Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi (Arabic: Arab Jerusalem) is a Qatari–owned, Palestinian–operated and London-based daily newspaper, often regarded as the most persistent voice in the Arab press against peace, negotiations and recognition of Israel, and a torchbearer of the Three No’s of the 1967 Arab League summit and the PLO-initiated “Rejection Camp” of the 1980s. It’s quite influential among young, highly educated pro-Palestinian, anti-Western Arabic speakers in the Middle East and Europe.
Among English speakers, it was historically famous for its renown yet eccentric editor in chief ‘Abdel Bari ‘Atwan, who filled the position starting from the paper’s foundation in 1989 until 2013, when its new Qatari owners assumed control from their predecessors (a group of Palestinian expats). Since then, it is run by equally-hardline Sana ‘Aloul, an official in the General Union of the Palestinian Communities in Europe; in turn, her name is associated with former Member of Knesset and current advisor to Qatari monarch ‘Azmi Bishara who, as a result, is said to have a considerable level of influence on the editorial board.
Given the fact that the decade which ended in 2013 saw the demise of some of classical Arab nationalism’s very last remnants in the MENA region, it is hardly surprising that the sole bastion of this outdated stance in print has, to a certain extent, moved its allegiance elsewhere (much like Bishara himself). Thus, even before Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi’s ownership was fully ceded to the Qataris, and with ‘Atwan still on top, the paper’s views towards the Turkey-Qatar-Gaza-Muslim Brotherhood axis (which also included Egypt for a hot minute) became increasingly favorable.
Nevertheless, the paper’s core beliefs have remained largely unchanged to this day. To quote its 2020 Nakba Day editorial headline (which poses a question) and body (which answers it in the affirmative), its staff has always viewed Israel as nothing but a “passing stage in the history of Palestine,” however unfortunate its lifelong existence as “an imperialist, racist and religious settler-state” may be.
It’s against this background that the following cartoon, entitled “Normalization” and drawn by Jordanian-Palestinian Osama Hajjaj, appeared last week both on Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s website (September 20th) and print edition (September 21st, page 23):
The rock, shocked to see the Arab (wearing typical Gulf attire) casting his sword aside and eager to shake Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand, is calling in high Arabic: “O Muslim… O servant of Allah… What are you doing!!?” Behind Netanyahu we see two more rocks and a tree, and he himself might be holding a sword behind his back with his other hand.
In order to understand just how hateful and violent this illustration is, one needs to realize what is the scene that it illustrates. A stone calling “O Muslim… O slave of Allah…” is an obvious allusion to the following saying attributed to Prophet Muhammad, a Hadith broadly known across the Muslim world:
“The Last Hour would not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Muslims kill them to a point that the Jew[s] shall hide behind the rock[s] and the tree[s], and the rock or tree will say: ‘O Muslim, O servant of Allah! This is a Jew behind me, so come and kill him!’ Except the Gharqad, being one of the Jews’ trees.” (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 7, Book of Tribulations and Portents of the Last Hour, Hadith 6985)
Apart from the ongoing debate in what numbers do modern-day Muslims consider this ancient prophetic text about the eschaton a reliable source of guidance in their everyday lives, it seems safe enough to determine that in the particular case of Hajjaj and his London publishers, their politics is clearly inspired by what is written there. After all, and regardless of their levels of faith and observance, it is they who saw fit:
- To locate this potentially horrific setting within the concrete context of contemporary international affairs;
- To cast, to that end, a stereotypical Gulf Arab for the role of the Muslim in the story and the sitting PM of the world’s only Jewish state for the role of the Jew;
- To upload their final “artistic” product online for many millions to see; and
- To do so in a daily newspaper infamous for its resentment towards Israel’s very existence, let alone the possibility of peaceful relations between it, Arabs and Muslims.
Therefore, one cannot avoid the alarming conclusion that the outrage expressed by the rock in the cartoon is shared word-for-word by the cartoonist who drew it, as well as by the Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi editorial board who approved the drawing for mass distribution.
As far as they are concerned, a good Muslim should commit genocide against the Jews, or at least never let go of the option to engage in one sometime in the foreseeable future; Jews, on their part, are supposed to then helplessly hide in fear behind a rock or a tree, yearning (in vain!) that the Muslim would spare their lives, or fail to detect them altogether.
Accordingly, Muslims who defy this fate and drop their obligation, leaving unused swords behind them as they seek peace with Jews, are to Hajjaj and his paper nothing less than traitors against the natural moral order.
The two are just as provoked by the appearance of confident Jews in their steadfast sovereign state: Jews who are thus able to shake a Muslim’s hand from the standpoint of equals (even then, the cartoon subtly implies, they may conspire to harm the unsuspecting other side…) – again, in defiance of how the world should be.
To sum up: two weeks ago, a British newspaper protested the Abraham Accords by publishing a cartoon (the first one above) invoking genocide against Jews as a reasonable future alternative; to wit, it suggested Arabs and Muslims should hope and prepare for that genocide, instead of disarming themselves (are they really?) by signing normalisation agreements with treacherous Israel.
Admittedly, a message so hideous is rather rare even by the standards of Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi contributors.
However, this is not the only one of the paper’s cartoons which likened the long-awaited defeat of Israel with that of the mythical “eternal Jew”.
Osama Hajjaj is nowadays one of three cartoonists whose works are regularly published in the paper’s website and printed edition, the other two being Palestinians Omayya Joha and Mohammed Sab’aneh; Hamas-affiliated Joha have dealt with the topic several times.
A stereotypical Hassidic Jew, evoking the “Wandering Jew” trope, grinds his teeth in anger as he is forced out of “Palestine” (right arrow), walking towards the “exit” (left arrow). On top of his large suitcase there’s a book entitled “Fabricated History” and two scrolls: the Balfour Declaration and Trump’s plan. Both scrolls, translated into Arabic (in red) as “Balfour’s promise” and “Trump’s promise”, correspond with the cartoon’s main title (top right, also in red).
The Palestinian (probably Gazan) family picks up a stone and swing a large key, representing the so-called “Right of Return”, in order to crush the fearful, unarmed Hassidic Jew/chase him out of their sight.
Netanyahu, dressed as a Hassidic Jew and holding a keychain labeled “Balfour’s promise” (i.e. Balfour Declaration), is being uprooted along with Jewish-owned houses as the personified “land” rises, holding the symbolic “Right of Return” key which is labeled “the rightful promise”.
Of all four cartoons, the one made by Hajjaj implies to the most violent act – genocide – while Joha’s cartoons can be viewed as encouraging “only” ethnic cleansing and mass deportation (her genocidal “artwork”, also depicting the “rocks and trees” scene, was never published in Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi).
But more importantly, the thing they all have in common is that they equate the long-awaited elimination of Israel with reinstalling Jews back to their proper, stateless place in human history. Both Hajjaj and two of Joha’s cartoons agree, though, that this proper place is set for Jews not by other humans but by forces of nature (earth, trees, rocks) or better, by Allah himself.
In this respect, both cartoonists are accurate reflections not only of Al-Quds Al-‘Arabi’s Islamist turn, but also of its much older and well-established antisemitism.
Writing and research by CAMERA Arabic. Edited by CAMERA UK.
All translations, emphases and in-bracket remarks are by CAMERA Arabic unless otherwise specified.