Harassment of the media under the PA and Hamas is similar to that under Bashar Assad’s Syria or even North Korea, but many Palestinian journalists prefer to bash Israel than to demand the release of their colleagues from prison.
By: Bassam Tawil/The Gatestone Institute
As part of its overarching effort to silence critics, President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) has resumed its war against Palestinian journalists who refuse toe the line or are suspected of being insufficiently loyal to their leaders in Ramallah.
But this is nothing new: Abbas and his team have long been notoriously intolerant of news stories that reflect negatively on them in particular and on Palestinians in general.
In the past few days, PA security forces arrested six Palestinian journalists from Bethlehem, Nablus and Hebron. The journalists — Mamdouh Hamamreh, Qutaiba Kassem, Tarek Abu Zeid, Amer Abu Arafeh, Thaer Al-Fakhouri and Ahmed Al-Halaykeh — are suspected of “leaking sensitive information to hostile parties.”
This is the first time that Abbas’s PA has made such a ridiculous charge against Palestinian journalists. In an attempt to justify the latest crackdown on freedom of the media, Abbas’s news agency, Wafa, published a statement by an unnamed “senior security source” who said that the detained journalists were being interrogated about their role in “leaking sensitive information to hostile parties.” The detained journalists, meanwhile, have gone on hunger strike to protest their incarceration.
Upon hearing about the baseless charge, many Palestinian journalists said they did not know whether to laugh or cry. They said they did not know what “sensitive information” Abbas and the PA were trying to hide.
“We don’t have nuclear facilities,” remarked a Palestinian journalist from east Jerusalem sarcastically. “It’s clear that the Palestinian Authority leadership is using the security issue as an excuse to justify its punitive measures against journalists.”
Another Palestinian journalist from Ramallah scoffed at the charge against his colleagues. “This is the most ridiculous claim I’ve heard in years,” he commented. “It reminds us of Arab dictators who accuse their opponents and critics of revealing state secrets and consuming narcotics.”
That the PA leadership has refused to provide further details about the nature of the offense committed by the suspected journalists has only reinforced the belief that they were targeted as part of an ongoing campaign by Abbas and his lieutenants to silence critics and deter other journalists from doing their job or reporting any story that could reflect negatively on the Palestinian leaders.
Some Palestinian journalists take a different view of the matter. These reporters trace the arrest of the six journalists to a desire to pressure Hamas to release two journalists it is holding in the Gaza Strip: Amer Abu Shabab and Fuad Jaradeh.
In other words, the PA security forces are holding the six journalists hostage until Hamas frees the two newsmen it is holding. The journalists detained by the PA work for Hamas-affiliated media outlets in the West Bank.
Notably, the two Palestinian regimes – the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — have hardly championed freedom of speech and freedom of the media. In fact, the two parties share the same values when it comes to silencing all forms of criticism. Dozens of Palestinian journalists have been targeted over the past two decades by both the PA and Hamas.
Freedom of the Press…to Tarnish Israel’s Name
These regimes have their own special way of defining freedom of the press. That is, the press is utterly free to blacken the name of Israel. The name of Hamas or the PA, however, is sacrosanct: criticism of either would land a Palestinian reporter behind bars or in an interrogation room.
Hamas and the PA prefer that the press pound Israel. Short of that, they tolerate journalistic critique of municipal services or the shortage of medicine in hospitals.
Today, it is safe to say that the situation of the freedom of the media under the PA and Hamas is not much different than that under Bashar Assad’s Syria or even North Korea. The failure to achieve a free media for the Palestinians is yet another sign of the Palestinian failure to build proper and transparent state institutions.
The Palestinians have no functioning parliament, no open debate and no free media. In the West Bank, the media is controlled, directly and indirectly, by Abbas and his loyalists. In the Gaza Strip, the only “media” is that which is controlled by Hamas — again, directly and indirectly.
But there is an interesting twist to the latest story of Palestinian Authority and Hamas assaults on freedom of the media. Sadly, many Palestinian journalists do not seem to care much about the harassment and suppression of their colleagues at the hands of their leaders in Ramallah and the Gaza Strip.
Instead of organizing widespread protests to demand the release of their colleagues who are being tortured by PA and Hamas interrogators, Palestinian journalists are still scapegoating Israel. Incredibly, they continue to incite against Israel despite the fact that they are being detained and tortured by the PA and Hamas.
Instead of demanding the release of their six colleagues from PA prison, some Palestinian journalists are protesting because some Israeli (Jewish) journalists came to Ramallah last week to cover the visit of Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The presence of the Israeli reporters in Ramallah enraged several Palestinian journalists, who took to social media to condemn the Palestinian Authority leadership that gave them permission to come and cover the monarch’s visit.
Palestinian Journalists Back Incitement Against Israel
In one cartoon by Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh, an Israeli journalist, carrying a microphone dripping with blood, is interviewing a dog.
Such incitement was easy to find on Palestinian social media websites this week. The presence of several Israeli Arab journalists seemed to roll right over the racist, raging Palestinian journalists — it is the presence of Jewish journalists that they cannot stand.
This attack on Israeli journalists has been backed by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a Fatah-affiliated group headed by Nasser Abu Baker, a correspondent of the evidently unprofessional Agence France-Presse: Baker has also run for election in the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
In a statement published in Ramallah, the PJS strongly condemned the presence of Israeli (Jewish) journalists in Ramallah and urged Abbas to hold accountable whoever gave the Israeli journalists permission to come to the city to cover the Jordanian king’s visit.
It seems that for the PJS, the presence of Israeli (Jewish) reporters in Ramallah is more disturbing than the arrest of Palestinian journalists by the PA and Hamas.
For the record, in recent years the PJS has served as a mouthpiece for Abbas’s office; instead of defending the rights of Palestinian journalists, it devotes more than 95% of its words and actions to denouncing Israel and whipping up rage against Israeli journalists.
Palestinian journalists’ hateful obsession with Israel brings them no dividends. Rather, such venomous bias diverts attention from the true challenges and threats they face from the PA and Hamas. By expending their efforts in this twisted fashion, the reporters aid and abet their leaders in building dictatorial regimes that suppress public freedoms.
Bassam Tawil, an Arab Muslim, is based in the Middle East.
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