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May 5, 2020 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1510

Saudis, Palestinians Clash On Twitter Over Status Of Palestinian Cause, Normalization With Israel

May 5, 2020 | By B. Chernitsky
Saudi Arabia, Palestine | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 1510

Relations between Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians, and especially Hamas, which have been strained for several years, recently grew even more tense. The cause was a cartoon by Palestinian cartoonist Mahmoud Na'im 'Abbas, who lives in Sweden and works for the Qatari Al-Jazeera network, which was initially published on his personal Facebook page and later also in the Hamas mouthpiece Filastin and on several websites. The cartoon, commenting on the current plunge in  oil prices, shows a figure in garb typical of the Gulf Arabs running from a large oil barrel that is hurtling down the hill behind him. It sparked furious responses from Saudis, especially on Twitter, who construed it as an expression of glee at their country's troubles. The cartoonist, for his part, denied that the cartoon referred to the Saudis at all, claiming that it represented the plight of all Arabs in light of the plummeting oil prices.[1]


Mahmoud Na'im 'Abbas's cartoon (source: Facebook.com/3bas. April 20, 2020; paltimesps.ps, April 22, 2020)

Another factor that contributed to the current tension between Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians is two Saudi television series that are being aired this Ramadan on the MBC channel, and which many Arabs regard as promoting normalization with Israel and undermining the Palestinian cause. One is the series Umm Haroun, depicting the persecution faced by the Jewish community in Kuwait during the 1940s. The other is the comedy series Exit 7, which deals inter alia with the issue of normalization with Israel and includes an episode in which a character states that Israel is not an enemy of Saudi Arabia and that the Palestinians have harmed the kingdom more than Israel has.[2]

The tension between Saudis and Palestinians was evident mainly on Twitter, where Saudi and Palestinian users traded insults and accusations. Many Saudis tweeted under the hashtag "Palestine is not my cause" and "the Zionist enemy [is our] brother," accusing the Palestinians of ingratitude towards Saudi Arabia and stating that it's time they took responsibility for their own fate. Conversely, many Palestinians, including Hamas officials and supporters, as well as Palestinian journalists on Qatari media outlets, responded under the hashtags “Palestine is my cause” and “Israel is an enemy,” condemning the Saudis and stressing the centrality of the Palestinian cause. Some also speculated that the Saudi tweets were the product of social media bots serving Israel.

This is not the first time the tension between Saudi Arabi and the Palestinians, and especially Hamas, has surfaced on Twitter. The "Palestine is not my cause" hashtag was launched by Saudi users back in 2015, and another hashtag, "Riyadh is more important than Jerusalem," was launched in 2017, when Hamas expressed support for Hizbullah after the Arab League condemned the latter as a terrorist organization.[3]

The tension between the sides also stems from the reports that Saudi Arabia supports the Trump administration's peace  initiative, known as the Deal of the Century, and was even party to drafting it and to pressing the Palestinians to accept it.[4] Another contributing factor is pro-Israeli statements made in recent years by Saudi figures and in the Saudi media.[5]  Furthermore, about a year ago, Saudi Arabia arrested 60 Palestinian and Jordanian Hamas activists, including Hamas's representative in the kingdom, Muhammad Al-Khodari. It has so far refused to release them, despite Hamas's demands and despite a proposal by the Houthis in Yemen to make a deal as part of which they will release Saudi prisoners in exchange for the release of the Hamas activists. The Qatari media, chiefly Al-Jazeera, is also fanning the flames of the Saudi-Palestinian tension.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Saudi authorities have made attempts to ease the tension. Palestinian presidency spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeina praised "the noble Arab stance of the Saudi royal family… which defends the national, Arab and Muslim rights in Palestine,” and added that his movement, Fatah, would not let anyone drive a wedge between the Palestinians and Saudis.[6] At an emergency Arab League summit convened to discuss Israel's plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Saudi Arabia stressed that "the Palestinian cause was and continues to be the central issue for the Arabs and Muslims, and for the [Saudi] kingdom since its establishment.”[7]However, these efforts seem to have been unsuccessful, for the online tension between Saudis and Palestinians spilled over into mutual accusations in the conventional media, such as an article by Palestinian Culture Minister 'Atef Abu Al-Saif in the PA daily Al-Ayyam, in which he wrote that "adopting the narrative of the enemy is dangerous, and even more dangerous is Arab art becoming a [platform for] spreading this narrative."[8]


The tension spills over into the press: Cartoon in Palestinian Al-Quds daily depicts the "normalizing [television] drama" as a shield that protects the Israeli army in its fight against the Palestinians (Al-Quds, East Jerusalem, May 5, 2020).

This report reviews the current Saudi-Palestinian tension as evident in posts by users on Twitter.  

Saudis on Twitter: The Palestinians Are Ingrates, Traitors; "Palestine Is Not My Cause"; "The Zionist Enemy [Is Our] Brother"

As stated, the cartoon by the Palestinian cartoonist Mahmoud Na'im 'Abbas, which was construed as an expression of glee at the Saudis’ plight in light of the plunging oil prices, sparked a wave of angry responses by Saudis on Twitter, including by senior journalists, and charges of ingratitude against the Palestinians.

Liberal Saudi journalist Turki Al-Hamad wrote: "I can't understand it. They [the Palestinians] live at the expense of the oil and the oil countries, directly or indirectly, but hope for the disappearance of these countries and express glee at the plunging oil prices. The question is: What benefit will they derive if this actually happens [i.e., if these countries disappear], considering that they will be the first to suffer? Sometimes I feel that the proverb ‘the ignorant is his own [worst] enemy' should be changed into ‘the Arab is his own [worst] enemy,’ and I refer mainly to the Palestinians and the Arabs of Sham [Syria]." In another tweet, he complained that the Palestinians expect the Arabs to liberate their country for them instead of doing so themselves: “The Vietnamese rose up, sacrificed over 1.5 million victims, and eventually won [the Vietnam War]. The Algerians rose up, sacrificed over one million [of their countrymen] and then won. How do the Palestinians compare to them?… They have political parties on every Arab [street] corner, they keep hollering 'Where are the Arabs, where?', and want Palestine to be liberated! How strange."[9]     

Criticism of the Palestinians was also voiced in videos circulated on social media. Saudi media figure 'Abdulhameed Al-Ghobain, known for his support of Israel, told the Russia Today channel that "the Palestinian cause is dead," and that "there is no such thing as Palestine, whereas Israel is mentioned in the Quran."[10] Saudi author Rawaf Al-Sa'een made similar remarks on his YouTube channel, and called on Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to "burn the [Palestinian] gangs" and "save the world from their evil."[11]

Many Saudis tweeted under the hashtag "Palestine is not my cause." For example, a popular Twitter account called "Saudi Deterrence 2030," which has over a million followers, tweeted: "Palestine is not my cause. Sorry. My only cause is Saudi Arabia, and everything else can go hang." [12]   

Dubai-based Saudi journalist Sukina Meshekhis, who writes a column in the Saudi Al-Yawm daily and has advocated normalizing Saudi relations with Israel on several occasions, tweeted: "A cartoon in a Palestinian paper laughs about the plummeting oil prices and naturally mocks the Gulf [countries]! There is nothing new under the sun. This is not very different from the [pro-Saddam] stance taken [by the Palestinians] in the 1990s when Kuwait was occupied [by Saddam's Iraq]. The price of oil will go back up and the cartoon will leave a residue of resentment in the memory of the peoples [of the Gulf]." [13]

Saudi twitter user "Al-Bari" noted that the cartoonist 'Abbas's father and two of his brothers were “terrorists,” members of Hamas's military wing, the ‘Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. He wrote: "This is the mercenary Mahmoud 'Abbas, [whose Twitter handle is] @Mahmoud3bbas, and who works for the Al-Jazeera [network] and visited [Saudi Arabia] when he made the pilgrimage [to Mecca] in 2009. Mahmoud, you are known to be the son of the terrorist commander Na'im Hussein 'Abbas,[14]  a member of the terrorist 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades. Your brothers, Mustafa and Hussein, were [also] terrorists.[15] Did you inform the Swedish authorities of this [when you moved there]?"[16]


Al-Bari's post

After Palestinians voiced criticism of the Saudi television series, describing them as promoting normalization with Israel, many Saudis tweeted under the hashtag  "The Zionist Enemy [Is Our] Brother", accusing the Palestinians of ingratitude. Twitter user Dr. 'Abdallah Al-Sarami wrote: "#The Zionist enemy [is our] brother. I hope this generation does not judge Israel based on emotion or sympathy towards the Palestinian cause… but rather considers [matters] rationally,  based on [an approach of] coexistence. Israel has not done us any harm, even on the verbal level, unlike the Palestinians, Iran and its militias, and the Muslim Brotherhood." The tweet was accompanied by an image representing Saudi-Israeli friendship: [17]


'Abdallah Al-Sarami's post

A user calling himself "MBS" tweeted a clip from the series Exit 7 in which one of the characters states that Israel is not the enemy and that it is the Palestinians who have harmed Saudi Arabia, and commented: "A historic statement by [actor] Rashed Al-Shamrani: The enemy is the one who does not appreciate your support and curses you more than the Israelis do [i.e., the Palestinians]." He added: "Saudi Arabia has supported the Palestinian cause more than any other country, and in the end all we get is curses and ingratitude from the Palestinians.”[18] 

In another tweet, "MBS" posted the cartoon below, presenting the Palestinian "betrayals": "They sold their lands to the Jews, destroyed Lebanon in a 30-year war, traded in the [Palestinian] cause and used it to build [themselves] palaces in Europe, betrayed the Gulf countries, made a living cursing us, and cursed us from the mosque pulpits, [saying]: 'Allah, destroy Saudi Arabia and the Saudis, and the Gulf and its people.”[19] 

 

Palestinians on Twitter: Palestine Is The Cause Of The Free People, Not Of Submissive Arabs; Those Who Normalize Relations With Israel Are Despicable And Disgraceful

Palestinian Twitter users, for their part, harshly criticized Saudi Arabia, especially for airing the Ramadan television series, which they described as promoting normalization and undermining the Palestinian cause.  Many tweeted under the hashtag "Israel is the enemy," launched in response to the Saudi hashtag "The Israeli enemy [is our] brother." Prominent among them were Hamas officials and supporters.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem wrote against the supporters of normalization with Israel: "The widespread popular Arab rejection of any expression of normalization with the Zionist occupation emphasizes how isolated is any element striving to normalize relations with the occupation. It is impossible to deceive the conscience… of the [Muslim] nation with the nonsense [spewed]  by the supporters of normalization"” In another tweet he wrote: “The Zionist occupation will remain the chief enemy of the [Muslim] nation, because it poses a danger to all parts [of this nation]. The Palestinians will remain the cause of the entire nation…"[20]


One of Hazem Qassem's tweets

Rafat Al-Morrah, head of Hamas's foreign media department, tweeted: "Whoever wants to be powerful, worthy and influential must address substantial causes. The greatest cause of all is the Palestinian one. Normalization with the occupation turns you into despicable slaves begging for sympathy. Look at the low status reached by every country that normalized its relations with Israel."[21]

The official spokesman for the Committee for Breaking the Siege on Gaza, Adham Abu Silmiyya, tweeted a list of Saudi soldiers who died in 1948 fighting alongside the Palestinians, and commented: "We remember your names, and will remain loyal to your pure blood. We will not betray [you], nor belittle [your sacrifice], nor surrender. Your jihad taught us that #Israel is an enemy, and so it will remain until the day it leaves our land, which it has occupied…"[22]


Adham Abu Silmiyya's post

Gazan journalist Ayman Majed tweeted in response to the series Umm Haroun, describing the Jewish community that lived in the Gulf: "#Israel is an enemy. This series does not represent the Arabs. It is a completely Zionist series that does not contain a shred of truth. The actors sold themselves for a handful of dollars. They will be immortalized in the despicable ash heap of history.”[23]

Cartoonist Mahmoud Na'im 'Abbas posted another cartoon, this one criticizing the Saudi television series and captioned "Arab drama [series] burnish the image of the occupation.”[24]


Mahmoud Na'im 'Abbas's cartoon

Many Palestinians also attacked Saudi Arabia under the hashtag "Palestine is my cause," launched in response to the Saudi hashtag "Palestine is not my cause." Adham Abu Silmiyya, spokesman of the Committee for Breaking the Siege on Gaza, tweeted: "Palestine is the arena of the decisive war between truth and falsehood. According to a Prophetic hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, the Prophet said, 'Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the tree behind which a Jew [will hide] will say, O Muslim, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him'…" In another tweet, Abu Silmiyya stated that the comments tweeted under the hashtag "Palestine is not my cause" were actually posted by bots. He wrote: "Yes, and it will never be their cause. Palestine is not the cause of social [media] bots, of intelligence apparatuses or of those who sow strife among peoples. Palestine is my cause, the cause of the free and pure [people] who were brought up [to value] honor rather than submission, courage rather than humiliation. Oh social [media] bots, spare your efforts, we are glad [Palestine] is no cause of yours."[25]


One of Adham Abu Silmiyya's posts

In addition to pro-Hamas Palestinians, Saudi oppositionists also tweeted under the hashtag "Palestine is my cause." Prominent among them was 'Abdallah Al-'Odeh, son of the preacher Salman Al-'Odeh, who is affiliated with political Islam and is incarcerated in Saudi Arabia. 'Abdallah tweeted: "Yes, Palestine is my cause and the cause of every Arab, every Muslim and every free [person] in the world, in spite of the Zionists and all the wannabe Zionists.  It is the greatest consensus among the Arab and Muslim nations, and the greatest source of shame for the [Saudi] tyrants. Palestine is the cause of all of us. Jerusalem is our compass. Whoever loves Mecca and Medina will not betray Jerusalem!”[26]

 

* B. Chernitsky is a research fellow at MEMRI.

 

[1] Facebook.com/3bas, April 21, 2020. It should be noted that 'Abbas occasionally publishes cartoons criticizing the Saudi regime and supporting Saudi oppositionists. For example, on April 24 he published on his Facebook page a cartoon calling for the release of Salman Al-'Odeh, a preacher identified with political Islam who is incarcerated in Saudi Arabia.

[3] The closing statement of the November 19, 2017 Arab League foreign ministers summit called Hizbullah "terrorist" and accused it of supporting other terrorist organizations in the Arab region (Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, November 20, 2017).

[6] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 30, 2020.

[7] Spa.gov.sa, April 30, 2020. In addition, the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarian Action has signed an agreement with UNRWA to extend medical aid to Gaza to fight the coronavirus pandemic (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, London, May 1, 2020).

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), May 4, 2020.

[9] Twitter.com/TurkiHAlhamad1, April 22, 2020.

[10] Twitter.com/Abdullhameeds, April 28, 2020.

[11] Twitter.com//hazaa05530, April 27, 2020.

[12]  Twitter.com/s_hm, April 22, 2020.

[13] Twitter.com/sukinameshekhis, April 24, 2020.

[14]  Na'im Hussein 'Abbas was a commander in Hamas's military wing and was killed in the December 2008 Israel-Gaza war (alqassam.net).

[15] Mustafa and Hussein 'Abbas were likewise Al-Qassam operatives. Mustafa was killed in a clash with Israeli forces in the Beit Lahiya area in July 2007, and Hussein was killed in the 2008 Gaza war after firing rockets into Israel (alqassam.net).

[16] Twitter.com/albarii_sa, April 21, 2020.

[17] Twitter.com/TtXKQ, April 26, 2020.

[18] Twitter.com/OOO7C, April 26, 2020.

[19] Twitter.com/OOO7C, April 27, 2020.

[20] Twitter.com/hazemag, April 27, 2020.

[21] Twitter.com/morrahraafat, April 27, 2020.

[22] Twitter.com/adham922, April 27, 2020.

[23] Twitter.com/Ayman 93Abed, April 27, 2020.

[24] Facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10158123673702410, April 27, 2020.

[25] Twitter.com/adham922, April 24, 2020.

[26] Twitter.com/aalodah, April 22, 2020.

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