In this lesson, students will:
- Explore the role of ISIS in the Middle East
- Interpret political cartoons on the U.S. response to ISIS
- Identify the techniques used by cartoonists to express political opinion
- Monitor the news media coverage of ISIS over time
A Look at Dangers Posed by the Islamic State Group (Associated Press)
Monitoring the Situation
PowerPoint of Political Cartoons
Video: Wall Street Journal, Iraq: “ISIS Sparks a Crisis in the Middle East, Explained”
This short video provides a clear and concise overview of ISIS and its role in the region.
Video: BBC News: “Phillip Hammond Says No to IS Talks With Syria”
This short video gives an overview of the current U.S./U.K. response to ISIS.
Note: The abbreviations ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), and IS (Islamic State) are used interchangeably in the media. To avoid confusion for students, we have chosen to use ISIS because it is the most commonly used. A convincing case for using the abbreviation ISIL is made by the Associated Press.
In the Classroom
Ask students if they have heard about ISIS in the news. What have they heard? Tell students that they are going to learn more about the group and the U.S. response to ISIS’s activities. Watch the videos listed above with the class and then distribute A Look at Dangers Posed by the Islamic State Group (Associated Press) to the class and give them 5-10 minutes to read. Review the reading and videos with the class. Clarify any difficult vocabulary or concepts. (For example, be sure students understand what a caliphate is.) Ask students to identify information from the videos and article that they believe is important. What information is new to them? What are ISIS’s goals? How is it trying to achieve its goals? How is the U.S. responding to ISIS? Are students aware of any controversies surrounding the U.S. response?
2. Analyzing Cartoons
Divide the class into groups of three or four each. Distribute Political Cartoons to each student. Review the introduction with your class, emphasizing the techniques cartoonists use to convey an opinion on political issues. Review the cartoon on page 2 and answer the questions with your students to model the assignment. What are the techniques being used? What is the message of the cartoon? How is this cartoon related to what the class knows about ISIS and U.S. policy?
Assign the remaining cartoons to students, two per group. Have the students discuss the cartoons and answer the questions provided. Inform students that they will be presenting their work to the class.
3. Drawing Connections
Have each group present on their political cartoons. If you have multiple groups analyzing the same cartoons, you may wish to have them present together or on different questions from the activity.
As a class, discuss how cartoonists provide perspective on political issues. Were students able to identify the message of each cartoon? If so, what were the cartoonists trying to express? What techniques are used in the cartoons that students analyzed? Which techniques did students think were most effective in getting the message across? Were certain techniques easier to identify than others? Why? How do these cartoons relate to U.S. policy regarding ISIS? Do students think that the cartoons they analyzed give favorable or unfavorable views of U.S. policy? If students were making their own cartoons on the response to ISIS, what opinions would they want to express?
4. Monitoring the Situation in the News
Distribute Monitoring the Situation. Tell students that over the course of the next month, they will be following ISIS in the news and taking note of how the situation evolves. As a starting point refer students to the list of news sources below. Encourage students to seek out other sources. Students should consult at least two or three news sources and write a short update about the crisis every week on Part I of the handout. At the end of the month, students should answer the questions listed in Part II.
After students have completed the activity, bring the class together to debrief. How has the crisis evolved? Have conditions improved or worsened? What steps has the international community taken? Have the positions of the United States and other countries changed at all? If so, how? What challenges do people of the region face? Is violence ongoing? Do students believe that an end to the conflict is within sight?
Have students create their own political cartoons that reflect their opinion on the U.S. response to ISIS.
Additional News Resources
Resources on ISIS pages
New York Times
Resources on the Middle East
New York Times
The world's eyes are on Israel and Palestine, as the current crisis in Gaza has now led to the deaths of more than 600 Palestinians and 30 Israelis.
While the latest round of violence has made headlines, it is not an isolated incident. On the contrary, today's fighting is yet another page in a years-long, bitter conflict. Israel's creation in 1948 sparked one of history's largest refugee crisis, wars, terror attacks and a harsh military occupation.
To fully understand what's happening today, you need to appreciate the long history of the conflict. Here are 12 political cartoons that capture the full history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
1. War on the horizon
In many ways, Israel's creation in 1948 was an affair of desperation and panic.
In this cartoon, we see the British washing their hands of Palestine, shortly before the formal establishment of the state of Israel, sparking a war between neighboring Arab countries and the newly formed state.
The British controlled the region from 1920, until handing it over to the United Nations in 1947. The British left the country at a time when tensions between Jews and Arabs were rising. They only continued to mount as more Jews fled Europe, in need of safety after the Holocaust.
In 1947, the United Nations proposed a partition plan, dividing the region between Jews and Arabs. The Jewish Agency accepted it, but Palestinians and Arab League members rejected it.
The departure of British troops unleashed a struggle for territory, leading to the violent expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their ancestral homes, an act that some consider to be ethnic cleansing.
2. The creation of the state of Israel
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Created in 1956 by the Israeli cartoonist and Holocaust survivor Kariel Gardosh, the character Srulik embodies much of the spirit of the years following the creation of the state of Israel.
Srulik is depicted wearing a tembel hat, khaki shorts and sandals, and is an ardent Zionist who farms the land and, at times, puts on a military uniform to defend Israel.
His chipper persona and hardworking ethic not only defied many of the damaging Jewish stereotypes that permeated cartoons at the time, it encapsulated the hope and possibility that Israel represented to the Jewish people after centuries of oppression and Holocaust.
3. Refugees longing to return
Image Credit: Flickr/ofernandezberrios.
But there's another side to the Israeli victory, as Handala, who might be seen as the Palestinian counterpart to Srulik, shows.
Palestinians refer to the events of 1948 as the Nakba, or catastrophe, when they were expelled from the land that was once their home. Prevented from being able to return to what is now Israel, those refugees are still scattered across the West Bank and Gaza, refugee camps in Arab states, or internationally.
Many remained — and their descendants still remain — stateless, with few rights and a longing to return to Palestine. Drawn by Palestinian artist Naji al-Ali, who was a child when he and his family fled to Lebanon, Handala is always depicted with his face hidden and with ragged clothes.
The cartoon character was 10 years old when he left Palestine and will remain the same age until he and his family return to their homes. Only then would life resume for the boy.
4. The Six-Day War
Image Credit: Mideast Cartoon History.
The Six Day War in 1967 was an enormous military achievement for Israel and a disaster for the Arab world. In a stunning sweep to victory, Israel seized control of the Sinai and the Gaza Strip from Egypt, the West Bank from Jordan and the Golan heights from Syria.
As this cartoon of Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser shows, the defeat was intensely humiliating for the Arab world; for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, it meant the beginning of decades of military occupation.
5. The First Intifada
Intifada is an Arabic word that means to "shake off," and the term now refers to two periods where Palestinians attempted to end Israeli control through both peaceful and violent means.
The first largely unarmed uprising erupted relatively spontaneously in 1987, in response to Israeli repression in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The uprising came from the grassroots, with heavy involvement from trade unions and women's groups. Tactics included trade strikes, protests, Molotov cocktails and stones.
A year later, following his declaration of an independent Palestinian state in November 1988, Yasser Arafat announced that he accepted the state of Israel and rejected terrorism — a game changer in the future of relations.
The outbreak, however, was violent: According to Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, 1,409 Palestinians and 271 Israelis were killed.
6. The Oslo Accords
© Copyright Steve Bell 1994- All Rights Reserved.
Israeli and Palestinian leadership finally came to the negotiating table after the first Intifada, in 1993.
At the time, both sides viewed the Oslo Accords with both hope and pessimism. The talks were a chance for a peace, but one negotiated on a foundation of profound distrust and hurt.
In this 1994 cartoon, Steve Bell alludes to a central Palestinian objection that talks, between a heavily militarized state and a occupied people, couldn't be fair with such a fundamental power imbalance.
The Oslo agreements set a timeline for negotiating key issues. However, 20 years later, we're still not any closer to a two-state solution.
7. The Second Intifada
Sparked by Ariel Sharon’s infamous visit to the sacred mosque in Jerusalem, the Al Aqsa Intifada left deep scars on both the Israeli and Palestinian collective psyche.
Palestinian violence claimed the lives of 950 Israelis by 2005. The uprising involved a campaign of suicide bombings that targeted buses, restaurants and nightclubs. The accompanying Israeli crackdown killed 3,223 Palestinians in the same period.
As the cartoon shows, the specter of violence hung darkly over the lives of Israelis and that the trauma of terrorism still remains today.
Once Israel announced its disengagement from Gaza in 2004, violence decreased. Eventually, all Israeli settlements were evacuated and dismantled in the Gaza Strip.
8. The Construction of the Wall
Standing eight meters tall at its highest points, the Wall has become a potent symbol of the Israeli occupation.
From an Israeli perspective, the barrier is all about security: It was built as a measure to protect citizens from suicide bombings and attacks emanating from the Palestinian territories in the Second Intifada.
After the barrier was built, the number of bombings declined — but the cost for Palestinians was steep. The wall split neighborhoods in two, tore through the land of Palestinians villages and trapped Palestinians in the West Bank. What's more, most of it is built on Palestinian land — leading the International Court of Justice to deem it illegal under international law.
9. 2006 Palestinians Elections
With the encouragement of American authorities, the residents of Gaza and the West Bank voted in elections in 2006.
They did not go as planned: Hamas swept to victory. Some view the group as a terrorist organization, avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel.
What followed was a bitter conflict between Hamas — condemned by the European Union and the U.S. despite being democratically elected — and the more moderate Fatah. The former now controls the Gaza Strip, and the latter is now dominant in the Palestinian Authority, which runs areas of the West Bank.
The rift still hasn't been healed — and Gaza, and the Hamas government with it, has remained under a tough blockade.
10. Operation Cast Lead
This brutal image, from the Guardian's Martin Rowson, takes on both the cruelty of war and media treatment of the dead.
According to B'Tselem, 1,387 Palestinians were killed when Israel invaded the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead, which began in December 2008 and lasted into the start of 2009.
Much like today's crisis, Israel justified the operation based on rockets fired from Gaza. It is estimated that some 773 of the dead were not involved in hostilities. Comparatively few Israelis died in the violence: Three civilians were killed by rockets, six members of the security forces died and four were killed by Israeli fire.
11. Hamas rockets fall on Tel Aviv
Air raid signals are now an everyday part of life for many residents of Israel, thanks to the recent escalation in Gaza. Some are using humor to cope with the pressure.
Tomi Zandstein created the cartoon in 2012 as a light-hearted take on the experience of rocket attacks in Tel Aviv. The cosmopolitan, coastal city is less impacted by missiles than areas of southern Israel, which borders Gaza. That means that residents of Tel Aviv are more sheltered, making humor a great way to ease fears of bombardment.
12. The cycle of violence continues
Tragically, it looks like an end to the bloodshed and oppression is nowhere in sight.
Horrifying escalations like the invasion now unfolding in Gaza, erupt with frightening regularity. A 6-year-old in Gaza today has now lived through three wars.
It doesn't look like a solution will come any time soon: Negotiations toward a two state solution are on life support, at best.
Commentators criticized this cartoon, published in the Independent, for using anti-Semitic tropes and misrepresenting the conflict.
But it captures the sense of despair that many Palestinians feel, especially as the brutal and unbalanced battle kills more and more civilians.
As long as that cycle of violence and oppression continues, the suffering will only continue.