Israeli Illustrators Draw on the Horrors of Palestinian Child Detentions

‘A nightmare in eight stages’: Parents Against Child Detention worked with Israeli illustrators to depict the stages of detaining Palestinian minors in a bid to make Israelis wake up to the phenomenon

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An illustration by Marina Grechanik.Credit: Marina Grechanik
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

The statistics and the testimony presented on the Facebook page of Parents Against Child Detention, an organization that works to combat the detention of Palestinian children, are quite horrifying. “A soldier tied my feet and cuffed my hands behind my back. The handcuffs were tight and painful and my hands swelled up,” stated W., a minor from Hebron, who was detained on suspicion of stone throwing.

R., 15, from Duha, was detained at 3:30 A.M. in his bed, on suspicion of stone throwing. “I woke up from the strong glare of a flashlight in my face. I opened my eyes and there were 10 soldiers in the bedroom,” he said. After their commander told him he was under arrest, he was taken to the police station. “On the way they cursed me and called my sister a ‘slut.’ One soldier struck me on the elbow with the butt of his rifle and it was very painful.”

An illustration by Merav Salomon.Credit: Merav Salomon

Social worker Nirith Ben Horin is founder and chairwoman of Parents Against Child Detention, which operates under the umbrella of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel. She and executive director Moria Shlomot spoke a few months ago with designer Lahav Halevy in order to brainstorm ways to reach a broader audience, beyond Facebook. “We discussed how to present the subject in a way that would provoke an upsetting emotional response for the viewer,” explains Ben Horin.

They contacted illustrators Ruth Gwily, Orit Bergman and Merav Dekel Salomon, as well as designers Lee Adar and Tamar Honigman, and compiled a list of illustrators. The artists worked with them to create a series of illustrations entitled “A Nightmare in Eight Stages.” The project illustrates the different stages of child detention.

An illustration by Hanan Kaminski.Credit: Hanan Kaminski

For example, the first illustration, by Gvili, shows the first stage, where minors are pulled out of bed in the middle of the night. Gvili’s style is colorful, childlike and embracing, but mixes in adult and violent elements: She depicts a scared child in his bed, surrounded by a pink frame with two rifles bursting from it and aimed at him.

“The inspiration came from illustrations of sleeping children, and the weapons are a serious disruption, a disaster, in a world that was supposed to be innocent,” explains Gvili.

An illustration by Orit Bergman.Credit: Orit Bergman

The fifth stage was created by veteran illustrator Hanan Kaminski, and it shows a boy sitting on an oversized chair in a forest, alone and scared. “The idea is to evoke the world of children and a child’s emotions when he hears a scary story like ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’” he explains.

The eighth and last stage was illustrated by Itzik Rennert, who has considerable past experience with political illustration. It contains two frightened children and two other figures whose identity is unclear: perhaps invaders or thieves, perhaps monsters. “I wanted to cause people to be shocked by the combination of the innocence depicted in the children’s eyes versus the fear the illustration expresses in terms of its content, its broken and violent composition and its nerve-racking colors. I tried to create an illustration that’s a mini-Guernica,” explains Rennert.

Ben Horin says the illustrations are intended to expose Israelis to a phenomenon that they are unaware of or that they repress. “Thousands of minors – teenagers and children – are detained by the Israeli security forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem each year. According to our data, there are about 5,000 detentions a year. Other organizations cite hundreds each month. Whatever the case, this is a daily affair. Every night, while we Israelis are sleeping, houses in the West Bank are broken into and children are pulled out of bed.”

An Itzik Rennert illustration.Credit: Itzik Rennert

Why did you choose illustrations to convey this complex and explosive subject?

Ben Horin: “It’s a visual language that intuitively connects to the world of children. An illustration tells a story but also conveys an emotional message that catches people’s attention, and a good illustration can express the feelings of the detained children: fear, loneliness, helplessness, anxiety and despair. I come from the world of design and believe in the power of visual portrayal to convey a message and arouse emotion.

“We believe that the illustrations create empathy that invites people to delve deeper into the subject. When you look at Orit Bergman’s illustration, for example, which deals with the stage of banning the minor from meeting attorneys, the viewer absorbs the tremendous feelings of loneliness, frustration and despair before she even processes the content of the illustration. Such strong emotions usually lead to a willingness and even a desire to learn more about the illustration’s subject.

A Ruth Gwily illustration.Credit: Ruth Gwily illustration

Rennert adds: “Images are always powerful in their immediacy. Reading takes time, attention and prolonged concentration, especially in this era. A strong image is immediate. The political works of David Tartakover are more convincing than a long book about the conflict. Images touch emotions and can bypass entrenched thinking via the visual shock effect. They can move us out of our comfort zones, before we have time to prepare to reject the message. A text needs its words to be translated into emotions, while an illustration addresses the emotions without a pause.

Ben Horin says their goal is to end the detention of Palestinian minors. “We are fighting so that Palestinian minors receive the protection they deserve under international law and international conventions on minors’ rights, just like Jewish Israeli minors,” she says.

“We hope that when more Israelis become familiar with the phenomenon and talk about its destructive impact on the souls of the minors and their families, the number of detentions will be dramatically reduced and the process will be conducted differently: by means of a summons and respectful questioning, rather than breaking into a home in the middle of the night with weapons drawn, with a traumatic and violent detention that is experienced by the child and his parents as an abduction. In addition, we are fighting so that also for Palestinian children going through criminal proceedings, the best interest of the child is the main guiding principle.”

Work by Itai Raveh.Credit: Itai Raveh

The illustrations are being published on Facebook and Instagram, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis have seen them to date, says Ben Horin.

“Every month we focus on one stage of the eight main stages of detention we identified. Each stage involves a violation of basic rights – from the detention, through the separation from the parents, the blocking of access to a lawyer, the investigation and the trial. Every month, alongside the illustration, we publish data about the extent of the phenomenon and testimonies from detained Palestinian children and their parents, who describe the difficult, traumatic and humiliating process.”

The next stage of the project will be an exhibition.

“We’re working on raising funds for an exhibition after the holidays. Our goal is to increase exposure to the illustrations and through them to the phenomenon of the detentions and its consequences,” says Ben Horin.

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