cartoons to all of his new friends. Mohammad is active in the global cartooning community and cartoonists around the world are closely following the story of his plight in Israel.
I run a small business, Cagle Cartoons, Inc., that syndicates the work of cartoonists from around the world to over 850 subscribing newspapers, including half of the daily, paid-circulation newspapers in America. Among the cartoonists we distribute is Yaakov Kirschen, the cartoonist who draws Dry Bones for the Jerusalem Post; Yaakov’s cartoons run in Jewish newspapers throughout the United States. Our American editorial cartoonists are great supporters of Israel, in contrast to cartoonists from the rest of the world who harshly criticize Israel. The contrast is easy to see as editorial cartoons reflect world opinion. American cartoonists are Israel’s most visible supporters, and my own small business is the leader in distributing these views for America and the world to see.
It seems clear that Mohammad has been jailed to chill his cartoons that are critical of Israel. Instead, this ugly incident risks chilling Israel’s most visible supporters in America’s press at a time when Israel needs our support more than ever.
American cartoonists like to see Israel as a champion of democracy and press freedom in a hostile Middle East — Mohammad’s case undermines that perception and seems to be a clumsy attempt to silence the press. This incident makes Israel appear to be no better than its repressive neighbors.
I’m writing to you in the hope that you will urge the authorities in Israel to release Mohammad, return him to his family and allow us to again see Israel as a democracy that respects a free press.
Truly, Daryl Cagle
Daryl Cagle is a cartoonist who runs the CagleCartoons.com newspaper syndicate distributing editorial cartoons to more than 850 newspapers around the world including the paper you are reading now; he is a past president of the National Cartoonists Society. Comments to Daryl may be sent to [email protected]. Read Daryl’s blog at www.cagle.com/daryl.
Please use the cartoon posted with this column. It’s by the jailed Mohammad Saba’aneh. Attribution should be to Mohammed Saba’aneh, Cartoon Movement.