Shay Charka described himself as a bit of a fanatic, when it comes to drawing cartoons. Ever since he could pick up a pen, he says, he’s been sketching caricatures. In his teens, Charka did cartoons about life as a student in Jewish religious school and about Israeli politics. But he had his doubts about ever making a living as an artist because, he said, he didn’t like the idea of people telling him what to draw and how to do it.
By age 17 though, no one was telling Charka how to draw. He started getting his stuff published in a youth magazine. And he hasn’t stopped.
Charka lives in a Jewish settlement called Zufim. It’s a neighborhood of suburban-style single family homes that sits on a hilltop above the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. Charka reckoned he’s Israel’s only syndicated political cartoonist who is also a settler.
“I really felt in love with that area,” he said. “The olive trees, the rocks, the hills, the everything. The feeling like living in the Bible somehow.”
Charka’s cartoons are full of Biblical references and scenes from Jewish and ancient history. His sense of humor is playful and slightly brutal all at once. The political issues he covers range from Palestinian suicide bombers to Europe poking its nose into Israeli affairs to radical settlers.
And Charka gets a lot of inspiration from his own life experience. One of his books, called “Beyond the Line,” is very much autobiographical. The protagonist is a short, yarmulke-wearing Israeli cartoonist living in a settlement. Other characters include a friendly Arab neighbor, an extremist Jewish settler, a bearded Rabbi and a handsome – but not very bright – TV reporter.
“There’s a stereotype about settlers,” Charka said. “People think they all hate Arabs and they’re against peace. But that’s not the whole story.”
Charka said he has Palestinian friends and that he would like to live in peace with all his neighbors. But like many Israelis, he’s skeptical about the idea of giving the Palestinians a state of their own on the West Bank.
“Peace will only come when each side comes to terms with the reality that the other side is here to stay. Israelis have understood that about the Arabs. But I don’t think the Arabs have never completely agreed,” he said.
And that’s why Charka is against giving up land for the hope of peace with the Palestinians. He thinks the whole two-state solution idea won’t work, and that the US president is wrong to keep pushing for it to happen.
Charka’s politics put him in profound disagreement with many Israelis, including fellow cartoonist, Uri Fink. But the two men remain good friends, and fans of each other’s work.
“Shay’s work should be seen by everybody because it’s really, really good. Even if you disagree with the politics, like I do, I still enjoy reading it. And I think the voice of Shay has nothing to do with the crazy settlers that you see in the news all over the world,” Fink said.
On a recent day, the news was full of reports about an attack by Jewish settlers on an Israeli army base in the West Bank. Vandals slashed tires and smashed windshields. And not far away, an Israeli officer was injured by a rock in another clash with settlers. The incidents followed a string of suspected settler attacks against Palestinian property, including mosques.
Charka said he was shocked by the events.
“I’m shocked by these people and I think they should be put in jail,” he said. “But I understand where some of their frustration comes from.”
A few days later, Charka published a cartoon showing a masked Jewish extremist standing next to West Bank settlements. The settlement are sitting on top of a giant bomb. The extremist is challenging the Israeli government to try to dismantle illegally-built settler homes… as he’s about to light the bomb’s fuse.