Israel vs. Palestinians and My Cartoon Trip to the Middle East

The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians still looms large in cartoons around the world, with an endless flow of cartoons from Arab countries showing monster-Israel assaulting, eating, crushing or somehow decimating the poor Palestinians. The dove of peace has been killed by Israel in every imaginable cartoon – crushed, squeezed, stabbed, burned, eaten. Poor bird.

The conflict goes on forever, long after every original cartoon idea has been exhausted. Americans don’t see much of these cartoons because they would be regarded here as anti-Semitic at worst, or as the same thing over and over, at best.

Here I am at the tomb of Yassir Arafat in Ramallah.  That's Yassir, just inside, with his honor guard.  The tomb is surrounded by water, symbolizing that Arafat is in a boat, on his way to Jerusalem. The wreath is a gift from Mexico.
Here I am at the tomb of Yassir Arafat in Ramallah.

After Algeria, my Middle East speaking tour took me to Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian territories. At my first event in Cairo I spoke to a group of Egyptian journalists who brought a newspaper up to me, proudly pointing out that in Egypt, editorial cartoons are often printed big and in color on the front page of the newspaper. The cartoon they showed me would make an American editor choke; it showed a spitting snake, in the shape of a Star of David; inside the snake/star was a peace dove, behind bars, and above the snake, in Arabic, were the words, “It’s not about the bird flu, it’s about the swine flu.”

I explained that in America this cartoon would be regarded as anti-Semitic, and it would never be printed. The Egyptian journalists were emphatic, explaining to me that the cartoon was about Israel, not about Jews – an important distinction to them.

“Israel isn’t mentioned anywhere in the cartoon,” I said.

“But we all know the Jewish star is the symbol of Israel,” they responded.

I said, “It is a religious symbol. It is the same as if I took the star and crescent off of the flag of Pakistan and drew a similar cartoon, saying it was about Pakistan.” They didn’t respond to me, my comment was such nonsense. I continued, “The cartoon seems to say that Jews are like snakes and pigs.”

“No, no! We have lots of symbols for Israel that we all know, like the Jew with black clothes and a big hooked nose!” one of the Egyptian journalists insisted with some passion. “We like Jews, we just don’t like Israel!”

The newspaper with the cartoon disappeared when I mentioned that I would like to scan the cartoon for a column about our spirited conversation. The Egyptian journalists all continued to insist that I misunderstood what the cartoon meant.

I had an opportunity to meet with a group of Palestinian editorial cartoonists in Gaza by teleconference. I sympathize with their plight; the poor cartoonists had almost no outlets to print their cartoons. One of the Gaza cartoonists showed me a cartoon he was proud of, showing an alligator eating a dove. I told him I didn’t understand the cartoon, and he explained that the alligator was blue, “which everyone understands to be Israel” and the dove had green wings, “which everyone understands to be Palestine.”

I tried to come up with some advice for the Gaza cartoonists on how to get their work published. I suggested that they could submit their work to international publications, but that it would be tough if every cartoon was another Israel/monster cartoon. The cartoonists responded to say that in Gaza, they are under siege, and they don’t care to draw anything else.

I suggested that the Gaza cartoonists need to coax Western editors into printing their cartoons, and they would do well to consider some other angles, for example, drawing about their personal experiences and day-to-day difficulties. Palestinian cartoons criticizing Hamas and Fatah are rarely seen and would get reprinted. I spoke with one West Bank Palestinian cartoonist, Amer Shomali, who lost his gig with his newspaper because he insisted on drawing cartoons critical of Fatah; he was so frustrated that he rented a billboard to post a Fatah cartoon that his newspaper refused to publish. The billboard was swiftly taken down.

Here I am in Ramallah with Palestinian cartoonist Khalil Arafeh.
Here I am in Ramallah with Palestinian cartoonist Khalil Arafeh.

I explained to the Gaza cartoonists that when the Israel/Palestine conflict is big in the news, and we post cartoons about the topic on our site, our traffic goes down. Americans are not very interested in events that happen outside of America, especially when it is the same news story, year after year. I told them that the most popular topic ever on our site was Janet Jackson’s boob, and that our readers really like cartoons about cute puppies. Hearing this, the Gaza cartoonists stared at me blankly, and then urged me to organize an international exhibition of cartoons that highlight their plight at the hands of Israel.

Not all Palestinian cartoonists fit the same Israel/monster mold. I met two interesting West Bank cartoonists in Ramallah. The cartoon below is by Khalil Abu Arafeh, who has a nice style and range; he draws for the Al Quds, the big newspaper in the West Bank. This cartoon is about the United Nations Goldstone report, when they were looking for witnesses to testify about Israeli war crimes in the recent Gaza incursion, a lady stands out from the crowd saying, “We are all witnesses.”

"We are all witnesses." Cartoon by Khalil I. Abu Arafeh, of the Palestinian West Bank newspaper Al Quds.

Another interesting Palestinian cartoonist in Ramallah is Ramzy Taweel, who draws about everyday life in the West Bank, and posts his cartoons on Facebook here. I regret that they are all in Arabic, and incomprehensible to most of our American audience, but the cartoons are quite nice.  Befriend Ramzy and take a look at his cartoons. It would be good if we could send a few new Facebook friends Ra
mzy’s way.

After meeting with the Egyptian journalists and Palestinian cartoonists, I spoke in Israel to close to three hundred students in a crowded auditorium at the Bezalel Academy of Art & Design and to a Journalism class at Hebrew University. I also spoke to a journalism class in the West Bank, at Birzeit University. The students were all great fun.

Thanks again to the U.S. State Department for arranging the trip and the speaking engagements.

11/2/09 Postscript
Ramzy Taweel just sent me these interesting cartoons to post here.  Be sure to friend Ramzi on Facebook to see more cartoons.

By Daryl Cagle

Daryl Cagle is the founder and owner of Cagle Cartoons, Inc. He is one of the most widely published editorial cartoonists and is also the editor of The Cagle Post. For the past 35 years, Daryl has been one of America’s most prolific cartoonists.

30 replies on “Israel vs. Palestinians and My Cartoon Trip to the Middle East”

An interesting commentary, which should be published in AND on and DailyKos, etc.

Perhaps one of your imaginative cohort of cartoonists could draw a series of cartoons describing this new Islam of science and poetry, both of which do have antecedents in the past glories of Islam.

It could be couched in a "Return to the Basics" sort of appeal to the Good Old Days when Islam encouraged free thought for all sexes.

Of course it would be necessary to allow people to believe as they wished, and experiment without a death penalty for rejecting any particular belief.

"We're sorry to see you go!" is so much better than "We'll kill you if you leave!" That IS sort of a unique characteristic of the current warped version of what could be a replacement for Scientology…

I'm a hard atheist, but I won't kill you if you aren't…

Interesting account.

What does the Arabic Text say in the last cartoon with the man and the woman talking (where her face turns red in the left panel).

Also, you said that Israel was also included in your trip, but you didn't mention any encounters with Israeli cartoonists.
The Israeli media is very liberal (like the Western Media), did you notice a variety of viewpoints amongst Israeli cartoonists?

Given the 'education' that seems a common denominator in greater Arabia, it would seem that civilization there may be several generations away. We had best secure both our borders as well as energy independence.

I must agree with Roblimo and Michael. I believe you'll find the opinion of Israeli journalists much more varied than those of Egyptian and/or Palestinian journalists.

I also believe many antisemites use anti Zionism or anti Israeli policies as a cover for their anti semitism. It's hard to argue that you;re not anti Jewish when the same cartoons could have appeared in Der Sturm — just substitute Arabic for the Gothic German script. .

You would also be wise to remember this is the Middle East. It used to be: first the Saturday people then the Sunday people. Unfortunately, for them, the Saturday people problem has proven intractable.

Glen, 1st of all education needs to be separated between belief and functional education. Think how many educated Americans believed (and probably many still do) that there was a connection between Iraq and 9/11. Think how many educated Americans continue to believe that you have to wait 6 months to get health care in Canada (which is just not true). Think how many educated Americans claim to not believe in Evolution. Think how little most American's understand foreign politics. If you travel in other countries and read the news presented there, it can be shocking how different it is than what we see/read in the US. The problem is that news is composed of a lot of "lies" in every country (including ours). Some is intentional, some is local perspective, and some is filtering. We all know from Fox News that intentional manipulation can change the meaning of anything. But, even with news outlets that try to be fair and balanced (really fair, not as a marketing slogan), it is easy to color with bias and beliefs.
To take a couple simple examples: We view violent opponents of regimes we like as Terrorists, but of ones we do not like, they are freedom fighters. Usually only difference is what kind of new government they are trying to install.
Another simple example is oppression. Oppression as a word is too big a blanket for too complex a situation in so many cases. In some cases such as when South Africa had Apartheid, it was pretty easy to see real oppression. But, most cases are not black and white (no pun intended). Even the case of the Palestinians: Israel will no longer allow free movement of Palestinians in Israel because of suicide bombers. You can say that such restrictions is oppression, but would you want suicide bombers roaming your streets? Both sides are at fault in complex tit for tat ways (e.g. rockets & settlements), but there is no easy explanation of any of it. So, both sides are always looking for an easy idiom to describe the other side.
We in the West tend to like simple monikers as well. We want to know a group is friendly or terrorists. The complex and murky friends like the Afghani, Pakistani, and Iraqi governments make that very hard. In the previous administration, we were given simpler explanations of each government as friend or foe, and we likely looked about as stupid as those Daryl describes.
Governments and religions will create false beliefs in people because it suits their purposes. This is a classic problem. Just because someone is well educated in something like Engineering, or has been trained how to draw cartoons, does not mean that they are immune to manipulation.

Were you able to find any cartoons of Palestinian suicide bombers? And what about Palestinian or Egyptian cartoons showing God or Allah sitting in judgement of these suicide bombers?
It's curious that there is a commonly held sympathy for the oppressed Palestinians, and how they are constantly held down by the evil state of Israel, while their Arab brothers have perpetuated, for over 60 years, the misery of the Palestinians by supplying them with hate and arms, but no solution!
It almost goes without saying that there do not seem to be any Arabic cartoons of the random raining of missiles launched from Gaza and Lebanon onto Israel. Why do you think that is?

Very interesting experience–thanks for the comments. Being Jewish I feel a kindship to Israel and at times wonder if they are not giving the Palestine's a break UNTIL I read your comments about the attitudes and experiences you had. It is pretty hard to broker a peace or negotiate if there is no one to negotiate with. Until the Arab political leaders allow some degree of freedom of speech to their people and raise the education level, it sure seems hopeless. Your experience with the cartoonists really seemed to bring out that problem.

Are Egyptian and Algerian schoolbooks still depicting Jews in general and Israelis in particular as pigs or dogs or snakes, as they have for decades?

Egyptian officials have repeatedly promised to quit this practice for years, but it still seemed to be prevalent when I was there last year.

Much like Cagle's experience, the individual Egyptians I met were friendly. Because we could speak French, most Egyptians seem to think my wife and I were French, or Canadians, and at such times I did not bother to correct that notion.

Also like Cagle's experience, they could speak volumes about horrifying Jewish atrocities going back hundred or years all over the Middle East, and Israeli crimes going back to 1900 or so, some 48 years before Israel. One man described how his family had to flee Cairo when it was bombed by Israel, a tale pretty much like the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor. They all drew a blank on attacks against Israelis, whether by official Arab armies or less official terrorists.

Paul, you are quite right. We are on the same page. I did not talk about university training, but social 'education.' Education is not just something that happens in school. It is a function of socialization (which does include university training as well as newpaper cartoons). It informs the values and prejudices of any society. Such values are generally slow to change from one generation to the next. 'Cultural lag.' It seems reasonable that it may take several generations before these folks get up to speed. In the meantime it behooves us to be very, very careful with these people. And, of course the United States has similar problems (ask any European) but we tend to be somewhat less homicidal.

It remind me of my Russian friend that he told me that he was sort of brainwashed as well his own people during cold war view us American so different and he was shocked to see huge wrong when come in to study with us. That's how people get brainwashed so bad as view Israel/Jewish so different.
I agree similar issues that my Russian friend said he like me but still not trust my own US government.

I wonder if they had make cartoon about Sunni and Shitte yet. That will be same issue as Fatah and Hamas. We learned to forgive war and killing between Catholic and protestant so long time ago and love each. We work hard to love each other after US civil war. We did admit our awful wrong action against American native and work with them. We now had British as our strong ally after war that we become American. We learned lot of mistakes from capitalism in early time make many laws to prevent bad thing again and still work as today. I wonder when will Middle east people learn to love each other as it still fight, hate, betrayed, open up insult and too closed mind.

Glen, I think the attitudes can change more quickly than you suggest. That is because they are stereotypes that have no actual basis in fact. If the Israelis and the Palestinians work out a 2 state arrangement, I suspect you will see dramatic shifts in attitude across the Arab world. Of course the Arab governments will find new enemies, but there is never a shortage of them to choose from 😉

Wonderful report back on your M/E trip, especially about Palestine…as I'd written you about a friend of mine who is a Gazan prize winning political cartoonist.. It was a sad commentary that you explained that no cartoon like the Egyptian cartoon would ever make it to the Front page of an American paper 'because Americans.."aren't interested in events that happen outside of America, especially when it is the same news story, year after year." like this 60+ yr colonial Occupation…but there are thousands of folks who ARE interested and follow the shifts in coverage and content daily when/if there is any coverage in our media which is very limited or biased towards one side, generally. Your trip has been a fascinating departure from the norm –which means no mention nor communication with "the other" those living under military occupation., so thank you thank you Daryl . Here's hoping that there is more of such cultural/political exchange in future. Our Friends in Gaza and WB NEED to be heard and we, Americans have much to learn from them and their narrative. Peace, Miriam

The reason the described cartoons would be seen as antisemitic is because they are intended to be. They are of the variety used by the Nazis and Jew haters through history. Generations of children have been raised to blame Israel, not their own corrupt regimes and self serving leader for their woes the way the KKK demonized blacks 9and Catholics at one time). it is in their books and culture. The reason there are not many cartoonists not critical of Israel is out of fear; Israelis, Americans and modern Europeans all feel free to criticize their own leadership, not so in the Islamist countries, and Islam may not be depicting unflatteringly in Europe without repercussions and death threats, yet you are concerned these cartoonists hate mongering cartoons would draw objection here….There certainly is a double standard. Israel has been under attack by neighboring countries that want in destroyed, and do not want to live with Jews in their midst, or at all. Try drawing cartoons making fun or drawing attention to Hamas using children and women as shields or encouraging children to commit mass murder. Or, point fun at commandeering ambulances for missions of violence, necessitating their quick passages to hospitals in Israel (where Palestinians prefer to get treated if they can afford it, as I understand) and get these published in newspapers in Islamic states. Hey, bring them on your next visit and try it in person. i suspect they will do more than make the publishers jaw drop.

Janet ….your comments read like a text straight out of the Hasbara playbook….nearly word for word…same old tired nonsense….reflects the sad fact that folks like you exist in an echo chamber …repeating like mantras what you are told instead of reading, thinking for yourself. Try thinking outside of the hasbara box for a few minutes each month….you may actually start to reflect reality instead of propaganda ! Your stereotyping is worn thin and transparently demonstrates your ignorance. Go visit Palestine and see the reality for yourself. No that would take a willing spirit open to truth and justice and obvioiusly you dont have an interest….shonda…

I have a simple way to solve misunderstanding of Islam problem. Nuke all of Islam. It is apparent that the ffollowers of M have one and only one goal in mind. The destruction of the USA and everyone lliving in the USA.

Death to all Muslim.

Carl Marx once said "Religion is the opium of the people (corrected from common misquotes)." Based on your experiences, I would say, "Hatred of Israel is the opiate of the Muslims."

I give Ron Cagle props for pointing out some of the stumbling blocks for Arab cartoonists getting their message across to non-Islamic peoples. They really need to grow up and stop drawing hateful, childish, outdated caricatures of Jews and Americans to make their points. Poking fun is one thing, but using the art of cartooning to spread murderous emotions in a tinderbox of a brainwashed bloodthirsty Madrassa "educated" population is quite another.

There may very well be a Supreme Being. I have no problem with that point of view. It could be true! That's OK with me. Yet Earthly man-created religion is the problem, and it never will be the solution for our conflicts. Ever. It will never cease to divide people. Think about this: If you were the Supreme Being, creator of not only all sorts of living creatures all over the seemingly infinite universe, but atoms, quarks, quasars, cosmic gas, comets, planets, black holes and galaxies, would you give a fig about whether someone on one, just one, of all the gazillions of inhabitable worlds, is a Shiite, Sunni, Jew, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or even atheist? Does any clear thinking person seriously believe there may be Christians or Muslims on some planet on the edge of Andromeda? Give that idea some real thought beyond a superficial knee-jerk response, that is if you are a sober thinking individual who believes in common sense rather than fantasy. I know one thing: if I was that Being, I would ask all the aforementioned parties to kindly cease their divisive nonsense, wake up to reality, and take care of each other, and learn to live together, because our human lives are so limited and short. Take care of each other first, love your neighbor, then we can get around to whether there is or isn't a Supreme Being, God, Allah, Goddess, or whatever. Then the knowledge of a Supreme Being would be the icing on a fantastic cake, instead of grist for endless conflicts.

That said, I have read Muslim cartoons and I think 99% of them are repugnant to the extreme, in spite of the plight of the Palestinians and the oppression of them by Israelis who just want to have a normal day without getting blown to bits by some brainwashed nutcase. I understand that the Radical Islamic editors are to blame, and moderate viewpoints are not allowed to be published, but the net result is that whenever I feel sympathy for these people I then read some of their cartoonist's views and then I feel like a total sucker. And I am not Jewish!

Miriam, thanks for your input, i will have to check out Hasbara. It's encouraging to learn there is a group, or website, or whatever Hasbara is, as I often feel like i am swimming against a tide of close friends who are social activists who claim to be for the rights of Palestinians. They believe that supporting leaders and movements who condone censorship, hatred and bigotry and violence, if done in the name of Islam is justified and culturally sensitive, I think it is incredibly arrogant to assume this is what "they" want, while ignoring what 'they" say, and the impact it has on Palestinians who are sick of having any attempt for peace sabotaged by forces whose non-hidden agenda is the destruction of Israel. When people who claim to be for peace and justice defend Hamas, criticize Israel's defense of its people, and ignore ethnic cleansing and slave trading in the Sudan they are not representing nor striving for either ideal, they are indeed regurgitating propaganda from literally well oiled sources who use the Palestinians as pawns. Thanks again, I do need the encouragement, and would love to travel to any country where I can speak my mind freely without fear of imprisonment for my opinions but cannot afford it. You seem to have a tendency to prejudge a person you have never met. I would suggest you follow the advice you offered me, and perhaps consider seeking out new sources of information, not just opinions.

Daryl, it makes me sad that you could go to a place where people are suffering real oppression every day and not be more aware of their circumstances. Imagine a situation where your livelihood was denied you and your kids were malnourished and you never knew when the Israelis would decide to take out a member of Hamas and get you or one of your loved ones instead… and you tell them to draw cartoons about puppies. Wake up.

Miriam, you are stating your leftist lines without thinking. And you have the nerve to accuse janet of not thinkng.
I'll bet you think that returning to 67 borders will bring peace.

first of all I don't think that meeting with cartoonists for half an hour would be good enough to make a realistic opinion or even call it an experience with Palestinian or Egyptian cartoonists. I have myself a friend who is a cartoonist in the West Bank who tells me Cagle met them for like half an hour, and so just coz he happened to meet few people (and it seems to me those in Egypt were from mainstream media) doesn't mean those you met represent the whole spectrum of political cartoons, to be able to understand media and journalism and specifically cartoons in a country you have to have a little knowledge about the history, politics and culture of that country and especially the social and political taboos and its just silly to think that your stereotypical "knowledge" is sufficient to understand the work of those people, you might say these Egyptian cartoonists are ignorant and superficial but a good question would be why is it easy for those to criticize Israel but not the regime even with the country's armies of unemployed and illiterate ?
as for Palestine, I have to say that in the last 2 years I have seen as many cartoons criticizing the internal divisions between Hamas & Fateh or ones featuring economic and political hardships just as much as those criticizing Israel, if not more.. hence, you have to realize that just at the beginning of this year more than 1400 people were massacred by "the democratic" state of Israel, Gaza lives under siege for more than two years now, many people still live in tents after the offensive and even building materials were not allowed not to talk about the severe scarcity of water and nutrition, in similar circumstances what do you expect people to draw about? does it matter to them that American media won't like such cartoons? or are you suggesting they should edit them in a way to fit in? such a patronizing tone !!

haven't you noticed the numerous checkpoints one has to go through to travel around the West Bank or did the American embassy accompany you with their special cars that can travel through "Israelis only" roads? if standing for 2 hours under the sun or heavy rain -to be allowed to simply go to your work- was ur daily routine maybe then u will realize why cartoonists creativity in portraying Israel as a monster will never be exhausted ..

for Cagle drawing cartoons might be a passion and a nice way to make good money but for many in this part of the world it might be life-threatening !

Miriam –
Can't you see the difficulties of dealing with people like Mira??
He writes: " beginning of this year more than 1400 people were massacred by “the democratic” state of Israel". Sure, he's reasonable and logical. And this is write out of the hasbara book — Which democratic state in the Middle East should we admire? The one in Libya, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Syria, Iran. Please tell me which government you praise. Even the wonderful Jordan has a king who was the son/grandson/greatgrandson of a king.

Wow Daryl! A whole half hour with some Gazans over the phone. What deep insights you bring back from such mysterious lands. Perhaps you traded some beads and mirrors for skins? And how nice of you to dispense your vast American insights onto their daily lives. We really need Americans lecturing on Middle East peace more, that's what I say! Silly Gazans always complaining about Israel! By the way are they letting pens into Gaza again? They have been banned for quite some time now. Obviously those Egyptians are all anti-Semites as well. Of course you can't criticise Israel using imagery from their flag, preposterous barbarians!

P.S. How come you only met with the Gazans via teleconference?

Perhaps once you have finished painting these people as anti-semitic barbarians with pointless fixations of persecution you could grow a pair and actually go to Gaza.

Servant's mistaken claims about ethnic cleansing: there is no effort or desire by Israel's government to wipe out Palestinians, or they would not have a longer life expectancy there than those living in the neighboring countries. The refugee camps are the result of those countries refusing citizenship to them (the Jordanians never made the West Bankers citizens, Arabs in Israel are, and they are not forced to convert, nor given the status of dhimi, as occurs to non-Muslims in many of those countries). Ethnic cleansing is what is happening in Darfur, where people are being slaughtered, raped and their villiages burned; not because they are harboring terrorists but for ethnic cleansing. Recognition that israel has the right to exist, and stopping of attempts to wipe out its people is the only way that peace should come there. Destruction of Israel still would not bring peace to that region, historically speaking.

Babushka: I would think the chained fetus means that they're all chained even before they're born.
Palestinian "national aspirations" do not require the destruction of Israel. Some extremists (on both sides) want it to seem that way, and are willing to derail the peace process by any means possible. Given that more moderate attempts at negotiations only seemed to have brought a Palestine surrounded by walls, crossed by illegal Israeli "settlements" & their access roads, etc., peaceful, moderate means do not seem to have benefitted the Palestinians much. Granted, violence doesn't help most Palestinians either, but it does help the radicals, and whoever they're working for (probably not the Palestinian people, given how their long history of been used & manipulated by various promises for the past few centuries).

Thanks for sharing this trip report.
It seems to me that there are a few areas of concern here:
1- Lack of adequate political freedom in the Middle East.
This does not allow cartoonists to freely express themselves in many subjects and issues.
2- "Self-imposed" censorship and lack of political freedom in the US in particular, when it comes to reporting on the Israel-Palestine conflict. That's why Americans will not understand even the most basic of cartoons generated in the Middle East. It's because they have not been able to read about the "context" and the issues. How many Americans know about Israel's current Apartheid Wall, versus the East German "Anti-Freedom" Wall?
3- I agree that religious symbols should not be used in most contexts. However, the Star of David, for example, as specifically designed for the Israeli flag, is NOT a religious symbol. In the US and elsewhere, Israeli propaganda machine has been attempting to make "Judaism" equal to "Israel" equal to "Zionism". This is their way of curailing the freedom of critics – Jews, or non-Jews – to criticize Israel.

I just stumbled upon this thread now. I have read your stuff for years. This helps me SO much. I am a Middle East expert, presently putting together a course on Middle East comics, cartoons, animations. So sure, you may be new to some of this, but I couldnt draw a cow if my life depended on it. As for all these "expert" comments, well, suffice it to say that like anything, the truth lies somewhere between the lines…. Anyway, thanks for this. I can't tell you how much this willl help me.

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