[News] Mohammad Sabaaneh's dangerous cartoons - SF event Tuesday, May 9

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri May 5 12:08:39 EDT 2017

*Tuesday, May 9**at **6:30 PM**- **9 PM**- 518 Valencia Street*

*Life and Prison in Palestine: Mohammad Sabaaneh in the Bay

  Mohammad Sabaaneh's dangerous cartoons

May 4, 2017 - Marguerite Dabaie 

Palestinian culture is in itself a dangerous act, a reason to be caged.

So suggests a cartoon in a new anthology of work by Mohammad Sabaaneh.

The panel shows a group of men and women in traditional dress dancing 
the folkloric /dabke/ while shackled together. A checkpoint cuts through 
the line dance, and Israel’s wall stops them short.

Here, the message seems to be, even celebrations are fraught with 
obstacles brought on by the Israeli occupation.

/White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine,/ 
<http://justworldbooks.com/books-by-title/white-and-black> published by 
Just World Books, offers a rare opportunity for English-language readers 
to become familiar with Sabaaneh’s stark black and white images, printed 
in newspapers across the Arab world.

These political cartoons are foremost a form of solidarity with ordinary 
Palestinians in their daily struggle for survival and ongoing battle for 

Most of the cartoons are saturated with action and iconography.

One features the Palestinian flag prominently in a number of ways. A 
woman sews a flag with a sewing machine, while a man removes the same 
flag from a flagpole. Another man wears the flag as a tie, and three men 
pull the flag into three separate strips below him. People hold flags in 
the background, a kite bearing the flag flies in the air, and a man 
cradles a child (perhaps dead) draped in the flag.

    Pregnant with meaning

The result is almost claustrophobic. It is certainly dense: every tiny 
detail is pregnant with meaning.

Sabaaneh said such density is a reflection of Palestinian life.

“This crowded cartoon reflects our lives in Palestine, the limited land, 
and our limited city,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “My blank paper 
looks like [Palestinian] cities surrounded by limits and I should put 
everything in this limited area.”

The cartoons in /White and Black/ were created under exceptional 

According to Sabaaneh, he conceived of the book in 2013 while in 
solitary confinement in an Israeli prison.

Sabaaneh had been charged with collaborating with Hamas 
after his brother, who Israel has accused of being a member of the 
party, wrote and published a book on Palestinian political prisoners 
that included some of Sabaaneh’s art. He was imprisoned for five months.

Sabaaneh made an appearance 
<https://worldvoices.pen.org/session/water-as-weapon/> at this year’s 
Pen America World Voices Festival. The timing is noteworthy: this is the 
first festival since PEN America dropped Israeli government sponsorship 
for the event. The appearance is one of many Sabaaneh is making during a 
US tour 
concluding in mid-May.

“The seeds, the idea of this book came from inside an Israeli prison and 
that’s why I must support [the] 1,500 Palestinian prisoners [on] hunger 
strike,” Sabaaneh told The Electronic Intifada, referring to the 
open-ended mass hunger strike launched in Israeli jails on 17 April 

Sabaaneh insisted he is critical of all Palestinian political parties, 
including Hamas, Israeli charges notwithstanding. In 2013, after his 
release from prison, he told 
The Electronic Intifada that “Hamas hates me” for a cartoon critical of 
Ismail Haniyeh, the former Gaza leader of the Islamist movement.

Palestinian Authority 
<https://electronicintifada.net/tags/palestinian-authority> leader 
Mahmoud Abbas <https://electronicintifada.net/tags/mahmoud-abbas> also 
ordered an investigation into Sabaaneh after he was accused of depicting 
the Prophet Muhammad 
in one of his drawings.

Sabaaneh, however, said that was just a pretext.

“The main reason was because I criticized some leaders of the 
Palestinian Authority,” he told The Electronic Intifada. “In my opinion, 
if you want to support Islam and Muslims, you should talk about 
[Islamic] philosophy and dig deep into Islam.”

    Prisoners’ daily reality

Particular imagery is repeated throughout Sabaaneh’s work. Israel’s 
massive concrete wall is a frequent icon, as are caged birds, Dalí-esque 
melting clocks, and photos of martyrs.

Palestinian sacrifice is also shown in a sympathetic light. The 
liberation struggle, however, is not glorified.

In many of the cartoons, Sabaaneh portrays prisoners as mouthless. “That 
reflects the hunger strike,” he said. “We don’t need to talk … we want 
action to liberate our land.”

While Sabaaneh was in Israeli detention, he drew a series of cartoons 
about the experience; these are showcased in a chapter of the book.

Sabaaneh portrays prisoners in their daily reality, as opposed to 
romanticizing them.

These images are particularly visceral. In the introduction to the book, 
Sabaaneh says he felt no beauty while in prison, either through his 
jailers or through those imprisoned with him.

The former, Sabaaneh notes in his book, could not be drawn 
“aesthetically pleasing … even when I acknowledge that in the process of 
exerting his political will, the occupier is also occupied.” The 
drawings from this time reflect this through depictions of lumpy, 
misshapen bodies, dilapidated jail cells and terror-filled eyes.

Mohammed Sabaaneh cartoon on Israel's wall compartmentalizing 
Palestinian life

While centered on the Palestinian prisoner experience, these drawings 
also speak to universal themes of injustice.

One cartoon, ironically subtitled “Scales of ‘Justice,’” portrays the 
traditional set of scales associated with the law. But here its column 
is sharply bent at an angle and the scales on either side of the beam 
are suspended in the air, implying a system in which justice is impossible.

Another depicts an Israeli judge – signified as such as he sits atop a 
lectern with the Scales of Justice adorned with a Star of David – 
saddled and ridden by an Israeli soldier, who chokes the judge with a 
set of reins. The soldier controls the gavel in the judge’s hand with a 
rope and waves it menacingly at a shackled prisoner below. Military rule 
supersedes fair trial.

Sabaaneh’s work also taps into Palestinian despair with the ongoing 
“peace process.”

An emotionally palpable drawing envisions Israel’s wall truly as an 
open-air prison that separates Palestinians into tiny, individual cells. 
People go about their lives as best they can in each cell – a little 
girl holds balloons, a man plays a violin, a woman breastfeeds her child 
– and some even manage to reach over the walls and hand a gift to their 

But these small acts of normalcy do not change their fundamental lack of 

Sabaaneh’s cartoons are a bold and searing look at the lives of 
Palestinians and the collective burden they bear and violence they 
suffer from Israel’s occupation.

They have also gotten the artist into a heap of trouble – and that alone 
is reason to pay attention.

/Listen to an extended interview with Mohammad Sabaaneh on The 
Electronic Intifada podcast 

/All images by Mohammad Sabaaneh, courtesy of Just World Books LLC./

/Marguerite Dabaie is a Palestinian American illustrator and cartoonist 
based in Brooklyn, New York. Her work can be found at www.mdabaie.com 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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