Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has ordered an investigation into the official PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah for publishing a caricature depicting the Prophet Muhammad on Sunday.
According to official Palestinian news agency Wafa, Abbas emphasized the need to “take deterrent measures against the perpetrator of this grave mistake,” adding that “holy religious symbols, and particularly prophets, should be respected.”
The caricature, by the award-winning cartoonist Muhammad Sabaaneh, depicted a man sitting on a globe, holding a briefcase shaped as a heart, as light spreads from his hands next to a caption reading “our prophet Muhammad.” Page 14 of Al-Hayat Al-Jadidah was not available on the newspaper’s online archive Tuesday.
Satirical depictions of the Prophet Muhammad in the French magazine Charlie Hebdo have been criticized by Muslim pundits and were used to justify a terror attack against the weekly on January 7 that left 12 people dead, including the magazine’s editor and main contributors.
A public outcry in Israel’s Arab community following an announcement by book chain Steimatzky that it intended to sell Charlie Hebdo’s “survivor edition,” depicting Muhammad on its front page, led the company to change course and limit the magazine’s sale to its website.
Yael Yehoshua, the Israel director of Arab media monitor MEMRI, said she could not recall a similar case of a caricature being removed from a PA-funded newspaper after its publication.
“It’s important to note that in this case, it is not a caricature mocking the Prophet but one depicting him in a positive light,” Yehoshua told The Times of Israel in an email.
Sabaaneh, who was not available for comment on Tuesday, explained in a Facebook post that his artwork had been misunderstood.
“The drawing does not depict our Prophet Muhammad or his image, but only alludes to him through the halo of light which he bore,” wrote Sabaaneh. “I reject what some say, that the drawing includes a depiction… I used text to underscore the role of our Prophet Muhammad. The person [in the caricature] represents a Muslim who follows the calling of our Prophet Muhammad, not Muhammad [himself]. The light surrounding him is the light of our Prophet and the goodness emanating is Islam.”
Abbas, who participated in a Paris rally in solidarity with the Charlie Hebdo victims last month, was accused of hypocrisy by Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar, who said Abbas should show more sympathy for his own people.