Interview by Kourosh Ziabari / TIMETURK
Regardless of his political stances, there is no doubt over the artistic dexterity of Benjamin Heine. Whoever has seen the artworks of this Belgian cartoonist admitted that he is a nimble and accomplished artist indeed. Aside from the exclusive techniques of sketching and brilliant coloring methods which he employs to personify his political cartoons, his ethical commitment and devotion to the cause of reality is what makes him different from the other cartoonists visibly.
Ben is a freelance journalist and teacher who has dedicated a large number of his political cartoons to the 22-day massacre of Gaza and its aftermaths. He challenges the inaction of international community and the indifference of superpowers in dealing with the suffering of Palestinian people, and criticizes the double-standards of US in the case of Iran’s nuclear issue.
Firstly, we would like to know about the backgrounds of your involvement with the case of Gaza. You’ve devoted a dozen of your cartoons to the recent massacre in Gaza. What were your chief motives?
It all started a couple of years ago. I was still studying Journalism. I had a fascinating devoted teacher of Middle East Affairs (Paul Delmotte) who gave me lots of information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I started to make several cartoons on this specific issue. I published them on the web. I became members of several virtual pro-Palestinian organizations and associations such as Tlaxcala, Rebelion, MWC News. I was then associated to Steve Amsel alias DesertPeace, a renowned pro-Palestinian blogger. I’ve made many cartoons for him and still continue to do so.
What major international feedbacks have you gotten over the past few weeks for your pro-Palestinian cartoons, specially following the publication of your interview with Zaman newspaper of Turkey?
There were globally many positive international reactions and encouragements to my recent political cartoons. Several of my new illustrations were published in significant websites and newspapers such as Zaman (Turkey) or The Copenhagen Post (Denmark). They were used as posters in several manifestations for Gaza around the world. There were also numerous feedbacks and messages from people willing to share with me their opinion, their support to the Palestinian struggle and their indignation regarding the Israeli brutality.
So a large number of people agreed with the content of these recent cartoons. But there needs to be more consciousness about this conflict and I hope it will have tangible impacts and positive effects for the Palestinians in the short term. This is what all my work and intentions are about.
Seemingly, cartoon is an effective outlet through which you can convey the most pungent and caustic messages without being criticized and harassed by the dissents. What’s the feature of this art that makes it so delicate, subtle and sensitive?
With the use of symbols and through a subjective analysis, cartoonists succeed in delivering a wide range of meanings in an explicit and graphic rendering; everybody usually understands their content in a few seconds. They can be used to diffuse any clear ideas and information on the most complex issues. They can be reproduced easily and displayed in many different ways (posters, t-shirts… ). This makes them a far more powerful, effective and influential tool than textual articles.
The only inconvenient in my opinion is that political images may sometimes lack nuance because they go straight to the point. The viewers usually like to have “summaries” of complicated subjects because it makes these more understandable. This is something positive. I believe that a subtle combination of words and images will always be the key to a successful communication. I use my ability in graphic arts to denounce imperialism, racism, oppression, discrimination, violence, Human Rights infringements, crimes against humanity… and my final goal and ideal is to promote peace and mutual respect between people of different cultures and backgrounds.
Political cartoonists don’t enjoy a 100% freedom of expression. I can assure you there is a violent Zionist dissent against pro-Palestinian cartoonists and activists.
I was about to point something about this matter out. Have you so far received any hostile threat or caution from the end of Israelis regarding your cartoons?
Fortunately, I haven’t received any threats to my physical security yet. I have well received several unfriendly mails and found on the web a few intimidating articles from Zionists intending to prevent me from making other pro-Palestinian cartoons. I don’t really care about these negative and unconstructive feedbacks. I have nothing against the people who wrote them. They have the right to do so. In my early years as a political cartoonist, I made some mistakes; I inserted elements in my drawings that dealt with passion. Now I really try to focus on facts only. The reason is always wiser and stronger than passion.
You were among the rare artists, particularly cartoonists, who have lambasted the Israeli offensive so sharply and courageously. Weren’t you afraid of the possible consequences that it might have for you?
There are risks in everything. When I make some new political illustrations criticizing the Israeli military abuses in Palestine, I’m not thinking about all the consequences it will have afterwards. I’m making them at a specific moment because I’m shocked and because I believe my voice can be helpful to the cause. I don’t really see what Zionists could do to make me stop drawing for Palestine. The Internet is very important for the Palestinian struggle because any kind of information condemning Israel can be transmitted very fast everywhere around the globe via loads of activist sites.
I’ve heard that Israel is going to hire bloggers to be militantly against pro-Palestinian activists. I don’t know if it’s true, but I think this is mad and scary. The virtual pro-Israeli lobby is getting stronger everyday. The virtual war for a free Palestine isn’t won at all yet.
Finally, which are the essential guidelines which you will give the artists to preserve their independence, objectivity and non-aligned stance toward the issues? What should an adroit artist practice to not become the stooge of hegemonic powers and keep his self-determination?
That kind of person must accept to refuse contracts that would prevent them from being totally free in their graphic decisions. they should follow a few basic rules and do all they can to avoid spreading hatred against one community or another. They ought to follow their conscience and promote peace and justice in everyway they can. Even if there is a strong subjective aspect in political cartooning and in graphic arts, a non-aligned artist should focus on facts and reality.
What are the backgrounds of your enthusiasm in political cartooning? Why do you prefer to dedicate your art to political caricatures?
Politics and Art have always been connected. Even before starting my studies in Journalism, I have been interested in making political artworks. I think modern art has got to be political to have its true legitimacy and authenticity. Contemporary art has got to contain a huge dose of meaning to have its own authority and raise interest and awareness for important issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Furthermore, I have always liked to rebel and show my disapproval when I believe something goes wrong.
What’s your sublime artistic ambition? Which pinnacle is the most transcendent that you want to climb in the future and become everlasting by that?
I would like to portray all the most influential and noble human beings of our time and eventually of all times.
Finally, please tell me about your conception of the international condemnation of massacre in Gaza. How was the reflection of Belgian society? What’s your assessment about the reactions of international communities and UN, specifically?
Although there were many condemnations of the massacre in Gaza from significant leaders worldwide, I think there is a big gap between what Palestine needs and what the international community and the UN do. The Arab countries lack of unity and clarity when it comes to support Palestine and the rest of the world is just scared to take sanctions against Israel for its numerous crimes against humanity. Palestine deserves more than that.
They are many pro-Palestinian associations in Belgium. I’m member of the group “Artists Against the Wall”. Each summer, the people of this NGO go to Qalqilia to animate artistic camps for hundreds of children.
TimeTurk is a newspaper based in Turkey. Check out their website in English: [link]