Palestinians barred from Arab bloggers meet

Program coordinator says the reason Tunisia blocked entry of Palestinian bloggers remains unknown.

tunisian flag_311 reuters (photo credit: Louafi Larbi / Reuters)
tunisian flag_311 reuters
(photo credit: Louafi Larbi / Reuters)
It was supposed to be a gathering of the top 100 bloggers of the Arab world to discuss tactics and lay groundwork for continuing the Arab Spring revolution.
Held where it all began in Tunisia, a traditional ally of the Palestinians and once seat to their exiled leadership, the government mysteriously barred nearly all Palestinian bloggers from attending.
“I can’t even tell you why we didn’t get the visas. It could be bureaucratic. It could be political. We don’t know and we never got an answer,” Lama Hourani, program coordinator for the Heinrich Boell Foundation and one of the co-sponsors of the conference, told The Media Line.
There were at least a dozen Palestinian bloggers who were slated to attend the four-day conference and had applied for visas with the Tunisian representative in Ramallah. But the representative informed them that the Tunisian Ministry of Interior had denied them entry without giving any reason, Hourani said.
“Among all the bloggers from across the Arab world only the Palestinians were denied visas. I can’t say we are the most revolutionary of the bloggers,” Hourani said. 
The Third Arab Bloggers Conference held last week marked the first time that bloggers had been able to speak publically and freely in an Arab capital since the turmoil of the Arab Spring erupted 10 months ago.  Sponsored by Global Voices Online, Heinrich Boell Foundation and Tunisia’s Nawaat Association, it was billed as a gathering of bloggers from 15 Arab countries for sharing experiences, networking and socializing.
But when it became evident that the Palestinians were being barred, bloggers began a campaign to publicize their oppression the same way they promoted the revolution in the Arab world via Facebook, blog sites and twitter.
Palestinian blogger Saleh Dawabsheh said he was greatly disappointed at being denied a visa, but was encouraged by the campaign he was able to help assemble with other bloggers.
“You know when there are, like, 100 bloggers together in one place that would have been a great experience to be shared,” Dawabsheh told The Media Line.  “I feel bad because I was rejected to go there, especially to a country like Tunisia. Because it’s the country where freedom was born. Only we Palestinians got rejected. I feel that I was discriminated [against] by a nice country like Tunisia.”
Several calls to the Tunisian representative in Ramallah for clarification went unanswered.
The snub is even more inexplicable since historically Tunisia has been a close ally of the Palestinians. It allowed Yasser Arafat to relocate the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)  headquarters thee after the Israeli army drove it out of Beirut in 1982. Tunisia also recently backed the Palestinian Authority’s bid for United Nations recognition of statehood.
One well known Tunisian blogger known as Wajd called for a boycott over the exclusion of the Palestinians. “I apologize for my absence, but my presence would mean I accept this as a fait accompli and [consider] the absence of my friends in Palestine an issue of secondary importance [in relation to] to the Forum. Perhaps the forum is important, and very important, but the absence of the Palestinians it is much more important in my view,” they wrote.
Abir Kopty, an Israeli-Arab blogger, called the incident an “insult to the Arab Spring.”
“Are Palestinians part of the Arab world or not? Do not they have enough of Israeli siege and movement restrictions so they will have further restrictions imposed by Arab regimes?” she wrote on her blog.
The bloggers issued a statement condemning the Tunisian’s government exclusion of the Palestinians and demanded an explanation.
“Our joy in coming to Tunis was spoiled by Tunisia’s Interior Ministry’s unjustified and illogical refusal to grant 12 bloggers from Palestine an entry visa to Tunisia to participate in our conference,” the statement said, adding it demanded the Tunisian authorities formally apologize to the Palestinian and Tunisian peoples “for undermining their historical ties” and preventing Palestinians from benefiting from their expertise.
One Palestinian blogger, Saed Karzoun, had attended, which others attributed to the fact that he had submitted his visa request through different channels. He was in transit and not available for comment.
A list of the Palestinian bloggers who were expected to go was published by Palestinian blogger Dalia Othman. They included: Asmaa’ Abdulmawjood (Alghoul), Ebaa Alburai, Mohammed Abu Sharkh, Majd Kayyal, Thameena Husary, Nisreen Mazzawi, Saleh Dawabsheh, Khaled Sharqawi, Bashar Lubbad and Othman herself.
Hourani said the event would have been an opportunity for many Arabs to meet Palestinians from the West Bank and Israeli Arabs face to face, something she said is not a common as thought.
“Some of the Palestinian bloggers are very new and wanted to be introduced to the training sessions and exposed to the technology they would use in their social networks,” Hourani said. “A lot of Arabs don’t have a chance to meet Palestinians from the West Bank or Israeli Palestinians face to face and it would have been a good chance to hear first hand of the experiences of those from occupied lands.
Dawabsheh said the campaign included Facebook actions, on-line petitions and Twitter, which had huge reverberations.
“The Ministry of Interior will not say anything this time, But we are sure they won’t do it another time,” Dawabsheh said.