In 1930s Jerusalem, a young boy walks to school through the narrow, stone paved streets of the Old City. Every morning, as he reaches Damascus Gate, he passes a group of men gathered at a local coffee shop to listen to the latest news.
His name is Hazem Nusseibeh, and over eighty years later, he describes the scene to us from his home in Amman. “Big groups would come in from the villages near Jerusalem,” he says. “Their faces would be pink from all the walking and they would be carrying baskets of grapes and figs.”
Sneaking Past The Censors
At first glance, there is also something mysterious about the cartoons themselves: the way they suddenly became popular, then just as suddenly faded back into obscurity. Before and after the 1936 Great Arab Revolt, political cartoons rarely appeared in Palestinian newspapers and as the conﬂict intensiﬁed, they became more frequent.
It is no coincidence that as tensions in Palestine rose, British censorship of newspapers increased. Journalists were jailed, the publication of certain types of information was banned and daily newspapers were closed down for publishing “dangerous” articles. More than once, the British suspended all four Arabic dailies at the same time for what they considered to be provocative articles. During the early phase of the revolt, Arabic newspapers were suspended thirty-four times, while the Jewish press was suspended thirteen.
In this repressive atmosphere, political cartoons were useful because subversive messages could be shifted from the text to the image, where they were more likely to pass censorship regulations.
Though they may seem simple and direct, some of these cartoons contained multiple layers of symbolism.
The June 1936 Falastin cartoon titled The Zionist Crocodile to Palestine Arabs tells a multifaceted story about the colonization of Palestine.
The bug-eyed crocodile salivates as he prepares to devour Arab fallahin and their citrus groves, his tail emerging from the sea like a ship’s ramp. He embodies two key strategies of early Zionism: gaping jaws representing the colonization of indigenous land through Zionist land acquisition, and scaly tail alluding to the arrival of tens of thousands of European settler colonists to Palestine by ship.
- Nusseibeh, Hazem. Interview by Thoraya El Rayyes & Ibrahim Tarawneh, Amman (2015), sound recording.
- Khalidi, Rashid. The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood. Beacon Press, 2007.
- Shaw, Sir Walter Sidney. Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances of August, 1929: Evidence Heard During the 1st [-47th] Sittings, HM Stationery Office, 1930.
- Sufian, Sandy. “Anatomy of the 1936–39 Revolt: Images of the Body in Political Cartoons of Mandatory Palestine”, Journal of Palestine Studies 37, No.2 (2008).
- Shaw. Report of the Commission on the Palestine Disturbances.
- Sufian, Sandy. “Anatomy of the 1936–39 Revolt: Images of the Body in Political Cartoons of Mandatory Palestine”, Journal of Palestine Studies 37, No.2 (2008), p. 25.
- Ibid, p. 27.
- Ibid, p. 30.
- Tamari, Salim, and Issam Nassar. The Storyteller of Jerusalem: the Life and Times Wasif Jawhariyyeh, 1904-1948, Olive Branch Press: 2013.
- Sufian. “Anatomy of the 1936–39 Revolt,” p. 30.
- Azoulay, Ariella. “Photographic Conditions: Looting, Archives, and the Figure of the” Infiltrator”, Jerusalem Quarterly, No. 61 (2015): 6