January 15, 2010
St. Martin-in-the Fields, Trafalgar Square, London, WC2N 4JH (Charing X Tube)
Until 24th January. For more information: www.theparentscircle.org
The shadowy crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields is a fitting setting for this exhibition of war cartoons about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The cartoons have been drawn by 35 artists from around the world and the exhibition’s driving force is Robi Damelin whose son, David, 28, was killed while on reserve duty by a Palestinian sniper.
The exhibition was inspired by Israeli cartoonist Michel Kichka’s own Cartooning for Peace. The cartoonists here are the modern day versions of Wilfred Owen. They capture, through their drawings, the futility of war the way the young Owen did, so emotively, through his poetry.
Robi, 65 and a grandmother, is originally from South Africa and was active in the anti-apartheid movement before making aliyah. She loves Israel but it determined that no one should use her son’s blood as an excuse for revenge.
Robi was last in London in November 2009. She was joined by Ali Abu Awwad, 37, a Palestinian. Both Ali and his mother had spent time in Israeli prisons before, one day, Ali’s brother Yussef, 32, was shot dead by an Israeli soldier.
Instead of seeking revenge Ali joined the Parents Circle-Family Forum where he met Robi. They now travel the world together speaking in churches, mosques and synagogues.
The Forum contains 500 Israeli and Palestinian families all with one thing in common; each has lost a close relative in the conflict. Members of the Forum regularly go into Israeli and Palestinian educational establishments to speak to students. Instead of politicians doing the talking it should be the Israeli and Palestinian people. Their important work even continued during the Gaza War.
In November Robi and Ali spoke to an audience of Muslims and Jews at the Regent’s Park Mosque after showing Encounter Point. The film portrays the physical and mental barriers that Forum members encounter when trying to get their message across. In the film Ali’s more humourous solution to the conflict is for all Israelis who smoke to be forced to buy cigarettes from the Palestinans and vice versa.
Cartooning in Conflict is an extension of the Forum’s work. The cartoons are a means for peaceful dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. The artists include Pulitzer Prize winners Pat Oliphant and Jim Morin and the famous French political satirist, Plantu.
For Robi the most evocative cartoon is that of an Angel and the Devil playing cards. Instead of chips they play for bodies. “Can you see who has won the most bodies?,” Robi sadly asks me.
A dove is a recurring theme. One cartoon shows the bird lying in a colourful frozen supermarket package. The dove’s eyes are open while it awaits defrosting.
My favourite cartoon is of the fighting stopping while a goal is scored in a televised football match recalling the legend of Christmas Day 1915 when English and German troops met in no-man’s-land for a bout of the beautiful game.
The least hopeful is that of an Israeli and an Arab each digging a grave side-by-side. The cartoon is called “Sharing the Land”.
Recently Robi wrote to her son’s killer in prison. He is a Palestinian folk hero for what he did. Robi hoped he would make a statement saying he was transformed so he would not to be viewed by Palestinians as such a hero any more. All she received back was a political justification for her son’s murder but she still holds out hope.
Robi has been joined by Ali’s sister, Seham. It is Seham’s first time out of the West Bank and both she and Robi will be around the exhibition to answer questions.