Muzzling press freedom in Occupied Palestine
To begin with, I would like to point out that I am writing this article at the risk of being arrested for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the Palestinian Authority (PA) image.
However, the cause of press freedom in Occupied Palestine is too important to be compromised by fears for one’s safety.
Sounds like a brave man. And he may be. But his opening sentence is packed with ludicrous notions: a) there is a cause of press freedom in “Occupied Palestine”; b) it’s only for “incitement” and “tarnishing” the PA image that he runs risks (try criticizing Hamas and see who shows up at your door); and c) it’s “Occupied Palestine” that’s the problem. On the contrary, the closest thing to press freedom Palestinians ever experienced was under Israeli “occupation.” It’s when the place was handed over first to Arafat, and then in Gaza to Hamas, that press freedoms — and freedom of speech — vanished.
As one Palestinian in “occupied Jerusalem” put it: “At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison…” Another, from an area that rioted in 2000 against Israel, but balked ferociously at being “transferred” to Arafat’s Palestine in a land-exchange deal, said: “Here you can say whatever you like and do whatever you want — so long as you don’t touch the security of Israel. Over there, if you talk about Arafat, they can arrest you and beat you up.”
Pipes quotes Palestinians about “Freedom of Expression”:
‘Adnan Khatib, owner and editor of Al-Umma, a Jerusalem weekly whose printing plant was burned down by PA police in 1995, bemoaned the troubles he’d had since the Palestinian Authority’s heavy-handed leaders got power over him: “The measures they are taking against the Palestinian media, including the arrest of journalists and the closure of newspapers, are much worse than those taken by the Israelis against the Palestinian press.” In an ironic turn of events, Na‘im Salama, a lawyer living in Gaza, was arrested by the PA on charges he slandered it by writing that Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy. Specifically, he referred to charges of fraud and breach of trust against then-prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Salama noted how the system in Israel allowed police to investigate a sitting prime minister and wondered when the same might apply to the PA chieftain. For this audacity, he spent time in jail. Hanan Ashrawi, an obsessive anti-Israel critic, acknowledged (reluctantly) that the Jewish state has something to teach the nascent Palestinian polity: “freedom would have to be mentioned although it has only been implemented in a selective way, for example, the freedom of speech.” ‘Iyad as-Sarraj, a prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, confesses that “during the Israeli occupation, I was 100 times freer [than under the Palestinian Authority].”
So, granted, the PA are thugs and don’t allow freedom of expression, but alas for our intrepid journalist trying to stand up for freedom of the press in “occupied Palestine,” the only time there was anything like “freedom of the press” was when the Israelis really did occupy the land.
Hence, journalists and free-minded citizens must not allow themselves to be intimidated by a police-state apparatus that views itself as God’s vicegerent on earth.
In recent weeks and months, the American-backed and Israeli-favored regime in Ramallah has been systematically violating the human rights and civil liberties of the Palestinian people in ways unseen since the start of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967.
That’s choice. One wonders whether the author of this piece, who was 10 when the Israelis took over the administration of his city (Hebron) remembers very well what kind of human rights there were before the Israelis came, or whether he’s working with the “memory” of his “national narrative.” Under the Jordanians, it’s hard to argue that there were any serious “human rights” at play that the Israelis could have violated. The Jordanians made sure there were no institutions of higher learning (Bir Ziet was a junior community college), and there was no freedom of the press. When the Jordanians killed tens of thousands of Palestinians during Black September, there were no courts, human rights organizations, or laws to protect them from the wrath of the state.
So this idea that the current crack-down is the worst since the Israeli one is ludicrous from two points of view. Not only is the point of comparison — the Israelis — the product of a manufactured memory of victimization, but what he leaves out is even worse. Whatever Fatah is doing on the West Bank is surely not significantly different, and may be considerably less nasty, than what Hamas is doing in Gaza. An honest remark by Amayreh would be more along the lines of
Of course, that would mean abandoning the “narrative of suffering” that feeds Amayreh’s mindset, and even if it would mean being more honest and beginning to contribute to real change, that’s apparently beyond his abilities.
This is done in utter violation of the rule of law and is mainly aimed at consolidating Fatah’s domination in the region. In short, it seems that the PA, not Hamas, is enforcing a ruthless regime whereby all forms of dissent are suppressed by brute force.
Now if there’s anything that most observers agree on, it’s that there’s never been a “rule of law” under Palestinian self-rule. Indeed, the failure to establish an independent judiciary was one of Arafat’s salient failures. The only source of “rule of law”, alas, was under the Israelis, and that would be too humiliating to admit.
Again, to cite Pipes’ medley of Palestinian comments comparing Israeli and Palestinian rule:
Rule of law. As the intifada of 1987 degenerated into fratricidal murder and became known as the “intrafada,” PLO leaders increasingly appreciated Israeli fairness. Haydar ‘Abd ash-Shafi‘, head of the Palestinian delegation to the Washington peace talks, made a remarkable observation in 1992 according to a transcript published in a Beirut newspaper: “Can anyone imagine that a family would be happy to hear a knock at the door in the middle of the night from the Israeli army?” He continued: “When the infighting began in Gaza, the people were happy because the Israeli army imposed a curfew.” Likewise, Musa Abu Marzouk, a high-ranking Hamas official, scored points against Arafat in 2000 by comparing him unfavorably with the Jewish state: “We saw representatives of the Israeli opposition criticize [Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak and they were not arrested … but in our case, the Palestinian Authority arrests people as the first order of business.”
Note, this is largely criticism of the PA (Fatah). Since Hamas has taken over, “rule of law” has taken on a whole new meaning.
As for the attempt to shift the blame from Hamas to Fatah — “the PA, not Hamas (?!), is enforcing a ruthless regime” — it tells us a great deal about the reliabillity of the author. But it also raises an interesting question: what’s a Western educated, allegedly secular journalist, doing, shilling for Hamas?
To be sure, not only press freedom is suffering under the fear-inspiring regime being imposed on the Palestinian masses in the West Bank, thanks to American, Israeli and European bullying. The PA has been arresting people and closing down or taking over academic, health and charitable institutions ever since Hamas’s counter-coup in Gaza more than 14 months ago.
Now we have some clues to what’s going on. This isn’t about Fatah or Hamas, it’s about anti-Westernism. Hamas is absolved of “human rights violations” because it remains adamantly anti-Israel and anti-Western (and maybe because criticizing Hamas is an invitation to danger). Fatah, as soon as it’s seen doing the bidding of the West, becomes the enemy. Shades of the Guardian on the Georgian conflict.
However, press freedom always serves as an accurate barometer reflecting the status of human rights and civil liberties in any given country.
Today press freedom in the West Bank is coming under attack by the PA. In recent weeks, Palestinian security agencies stepped up efforts to muzzle press freedom and intimidate non-conformist journalists who criticize the PA or voice views deemed antithetical to PA policies and political goals.
Many journalists, especially cameramen, have been beaten and injured at the hands of security men and no real measures are taken to prevent the recurrence of this worrying phenomenon.
Of course, this has been going on for… ever in the Arab world and in “Palestine.” Think of the cameramen, sympathetic to their cause like Mark Seager, who were beaten at Ramallah during the savage murder of two Israeli reservists on October 12, 2002. The issue here is not new, it’s just new to Amayreh because until now, his ox has not been gored. As long as journalists trash the Israelis and support the Palestinians, they can avoid violence. Now that there’s internecine strife, taking sides means having some Palestinian faction coming down on you.
PA leaders readily make statements denouncing assaults on journalists. However, these assaults continue unabated, even assuming added ferocity, which suggests that the PA leadership is either losing control over the security agencies or that it is not really sincere about protecting journalists from the truncheons of PA policemen.
Two weeks ago, the PA Preventive Security Force (PSF) arrested Awadh Rajoub from his office in the town of Dura in the Hebron region. Rajoub works for the Arabic service of al-Jazeera.net and writes irregular reports for a number of Arabic publications based in the occupied territories and abroad.
According to his relatives, Rajoub has been accused of spreading “incitement against the Palestinian Authority” and of “endangering national unity,” a tacit reference to criticisms of the Ramallah-based regime, especially its clampdown on civil society.
Such logic is classic honor-shame logic: write critical things and you “endanger national unity”. That’s why as long as it’s directed at a common enemy like Israel or the USA, it’s fine and brings no crackdown. Second, there never has, and it will be a long time before there will be a real civil polity in “Palestine” under Arab rule. It’s a fiction to pretend that what’s happening is fundamentally new.
Rajoub, 30, has been harshly interrogated in connection with his work and threatened to be tried by a military court. The PA is not a state, it is not even a semi state or state-in-the-making since it has no authority or sovereignty of its own.
Indeed, should this kind of treatment by the PA of its own citizens be a harbinger for the future, I am sure the Palestinians, or most of them, would want to remain under Israel’s nefarious occupation until the prospect for real freedom and true liberation is in sight.
And, given the sentiment of the sentence, just what makes them nefarious?
Mustafa Sabri, a journalist from the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya, has also been languishing in PA custody for several weeks in connection with his writings, deemed “not inline with” with “national interest”
Sabri, too, is accused of writing “tendentious material” that could undermine Palestinian regime’s public image. However, it is widely believed that his political orientation is the real reason behind his arrest and continued incarceration. Last week, Sabri was transferred to the custody of the “military intelligence” where concocted charges were leveled against him, including “assaulting a police officer.”
His lawyer told this writer that “there is no legal basis for keeping my client behind bars; his arrest is in violation of all Palestinian laws.”
Undoubtedly, the arrest of journalists constitutes a flagrant breach of press freedom and a clear violation of Palestinian press laws.
The Palestinian press law states that “no security agency has the right to question, interrogate or detain a Palestinian journalist on matters pertaining to his or her work.”
Hence, it is clear that the PA is violating its own laws with regard to press freedom.
The PA might think that arresting and harassing journalists would force them to exercise “self-censorship.” This might be partially true, especially with young journalists struggling to build a professional career from scratch.
However, in the long run, this stupid policy is self-defeating since hiding the truth from citizens and the world at large is an impossible task in the age of the internet. Hence, it is only fragile and insecure regimes that adopt a hostile attitude to press freedom.
There is a certain irony here, since the Palestinians have managed to defy the dynamics of the “age of the internet” and continue to pawn Pallywood narratives off on the Western media. The “self-censorship” of journalists in the Palestinian territories — both Western and Arab — is pervasive.
More to the point, the PA security agencies have lately begun to interfere with the editorial policies of some local news agencies for the purpose of making sure they don’t deviate from “the official line.”
Unfortunately, some of these news agencies have effectively succumbed to this intimidation.
A few days ago, this writer sought in vain to post an Arabic article on the webpage of a European-funded news agency. The article highlighted the plight of thousands of Palestinian school teachers who haven’t received regular salaries for close to two years because of doubts about their loyalty to the PA regime.
Some of these teachers, who teach “nationalist education” in morning classes are forced to work in Jewish settlements in the West Bank in the afternoon in order to make ends meet.
Unfortunately, the editor-in-chief of the that news agency, bruited abroad as a free and independent news outlet, refused to post the article without any explanation.
Meanwhile, PA security agencies are trying even to suppress people’s thoughts and ideas.
This week, Palestinian security officials summoned for questioning a former journalist from the southern part of the West Bank in connection with an internet article written by a distant relative.
The man told the interrogating “officer” that he had nothing to do with the article and that he had stopped writing a long time ago.
However, the condescending officer told the man that he realized that he didn’t write the article himself, and that he only suspected that the ideas contained in the article were inline with his way of thinking.!!!!
There are those who would cite press freedom violations by the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip to justify or at least extenuate the gravity of what is happening in the West Bank. However, it is amply clear that whatever is happening in Gaza can’t be compared in terms of proportionality and gravity to what is happening in the West Bank.
I’m not sure what he means here. Of course, the evidence for violating press freedoms in a society that has few if any — like both Palestinian territories — is hard to get or assess. But surely there’s plenty of evidence that there’s no such thing as press freedom in Gaza, where the shut down of opposition papers has already taken place. A report from a year ago notes the following:
Muzzling the Media. Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post reported last week that Hamas’s Executive Force (EF) prevented the distribution of three Fatah newspapers, including the al-Ayyam and al-Hayat al-Jadida dailies, in the Gaza Strip. Hamas even took some of the newspapers’ circulation officials into custody for a short time. This is the first time that West Bank newspapers were ever barred from the Gaza Strip. According to the al-Jazeera website, Hamas attacked two cameramen from the Abu Dhabi satellite television channel, and stormed the Gaza bureau of Al-Arabiya satellite channel. Moreover, the EF has closed a pro-Fatah television station and radio station. In fact, Hamas now controls all electronic media in Gaza, except one radio station linked to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), another Iran-backed terrorist organization.
As an independent-minded and free-thinking journalist who has withstood and continues to withstand Israeli repression and harassment, I unhesitatingly denounce in the strongest terms all violations of press freedom, regardless of the political identity and ideological affiliation of the victim and the perpetrator.
The posturing is impressive. It’s fairly easy to “withstand Israeli repression and harassment,” since even as occupiers, the Israelis play by Western rules. Amayreh might rethink, however, just what it means to be independent-minded. Of course, that would mean rethinking the issue of who contributes most to his people’s suffering. Instead, Amayreh seems to be a master of the Palestinian narrative of suffering and the Israelis as demons. In an article entitled “Celebrating murder,” Amayreh tried to argue that because the Israelis made an attack at Purim it was so they could celebrate the deaths of Palestinians. This came during the Intifada (March 2004), when Palestinians celebrated the murder of Israeli civilians with particular gusto — a classic projection characteristic of the Palestinian narrative in which they accuse Israel of their most revolting traits.
Earlier this week, I contacted my friend Saleh al Naami, a journalist of impeccable credentials, and asked him if Fatah-affiliated journalists were being detained by the Gaza Authorities.
It’s hard to know what the expression “impeccable credentials” means in Gaza. After all, Talal abu Rahmeh has been sold to us as having impeccable credentials. A quick look suggests that al Naami is good at saying the right thing: in a piece on the misery of the Gaza Strip a year ago, he managed to blame Israel, and make both Fatah and Hamas look good. Not a word of suggestion that the “catastrophic deterioration in health conditions” might have something to do with Hamas’ insane dedication to attacking Israel.
Al-Naami said the following:
“I don’t know of any journalist being arrested in Gaza. A journalist working for a German Television network was detained recently for a few days in connection with the violence that struck the Gaza beach in June, but he has been released.”
Well that tells us a great deal about al Naami’s reliability/honesty. Here’s part of a report from Reporters without Borders about the arrest of this journalist.
On 26 July , Hamas forces also arrested Fouad Jarrada of the Palestinian government TV station and Amro Farra, a correspondent of the Palestinian government news agency. In the West Bank, Fatah forces arrested Alaa el Titi, a correspondent of the Hamas TV station Al Aqsa, and Mostapha Sabri, the editor of the newspaper Falastin. More than 50 journalists have been arrested in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank since Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
As for al-Naami’s insipid account of the arrest of the journalist working for German television (ARD), it tells us more about him than the incident in which the Palestinian journalist working for ARD — no German reporter in his right mind will live in the Gaza Strip — was kidnapped by masked men and tortured for five days.
“He was tortured during his detention,” he said. “He was questioned about the work of ARD. They wanted to know everything about the staff and correspondents and why ARD reported so much negative news about Hamas.”
Not surprisingly, he came out scared:
Schneider said Saif had been told that he would remain under surveillance after his release and that the cameraman was afraid of further mistreatment.
In any case, both the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and the Hamas government in Gaza are strongly urged to immediately put an end to all forms of press freedom violations. This is the right thing to do, and Palestine is too tired and too exhausted to be dragged into another internal strife which could only debilitate and exhaust us further.
This conclusion offers a perfect summation of what’s wrong with Amayreh and Palestinian culture. The problem goes so much deeper than he imagines (or will let us know he imagines). There’s no way that either Fatah, or Hamas, or any Palestinian government is going to “put an end to all forms of press freedom violations.” That’s partly because the dynamics of an honor-shame culture make public criticism of public authorities an act of unacceptable aggression that must be responded to with violence, which is why there’s no real press freedom anywhere in the Arab world. But it’s also because journalists like Amayreh, who have the perspective and intelligence to tackle these problems at their core, prefer the self-deluding narrative whereby anti-Zionism and anti-Americanism trump any serious self-criticism.
If he wants to know what press freedom is and how to sustain it, he’d have to go study in Israel. How humiliating.
Get used to exhaustion. For years and decades you tried to exhaust the Israelis. Then it seemed like a good idea. But now you get the blowback of having corrupted your society, learned nothing, and gone nowhere but down.
August 21, 2008 By Khalid Amayreh in the Occupied Palestinian territories
No, in the Palestinian-Occupied Territories. And, as even you admit, Palestinian occupation ain’t no fun.
This article embodies the paralysis of Palestinian intellectuals. Imprisoned in a narrative that was designed by exploitative elites to scapegoat the Israeli enemy and avoid blame, that bred hatred and intolerance as the first response to frustration, that created a fictitious past from which no serious future can be developed. As a result we have empty posturing designed to garner the admiration of progressive dupes.
Pity the Palestinian people.