On April 16, the Cartoons on the Bay animation festival will kick off in Venice, Italy. Organized by RAI, Italian state television, the international festival, in its 18th edition, focuses on television animation for children, with categories including TV series for preschoolers and tweens as well as animated films on social issues.
It is difficult to imagine, therefore, a more inappropriate choice as guest of honor at this year’s festival than Israel. Cartoons on the Bay will be giving Israel the Pulcinella Award 2015 as a tribute to the country’s ability to produce “interesting, original and innovative” animated cartoons despite its “delicate geopolitical context.”
Tallying the tragic numbers documented by the Israeli organization B’Tselem and the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), shows that nearly 2,000 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli military forces over the past 15 years, including 551 in the attacks on Gaza last summer.
In just one week in mid-March, Israeli forces shot nine Palestinian children with live ammunition.
Israel also arrests, interrogates and detains and prosecutes an average of 500-700 Palestinian children per year, with over 8,000 Palestinian children detained by Israel between 2000 and 2013. In a sinister twist, children are denied bail in approximately 90 percent of the cases.
Night raids terrorizing Palestinian children are common place, as seen in this video where fully armed Israeli soldiers storm bedrooms, forcing sleeping children as young as four years old from their beds in the dead of the night.
In an open letter to festival organizers, BDS Italy asked what criteria was used to select Israel as “guest country” to a festival of animation for children “when it has shown that it has absolutely no regard or respect for Palestinian youth and children?”
The letter calls on the taxpayer funded television network RAI to cancel Israel’s participation in the festival due to its “repressive and discriminatory policies” imposed on Palestinian children.
It also calls on two of the festival’s sponsors, UNICEF, the UN agency committed to defending children’s rights and wellbeing, and the Italian section of the International Animated Film Association (ASIFA) to withdraw their support as long as Israel continues to be guest of honor.
UNICEF is fully aware of Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights, in particular the detention of minors, and has documented what it calls the “widespread, systematic and institutionalized” ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israel’s military detention system.
AISFA – Italy, which aims to promote “progress towards peace and understanding through our unified interest in the art of animation.”
Both organizations should either use their positions to convince the festival organizers that a country involved in denying children their basic rights has no place in a cartoon festival, or withdraw support.