Cartoonists take aim at Israel war failures

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM — Boosted by the resignation of the army chief of staff over the failures of last summer’s conflict with Hizbollah, the fledgling Israeli protest movement over the war has turned to new weapons — cartoons and song.

Lieutenant General Dan Halutz’s resignation on January 17 breathed new life into the movement led by army reservists and revived calls across the political spectrum for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defence Minister Amir Peretz to follow suit and quit.

With the wind now firmly in their sails again, the reservists have launched a campaign of cartoon strips lampooning the beleaguered premier and his defence chief, as well as Halutz.

“We realised that traditional demonstrations no longer succeed in reaching people’s hearts and minds. Our message hits home in their offices and living rooms,” said Roni Zveigenboim, a leader of the reservists.

The cartoons have been published in the country’s leading newspapers.

In one, Olmert, Peretz and Halutz — all dressed as doctors — stand round an operating table on which lies a badly wounded patient called Yisraeli.

They are desperately trying to perform surgery.

Peretz, a book in his hand, says: “I tried to read him a story before bed, but he wouldn’t go to sleep.” Olmert, clutching a bleeding spleen, calls for Halutz’s help, but the general is far too busy playing a video war game.

Dismayed, Olmert and Peretz decide to declare Yisraeli dead.

In the final picture, Halutz is seen telling reporters: “Gentlemen, the operation was extremely successful. It’s true the patient has died, but that was his own fault.” Nissim Hezkiyahu, 45, is the cartoonist behind the caricatures of Israel’s leaders.

“This is the first time a cartoon campaign has ever been used in Israel. For some reason it has never been perceived as an act of protest. The mere fact that we chose this method is an achievement in itself,” he said.

“When the situation in the country is bad, things are good for cartoonists,” Hezkiyahu added.

The protesters also have other weapons in their anti-war arsenal, including a song that samples a recording of Halutz saying in English during an interview “I don’t care, I simply don’t care.” Zveigenboim hopes the song will become a big hit in the country’s discos.

The reservists’ movement, which began as a spontaneous protest against the handling of the 34-day offensive against Hizbollah in southern Lebanon, was strongest in the weeks that followed the UN-brokered August 14 truce.

Tens of thousands of Israelis joined the protest — over the army’s failure to gain a decisive victory over the Shiite movement, its failure to free the two soldiers whose capture sparked the conflict on July 12, and against decisions taken by the military top brass and the government.

The Lebanon war killed more than 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. It devastated parts of southern Lebanon and Beirut and also left heavy damage in parts of northern Israel.

As the months passed the protests died down, but the approval ratings of both Olmert and Peretz also continued their downward slide. Today they stand at 14 per cent and eight per cent respectively. Both politicians have resisted the pressure to follow Halutz’s example and fall on their swords, but the reservists’ movement has vowed to continue upping the pressure until they do so. “The fact that Halutz is going home is not enough,” Zveigenboim said. “We will continue our struggle using every legal avenue until Olmert and Peretz also step down because we are worried about the country. With these two at the helm, we are in a dangerous situation.” 

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