Hannah Moushabeck is acquisitions editor of Interlink Publishing, which released Wafa’ Tarnowska’s Amazing Women of the Middle East (under the Crocodile Books imprint) in 2021, to considerable controversy. That book’s colorful map of the Middle East erases Israel (replacing it with “Palestine”), and, though Jews originate from the Middle East and Jewish and Israeli women have contributed enormously to Middle Eastern culture,[i] the book includes no Jewish Middle Eastern women. [ii]
Homeland, Moushabeck’s recently-released picture book account of her father’s childhood in the Old City of Jerusalem, offers a nostalgic look backwards at a seemingly idyllic childhood in East Jerusalem, from which Hannah’s family fled in 1948 in the wake of what she calls al-Nakbah, “the catastrophe.” As Moushabeck explains in the Author’s Note, the family fled to the Greek Orthodox Monastery next to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem, where her great-grandfather was allowed to remain because he was a mukhtar (a community leader). The rest of the family was allowed to visit the Jordanian-occupied Old City from 1947 until 1967, when Israel won a lightning victory in the Six-Day War and reunited Jerusalem. The family now lives in the United States but, at least in this account, continue to view themselves as refugees.
Homeland is not explicitly hostile to Israel; Israel and Jews are simply erased from text and illustrations. Indeed, no child reading this book will learn that there was ever anything Jewish about Jerusalem. Moushabeck’s Jerusalem is judenrein.
On one two-page spread, we view a charming streetscape of the Old City. The text notes that the grandfather spoke many languages, but the pedestrians’ speech balloons include Arabic, English, and Greek — no Hebrew, though Jerusalem had a Jewish majority in 1948.
A panoramic view of the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif shows the dome of the al-Aqsa Mosque on the left, an Arab child flying a Palestinian flag from a rooftop in the center, and the golden Dome of the Rock on the right. Flying above these sites are five pigeons, each holding the iconic Palestinian key (their symbol of a purported “right of return”) in its beak. The message: In the grandfather’s words, the pigeons aren’t flying away because “this is their home.”
As Moushabeck tells the story, no Jews lived in the Old City, so none were ethnically cleansed on May 28, 1947, when the Jordanians captured the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and purged it of Jews. Though I was saddened to read that her family lost their home in Katamon, Moushabeck expresses no regret that the Jordanians obliterated 3000 years of Jewish Jerusalem, destroyed all but one of Jerusalem’s 35 synagogues, and forced the exile of its Jewish residents.
Though charmingly illustrated, this book offers a litany of resentment, understandable but unjustified. Moushabeck’s family home was lost in a war begun by the Arabs, who refused to recognize the United Nations’ 1947 vote for the partition of Mandate Palestine, which Israel accepted. Had this vote been accepted by the Arab leadership, two new states, one Arab, one Jewish, would have been created, and Moushabeck’s family would be able to use their key today.
[i] Among these were Egyptian Jewish film actress Rachel Abraham Levy, and singer Leila Mourad. Henrietta Szold, the founder of Hadassah, provided health care to all children, no matter their faith, in hospitals in pre-state Israel and after the founding of the state.
[ii] Moushabeck’s interview with the author, which does not address the erasure of Jews from her book, can be viewed on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDud50-z2Wg
Photo of Jordanians expelling Jews from the Old City in 1948 from The Tower: www.thetower.org/article/photos-jerusalem-before-1967