Hope from Whom and for Whom? Palestine as a Muslim Cause


Israel’s war on the Palestinians may be over for now, but the conflict remains. About a week and a half ago, I received an email from a wonderful organization, Jewish Voice for Peace, asking me to sign onto a letter to President Obama asking him to create a just foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine. The title of the email was “Hope,” obviously referencing President’s Obama’s slogan, and the artistic effects of the pictures accompanying the email mirrored Obama’s now internationally famous image used during the campaign.  The images, seen above, depict an Israeli Jewish woman and a Palestinian woman who is very obviously Muslim.

First, it seems using pictures of women creates a soft effect. Women are often depicted as representations of peace and reconciliation. Their expected or assumed maternal nature works to create a safe space in which people can engage without fear. Perhaps that was the reason for using the pictures of women.

However, more interesting and more relevant to this conversation is the way in which the Palestinian woman is drawn and how this reflects a phenomenon much bigger than this picture. She is, as already mentioned, Muslim – and a Muslim with hijab at that. And this image of the Palestinian woman brings up an interesting phenomenon surrounding the international outrage regarding the recent conflict. During this recent tragic conflict the outrage around the world that became a part of the Palestinian cause, ended up becoming a Muslim cause.

At protests one would easily and commonly hear Islamic rallying cries, such as the kalma, being yelled out along with the non-religious ones. Many Muslims felt this was an attack on Muslims, not just Palestinians. Muslims all over the world were enraged and very active and vocal about their outrage. So much so that many Muslims and non-Muslims alike wondered where this rage was for other issues, such as Darfur. When the killing is on a much larger scale in Darfur against African Muslims, Muslim outrage is limited to press releases. Others defended this unbalanced outrage by saying that because the rest of the world has for so long ignored the suffering of the Palestinians, Muslims needed to bring attention to the cause. However, the imbalance still exists – and so does the genocide in Darfur.

And then what about the Christian Palestinians, who suffer as much as the Muslim ones? This conflict is not about Jew against Muslim, but rather Israeli against Arab, specifically Palestinians, many of whom are Christian. Why did we not hear about them? Why have an obviously Muslim woman in the picture above? What about the Christian Palestinian women?

And what about all the non-Muslims who came out to the protests? When I would hear Islamic rallying cries at protests, I couldn’t help but wonder if some of them questioned why they were even at the protests. If this was a Muslim cause, and they weren’t Muslims, then should they even be there?

And then there were the issues of race as well. Are Muslims more upset about this because Arabs are the victims, whereas in Darfur it is black Africans, in Kashmir it is Indians, in Chechnya it is Chechens? Has the racism within the Muslim world spilled into and affected the causes we support as a whole?

Why has this become a Muslim cause and what are the implications?

These are just some questions that come to mind when I view images such as the one presented above. What are readers’ thoughts on the issue?

  • jael

    i think the star of david earring marks the israeli woman out as explicitly Jewish – while it is the israeli flag, it i represents judaism as the hajib does islam.

    i think also because of the tendency to ascribe jewishness to israelis (even though 1/5 of the population isn’t jewish), there is a tendency to do the same to the palestinians, a balancing if you will. while the jewishness of israel is by design rather than geography, i think the result is the ignoring of not just non-jewish israelis, but non-muslim palestinians. neither of these two groups fit into the two side narrative.

    last of all, i sometimes wonder if the support that the palestinians get from arab countries is a reflection of how the situation came into being: while it is absolutely not any of the arab states fault the present situation is as it is, the fact that neither jordan or egypt gave the palestinians their state prior to 1967 remains (whatever the reason, state power or pan arabism or whatever)- perhaps it is because of their there is a sense of obligation? a need to right the situation? and an awareness by other arabs in the region that ‘this could have been us’ – “us” being those people inside the lines when they were drawn; all too arbitrary. the “we are all palestinians” is a powerful slogan, i think, because who became palestinian (in terms of the post 67 national identity) could have been very different – if say, transjordan wasn’t divided; the hashemites never needed a new kingdom etc… the whole region is the product of arbitrary.

    and- by extension- because of the number of arab muslims, and the centrality of arabic to islam- this becomes a muslim cause?

    i’m not holding out 100% behind those last two paragraphs, it’s just thinking out aloud. i agree with and like your comments on the use of women.

  • http://www.kaalimaat.wordpress.com kalimat

    As a Muslim woman i do not view Palestine as a Muslim cause. The problems behind the Palestinian conflict or the solution does not lie in religion. Muslims are passionate about Palestine because of the media attention and the “enemy” being the Jews. However when it is Muslims killing each other (regardless of race) we do not even take a humanitarian stance.

  • laila

    The racism within the Muslim world has spilled over into their causes! Sobia this reflects the race hierarchy you once mentioned where lights skins (Arabs) are on the top of the causes and darker skins (Non-Arabs, specifically BLACKS) are on the bottom of the receiving end. Darfurians undergoing the severe hardships of Genocide have experienced this discrimination from Muslims. My own Somalian community has also experienced the betrayal and discrimination from Muslims. We (Somalians, Muslims) were invaded by Ethiopia and the Muslim world didn’t even give a damn, there were no mass protests (not a single protest), no campaigns, No Muslim blogs etc.

    The only time there is commotions from Muslims is for Arab suffering, although the worlds worst Humanitarian Crises are in Darfur and Somalia. These pressing crises have continued to deepen because of the absence of urgent focus and ATTENTION. Darfurians and Somalians have fallen and will ALWAYS fall into Palestine’s shadow.

    Muslim discrimination and racism at its GREATEST.

  • safia

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this. I volunteered in Lebanon in the Palestinian refugee camps a couple of years ago. I made the assumption that because I’m Muslim I’m connected to this cause. But I didn’t realize how much racism and discrimination Palestinian receive from Muslim countries as refugees. As well I do think we erase the experiences of Christian Palestinians by putting images such as the above out there, not recognizing that this is a issues of colonialism, not religion.

  • Broomstick

    Just curious, but don’t some Arab Christian/Palestinian Christian women also wear hijab? Although I’m not Arab so I really don’t have a clue.

    I honestly see nothing wrong with those two Hope images above. I like them, I don’t care if it stereotypes Muslim women (or Arab women). For one thing, it’s refreshing not to see a Muslim portrayed in a negative light.

  • Zahra

    Why is the Israeli woman staring right back at the viewer, and the Palestinian woman looking up and off to the side?

    To me it looks like she’s appealing to someone outside the picture (probably a taller man) for rescue. Her pose is seems sexed up and more “feminine” somehow. (Apparently only Palestinian women have eyelashes.) Are averted eyes a modesty thing? I don’t get it.

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    I have to agree with kalimat and Leila on this issue. I actually wrote about it on my blog. Palestine has been framed as an issue that ALL MUSLIMS must unwaveringly support without critique or one’s piety comes into question. Recently, a Muslim lectured me about why I should give this cause my full attention as a Muslim- starting with the point that Al Aqsa is the 3rd holiest site in Islam. A group in my city actually held a forum discussing why we (as Muslims) should care about Palestine. (And I’m not saying we shouldn’t).

    Muslims have been very good at ignoring the racial hierarchy that exists in own community, responding to oppression when the perpetrator is not Muslim (especially Jewish or allegedly Jewish), ignoring local & national causes, and being virtually silent about atrocities that Muslims commit against one another unless the media shines a light on it.

    @Leila. I was surprised by the number of Somalis in my local community who are reppin’ so hard for Palestine but don’t give the same level of attention to the condition of their own people.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    ‘This conflict is not about Jew against Muslim, but rather Israeli against Arab, specifically Palestinians, many of whom are Christian.’

    This sentence makes me uncomfortable for some reason, but I’m not sure why. I think it’s because the Israeli v. Arab duality overlooks the fact that there are Arab Israelis. Also Israel is not the expressed enemy of many Arab countries, and the conflict focuses specifically on the Palestinians, not all Arabs.

    @ Zahra:

    Everything you have are questioning are design issues. To have both women staring at the viewer would make the image too symmetrical, in a purely design sense, and make the viewer uncomfortable. Having both women looking off would do the same thing. I think you’re reading too much into the eyelash question as well. Try to draw eyelashes at someone who is looking directly at you. It’s difficult. Also, I don’t see the Palestinian woman looking at a taller man, more like she’s looking into the hope of the future or the challenges ahead, ala Barack Obama’s original poster.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Rochelle: I don’t think it’s fair to dismiss Zahra’s points about design issues. Designs can have inherent messages in them; whether these actually do, we can’t be sure. But that doesn’t we can’t critique them.

    I would agree that perhaps the Israeli woman is portrayed as more direct by staring at the viewer, while the Palestinian woman is portrayed in a more passive light by staring off into the distance.

  • Melinda

    I agree with the comments about the different messages portrayed by the way the women are looking. It’s true that the Israeli woman’s stare is direct and the Palestinian looks like she is appealing for help. But why is this a problem? The Israeli woman’s cheek reads “I refuse to occupy”; considering the requirement of service in the Israeli army for all citizens, no wonder she looks confrontational. The Palestinian woman looks like she is appealing for help/end to the conflict. Considering the siege of Gaza, is that unreasonable? The Israeli woman is not in the same sort of desperate situation but in one of defiance against participation. The Palestinian woman has no choice to get out of the conflict. I think it makes perfect sense for the women to have different expressions. (That said, the difference in femininess really isn’t necessary.)

  • Melinda

    Sorry, typo. I meant “feminineness.” Or better yet, “femininity.”

  • http://www.7obsessions.blogspot.com Yusra

    Very interesting point raised about the woman in the photo. It seems to be saying more than anything that hope is in the women, which I find hysterical given the latest massacre was largely executed by a woman, foreign minister Tzipi Livni. The Islamic significance of Jerusalem, the overwhelmingly Muslim population and Hamas’s rise to power are a few reasons that make it easy to define Palestine as a Muslim cause. Also, presenting the struggle as a Muslim one to countries with the capacity to help (i.e. Saudi Arabia) may encourage them to do so. Putting a non-hijabi woman or Palestinian Christians as the face of the struggle just doesn’t appeal to the Bedouin mentality.

  • laila

    @ Jamerican “I was surprised by the number of Somalis in my local community who are reppin’ so hard for Palestine but don’t give the same level of attention to the condition of their own people”

    Really, because I’m not surpized; their actions are contradictory but it’s soo true. Many Somalians I asked that same question, would reply that “it is a form of religious solidarity, of helping a Muslim from being oppressed by (the other) Jews”. The ones I talked to also view the conflict and the enemy through a Religious filter (with religious expressions) which to them makes it more important, plus add in lighter skin colour and add in all the anti-Semitism into it. They don’t use a religious discourse on Ethiopia, they don’t view it as a Christian nation invading a Muslim population, but as a regional conflict of neighboring countries.

    The same way, when American Immigrant Muslims don’t speak out against their negative treatment of African American Muslims. Like the example you mentioned, the “selling of haram, destructive products in poor, oppressed Black and Latino communities” (In fact that’s a modest description). Many people will disregard these issues as simpy local/national, their not passed through as religious obligation of JUSTICE. There held at a different standard. It’s also a way of deflecting other problems many which are committed by us by constantly drawing the attention to Palestine. People are calling it out for what it, a double-standard and one definitly based on race.

  • http://muslimmediareview.blogspot.com Ayman Fadel

    While I participate in pro-Palestinian advocacy, I believe that U.S. Muslims neglect the violence Muslims perpetrate against other Muslims and give less weight to places. Some of it is ignorance. For example, many people don’t know that nearly everybody in Darfur is Muslim. Although, honestly, it should not matter what the religion of the perpetrator or the victim is. Some of it is a reaction to the U.S. media. I really only got motivated to do something about the recent Israeli attack on Gaza when I saw that my local newspaper in Augusta, GA only ran stories and editorials praising Israel. But there are good reasons to address pro-Israeli propaganda. There is the fact that my tax dollars also support Israel, so it hurts me personally that I’m contributing to it. Protection of Israel is a justification for U.S. attacks on Muslims in Iraq and Iran. Lastly, smears of Palestinians invade popular culture to the extent that it contributes to an anti-Muslim atmosphere. Having said this, the blog post is a positive contribution to a widening, more human rights-oriented and less identity-oriented U.S. Muslim political awareness.

  • Sobia

    @ Jael and Rochelle:

    Yes, but Israel is essentially a Jewish state. And as Melinda has mentioned, the Israeli woman is stating that she will not occupy. Occupation is of the Palestinians by the Jewish military – almost exclusively Jewish.

    Instead of saying “but rather Israeli against Arab” I should have said “Zionist against Arab.” I should have been more specific and clearer. My bad. But this is a fight against Arabs. The Arabs are not Jews therefore not welcome by the Zionists. Zionism is an ideology of colonization and the colonizers are going to be against the ones they colonize. Otherwise how will they colonize?

    An Egyptian friend who grew up in the Emirates once told me that Palestinians are at the bottom of the Arab hierarchy. Apparently many Palestinians in the Emirates don’t even say they are Palestinian because of the stigma. They will identify as Lebanese or Syrian, etc.

    Yes, its true. When we kill our own, especially if the one being killed in lower on the hierarchy somehow, we don’t do very much. But when its someone else, such as Jews, we cry out. This is so sad. Especially considering historically Jews and Muslims have gotten along so well.

    @ laila:
    Excellent points. It is just *so* damaging that we have not stepped up to the plate and challenged the way things work in our community. And I would love to say that our generation will change things but I’ve seen similar trends among us as well. When was the last time Muslim students organized a rally or talk about Somalia or Darfur?

    @Jamerican Muslimah:
    I have met other Muslims who feel this way too. Its as if when they are critiquing our unbalanced support for Palestine there is a hesitation and discomfort in their voice airing their feelings and opinions. Obviously there would be if the reaction is negative. Its as if Muslims think that you have to be devoted to the Palestinian cause %100, or not at all. And the argument about Al-Aqsa mosque – I get that’s a holy site but that’s all it is. In comparison to human life who cares? There are people being massacred in Darfur. Does housing a holy Islamic site on one’s land make one a more valuable human being? Every human life is valuable, Arab, non-Arab, Muslim, non-Muslim, male, female. We should be outraged at all atrocities.

    The rampant racism within our community is something that really, really, really needs to be addressed. It is really holding us back.

    As for the pictures and positioning of the women I have to agree with Melinda on that one. Additionally, remember this picture was meant mainly for a Jewish audience. That may explain why the Jewish woman is looking directly at her audience – sort of to say “I am like you. I understand your position. Understand mine.” But I obviously cannot be sure. I like Melinda’s interpretation :)

  • jael

    But this is a fight against Arabs. The Arabs are not Jews therefore not welcome by the Zionists.

    I thought it was a fight against Palestinians, who happened to be Arabs.

    Or is it against Arabs, who happen to be Palestinians? I don’t buy that one; it’s like saying this is Jews v Arab – which it isn’t. it can’t be; there are many Jews who aren’t Zionist, and Arabs who are Jewish.

    this is because there are Arabs who are Jews. The Sephardi Jews are Arab – and while this is not the dominant group within Israel (the trad. power remains with the Ashkenazi euro Jews) they are a growing political (and numerical) force – one of the more powerful religious parties within Israel is Sephardi: and quite conservative. Sephardi, in proportional terms, are 38% of the population (and a portion of these are Persian, I don’t know what the % is; it’s not an “All Sephardi Jews are Arab by any means”): 38% of the population is Ashkenazi. And the birth rate of the Sephardi Jews is significantly higher than that of the Ashkenazi Jews.

    That most Arabs aren’t Jews is a different thing all together. Arabs who aren’t Jews aren’t welcome, sure; but then again, nor are Russians who aren’t Jews, or French people who aren’t Jews. However – those Arabs who are Jews are welcome (or, were welcomed, back at the formation of the state when the new israeli state removed most them from of their traditional homelands via Operation Magic Carpet).

    Lastly, – it’s not an occupation by the Jewish military; it’s an occupation by the Israeli military; that represents “the” Jewish state, not Jews generally. As above, there are Jews who protest against the existence of Israel, they think it is counter-Jewish. And more than that -there are Druse and Christian members to the army; they’re fighting for Israel (the Jewish state), not the Jewish people, more than half of whom do not live inside Israel, and are thus not represented by the state.

    agh. I think i’m confusing myself just writing this!

    the closeness of the relationship between both groups – Israeli’s and Judaism/Arabs and Islam; in spite of the significant minorities in both groups that are not of the ‘group religion’ – really makes the distinctions hard to make; of delineating the boundaries between one group and the other. I think “Zionist” is an important distinction; is there are comparable world for “non-Jewish Arab”; so that a similar distinction could be drawn?

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    I’d like to steer the conversation back to the poster, and the implications that the construction of the Palestinian cause as a Muslim one impacts Muslim and Christian Palestinian women specifically.

  • Sobia

    @ Jael:

    Palestinians are Arabs. I was talking specifically about that one group of Arabs – not all Arabs.

    I meant to say Israeli military – not Jewish military. That was a typo.

    Now back to the regularly scheduled program.

  • http://www.stop-stoning.org Rochelle

    Agreed, Jael, with everything you said.

  • Safia

    I’m not sure I’d say it’s racism as much as it is reflective of the media attention given to conflicts in the Middle East vs. those in Africa. Most of the world continues to ignore Africa not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know, as mainstream media simply doesn’t cover Africa. Muslims are viewers too.

    Something to throw out… the state of Israel is basically a European colonial state. Early in its history there were romanticized images of the communal kibbutz, of hardy settlers ‘building’ a society of their own… today Western discourse (of governments, rather) on Israel is affirming its status as a land of democracy, liberty, civilization, its seemingly unique position in the Middle East… all familiar to European colonialism and the nation state. So why the shock when Western media is more interested in their affairs? Clearly places like Darfur and Somalia don’t matter, since there is nothing directly ‘Western’ about their conflicts. Israel, on the other hand, is seen as a Western country.

    (That said, I’m not suggesting that Israel/Palestine be dropped by the media, and I’m also not ruling out racism in the Muslim community as a possible factor in explaining this phenomenon)

  • http://forgetbaghdad.blogspot.com Nadia

    I don’t think you can talk about the conflict in a vacuum, the fact is that the Western media also likes to constantly portray it as a Jewish vs. Muslim conflict too and constantly repeats that it’s primarily about religion (not occupation) and that Muslims and Jews have been fighting for 1000s of years (when it’s actually just been 60), and then say that critics of Israeli policy just hate Jews, or that people should support Israel because women have more freedom there, they have freedom of speech, are pro-western etc. So for that reason, I don’t like Palestine being portrayed as a “Muslim” issue because I think it reinforces this binary that it’s two ‘civilizations’ clashing, when it’s a matter of land and people and their occupation and dispossession. And anyways the diversity of the demonstrations around the world shows that it’s not just one particular people that’s concerned about it. I can’t really speak about the priorities of the Muslim community because I’m not a member, I have seen posts around the Arab blogosphere about Somalia over the last year, though not as many. I’ll also say though that you don’t have to go to the middle east to protest stolen land there is plenty going on here in North America.

    Also for purely aesthetic reasons, I think more symmetry between the two portraits would have been more effective visually but that’s just me. Also the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the standard term for journalists and academics, Israeli-Arab when other places like Lebanon is concerned, I don’t see why that would be problematic. If I was talking about the Franco-Prussian war, I’m not saying that all French people are combatants or anything like that.

  • laila

    @ Safia

    Your argument fails, because the support you gave is false! Darfur had received lots of Western media attention which was presented on the news, in opeds newspapers, documentaries, Darfur activists and intellectual, the interviews, the speeches, Save Darfur Coalitions, the movie star endorsements, the quotes, the ads (even t-shirts on MTV), the helping of journalists get to the region. In the Western Media the message has clearly gotten there. We have raised a massive media effort on Darfur in media! So much that some NGO’s claim it has become unhelpful because it focuses on the movement too much and too little on the people.

    However, Dafur has received little media attention from the “Muslim World” (and Muslims in North American), Dafur was avoided like the plague. For instance, Arab Media have poorly covered it if not ignored it, for example the popular station Al Jazeera.

    Your argument that mainstream Western media doesn’t cover it fails, because it has. Perhaps you meant to write mainstream Muslim media does not cover it, and perhaps this includes the Muslim viewers you mentioned.

  • Safia


    Darfur still doesn’t get a fraction of the media attention Israel/Palestine does. And perhaps it isn’t a trendy cause to support in the Arab world like it’s become in Hollywood, but I wouldn’t say the issue has been ignored either. Unless by ‘ignoring’ it you mean that they frame the conflict in a different way that you see in Western media, which continues to insist that it’s an Arab Muslim vs. Black African conflict.

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  • http://mughaldreamer.blogspot.com/ Ammar

    The Darfur problem is not Arab versus African (and where do you make the division), but related to economic and environmental conditions which are expanding the desert and forcing tribes to ally with each other against other tribes. There are alliances among Arab nomads and settled Sudani farmers against other groups of Arab nomads and settled farmers. Its about survival. The land cannot support the population as desertification is expanding. The inflow of arms from Chad, Southern Sudan, and Western countries only further aggravates the situation. Plus the decades of rhetoric against the government of Sudan has hardened the Sudani position. The only way to move forward is to meet as equals and settle this diplomatically.

    Also Kashmiris are not Indian, that is the entire reason they are fighting Hindu occupation. They see themselves as Pakistani Muslims.


  • Sobia


    In Sudan, regardless of the ethnicities or alliances of the parties, the fact remains that Muslims are the victims of genocide here. Muslims need to stop making excuses because we could also make excuses for Israel’s position if we wanted to. The point is that in both situations innocent people are being slaughtered – in one Muslims are up in arms, in the other they are not.

    As for Kashmiris thinking of themselves as Pakistani Muslims – I have to totally disagree. Kashmiris think of themselves as Kashmiris – neither Indian nor Pakistani. I think some of this belief that Indian Kashmiris want to be a part of Pakistan is the propaganda that Pakistanis are fed about Kashmir. The reality is that even Pakistani Kashmiris refer to themselves as Kashmiri, not Pakistani. Kashmiris want their own sovereign state. They do not want to be a part of India or Pakistan. We Pakistanis need to recognize this.

    Indian Kashmiris are Indian, Pakistani Kashmiris are Pakistani. Its a matter of citizenship.

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    That’s it!

    I will approve no more comments on this thread unless they specifically address Sobia’s topics about the poster. Politics are fun and dandy, but this isn’t the place for drawn-out political discussions.

  • http://www.starvingarts.ca Daniel Enright

    I agree. and further, i get the impression that such an image, would also help foreign populations-like my own- again think and distinguish this as a conflict between jews and muslims specifically, unfortunately most people in north america are not smart enough-or should i say-interested enough to learn actual facts about the conflict, therefore end up relying on such images as forms of actual information…errr, very, very reminiscent of nazi postage propaganda. one of hitlers main venues for getting his “message” out to the far reaching population was through very specifically designed images on stamps, which everyone in the german occupied territories had to use as well. images- that being a stamp collector also drew striking similarity in obama’s campaign themes/t-shits/etc. images have always had strong influence on the unaware minds of the masses, so I would have to say that i could not discount any theories on the purposes of such small things as a head scarf or direction in which a person is looking, it is all put there for a very specific reason, and if you look back in history, this has always been a very strong venue for disseminating propoganda.