Palestinian responsibility

The same week the PA introduced a new award to honor press freedom, it launched a crackdown on Palestinian journalists.

Photojournalists photographers journalists reporters 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Photojournalists photographers journalists reporters 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The hypocrisy was mind-boggling. The same week that the Palestinian Authority announced the introduction of a new award to honor press freedom, it launched a crackdown on Palestinian journalists to intimidate them and stifle their voices.
On March 25, Youssef Al-Shayeb, a journalist with the Jordan-based Al-Ghad, was detained on order of the PA’s attorney-general after the journalist published an expose of purported corruption in the PA’s diplomatic mission in France. Al-Shayeb’s report, which appeared at the end of January, alleged that the mission’s deputy ambassador, Safwat Ibraghit, forced Palestinian students to spy on Muslim groups in France and relay information to Palestinian and foreign intelligence services.
Al-Shayeb also reported that Palestinian National Fund director Dr. Ramzi Khouri, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al- Maliki and others helped promote Ibraghit despite complaints leveled against him.
Maliki and others in the PA are now suing Al-Shayeb for $6 million.
Three days later, on March 28, Esmat Abdel Khaleq, a woman who posted remarks about PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Facebook, was also detained and is now reportedly being held in solitary confinement. According to the PA attorney-general, Khalik wrote “Down with the traitor Abbas,” and in another comment called the president a “fascist.” She also called for the dismantling of the PA.
Back in January, another journalist, Rami Samara, working for the official Palestinian news service Wafa, was also arrested for a post on Facebook that ridiculed the PA. Other prominent Palestinian journalists who have been arrested include Mamdouh Hamamreh, from Al-Quds TV, and George Canawati, director of Bethlehem 2000 Radio.
Adding to the sheer absurdity of the situation is the fact that both the United States and the European Union, which provide tens of millions of dollars in annual support to the PA, have ignored the brutal use of force and intimidation to shut down a basic freedom. In other words, the PA is cynically using scarce funds provided by cash-strapped American and European tax payers to perpetuate yet another autocratic regime in the Middle East. The US and the EU – apparently having learned nothing from the Arab Spring, which proved the folly of the West’s attempts to prop up dictatorial regimes – choose to remain silent on this blatant infringement of human rights.
Numerous NGOs that claim to champion human rights – but focus most of their time and energy on scrutinizing and lambasting Israel – have so far been silent about the PA’s totalitarian behavior. So have left-wing journalists who jump at the chance to point out Israel’s faults.
For instance, +972 Magazine, the online news blog that never misses a chance to bash Israel for its supposed injustices, has so far completely ignored the PA crackdown. So has Human Rights Watch (although the NGO did publish a scathing report of the harassment of Palestinian journalists last year).
Special praise is in order for Jerusalem Post journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and Haaretz journalist Amira Hass, who have both fearlessly reported on the plight of Al- Shayeb and Samara. Reporters Without Borders also managed to bring itself to criticize the PA for detaining Al- Shayeb, although it failed to mention the other Palestinian journalists.
The PA’s crackdown coincides with a renewed effort on the part of the Palestinian political leadership to adopt increasingly aggressive and unilateral measures against Israel. The PA’s appeal to the UN Human Rights Council – which incidentally has also ignored the crackdown on Palestinian journalists – to set up a “fact-finding mission” to investigate the impact of settlements on a future Palestinian state is one example. Last week’s Global March to Jerusalem and Land Day demonstrations are two more.
If the Palestinians are truly interested in establishing a sovereign state, don’t they want to do it right by making sure that future state’s institutions – the justice system, the police – protect basic human rights like press freedom? And shouldn’t the US, EU, human rights NGOs and proponents of free speech help Palestinians achieve this goal by devoting more of their time and energy to constructive criticism of the PA and less to bashing or pressuring Israel? Until that change takes place, honors such as a Palestinian award for press freedom can be nothing but ironic reminders of the distance that separates the Palestinian people from responsible self-government.