Arguments have erupted on social media between Saudi and Palestinian activists over a TV programme on Saudi-run MBC. Palestinians are outraged that some Saudi activists have said that they are the enemy, not Israel. The issue arose after an episode of a comedy show, Makhraj 7.
In the scene in question, a Saudi actor advocates for the normalisation with of relations with Israel: "The enemy is the one who does not appreciates your support and insults you day and night more than the Israelis do," says the character. "Palestinians attack Saudi Arabia verbally despite everything it has done for them over the decades." Social media uproar followed.
It's no surprise that Israeli officials, including those in the Prime Minister's office, have praised the growing Gulf film and TV sector, as it promotes the Israeli narrative. This particular scene was translated into Hebrew and shared widely on Israeli mainstream and social media. In response, some Palestinians asked if the scriptwriter and production team are Israelis, while others launched #BoycottMBC to express their outrage over the policy of the Saudi channel.
"Israel is the enemy and will never be a brotherly Zionist enemy, it will remain an unjust enemy," tweeted Gaza-based political analyst Ibrahim Al-Madhoun. "We will resist it and sacrifice our blood and souls and remain steadfast for our land. Those who abandoned us and let us down will not harm us and everyone who stands with the occupation will regret their position and lose. No matter how much you spend on dramas and media to falsify consciousness, you will fail."
The relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Palestinians has cooled over the past few years due to funding and pressure to accept the US-sponsored "deal of the century". Riyadh's relationship with Hamas has also worsened, with scores of Palestinians being arrested in the Kingdom because of their connections to a "terrorist movement".
According to one Palestinian writer, though, the people of Palestine should not be surprised to see Arabic drama programmes which disrespect their cause. "We should be ashamed of our disunity as Palestinians before we start criticising others," Akram Attallah told me. "We need to present a new transparent image of ourselves and refrain from being greedy to power and money. We must rid ourselves of corruption in order for others to respect us."
The MBC show was broadcast just days after an online attack by Saudi activists and Gulf trolls about a cartoon by a Palestinian which they believe insults Saudi Arabia. Following the oil price crash last week, the cartoon was drawn by Mahmoud Abbas, who lives in Sweden. The image showed a barrel of crude oil rolling after an Arab man wearing traditional Gulf clothing. It went viral on social media and drew fierce responses from Saudis, who assumed that the character represented the Saudi oil industry. Hashtag #PalestineIsNotMyCause was launched with some celebrities, writers, activists and anti-Palestinian trolls expressing their anger and accusing the Palestinians of being ungrateful for financial support from Saudi Arabia for the past few decades. A counter-campaign was launched by Palestinians using #PalestineIsMyCause and #IsraelIsTheEnemy.
Another controversial drama called Um Haroun is on MBC1 and also attracts criticism from Palestinians and other Arabs. It looks at the presence of Jews in the Gulf pre-1948, before the creation of Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. Critics say that the programme pushes the normalisation strategy of some Arab regimes by distorting history and erasing Palestinian identity. Not surprisingly, it is viewed with delight in Israel.
Israeli army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Avichay Adraee expressed his excitement on twitter: "I liked what [Kuwaiti] actress Hayat Al-Fahed — "Um Haroon" in the series — said about Jews who were present everywhere and this was mentioned in God's book and that there are many religions in Kuwait."
According to Abdel Bari Atwan of the London-based Rai Al-Youm, "Um Haroun is the most dangerous of the normalisation programmes. It claims that it is prescribed for the Jews to return to the Arabian Peninsula and to Khaybar region in particular."
Cartoonist Mahmoud Abbas spoke to me about the online attacks against him and the Saudi-produced drama series. "They attacked me because I'm a Palestinian. It's clear it's a policy to demonise Palestinians and pave the way for full normalisation with Israel."
Some believe that normalisation is nothing new, but it has been boosted by developments in the Gulf, with young leaders like Saudi Arabi's Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman coming to the fore. This has given a green light to normalisation activists, either in the mainstream or social media.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, however, still insists that Saudi Arabia and all of the other Arab states are supportive of the Palestinian cause. "In the name of our president, I urge our people to refrain from insulting any Arab person wherever he is. The Kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] and its leader and people are very dear to our hearts".
He went on to urge "our Saudi brothers" not to make sweeping generalisations about Palestinians if one or two happen to insult them. "Such insults do not represent the official Palestinian stance and we do not take some individual Saudi insults as if they represent the official stance [in Riyadh]. I hope such mutual insults end soon."
Israeli-produced films on international viewing platforms such as Netflix are part of a coordinated Hasbara — propaganda— campaign to polish Israel's image. Arab programmes like those noted above will give such propaganda a boost.
These recent incidents aside, the lukewarm relationship between the PA leadership and Saudi Arabia suggests that the Palestinian cause has become a burden for some regional states. It no longer looks like the central cause of the Arab and Muslim nations given the open and accelerated normalisation process.
The hashtag #PalestineIsNotMyCause is a stab in the back of all Palestinians everywhere, because they have a legitimate cause. Internal divisions between Palestinians have been encouraged by Israel and its supporters. The people of Saudi Arabia and elsewhere should not allow the Zionists to sow such seeds of division across the region.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.