The Palestinian Authority government of Salam Fayyad, announcing this week the launching of the 2012 Award for Press Freedom, invited Palestinian journalists to submit their candidacy for the prestigious award, the first if its kind in the Palestinian territories.
The award is intended to encourage freedom of media and speech in the Palestinian territories, where local journalists have long been facing a campaign of intimidation and harassment by the two Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Ironically, the news about the launching of the new award coincided with the arrest of Youssef Shayeb, a Palestinian journalist from Ramallah, on charges of “slander and defamation.”
Fayyad’s security forces in the West Bank arrested Shayeb after he published a report in a Jordanian newspaper exposing corruption in the Palestinian diplomatic mission in France. He was first detained for 48 hours, after which a Palestinian court extended his detention for an additional two weeks.
The arrest of Shayeb exposes Fayyad’s double standards when it comes to freedom of expression. In public, Fayyad is telling his people and the rest of the world how much he cares about freedom of expression. To back up his claim, he has gone as far as announcing an annual award for press freedoms that would conferred upon a Palestinian journalist, chosen by a special panel of experts.
Behind the scenes, however, Fayyad’s security officers are busy arresting and intimidating any journalist who exposes corruption or voices criticism of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.
To avoid responsibility for any wrongdoing, Fayyad’s aides claim that their boss has no real control over the Palestinian security forces and point to President Mahmoud Abbas as the man to blame for the clampdown on journalists.
If Fayyad has no control over the security forces, then why does his government continue to pay salaries to tens of thousands of Palestinian policemen and security personnel?
Moreover, what is preventing Fayyad from speaking out against the Palestinian security forces if he is not happy with some of the things they are doing?
How can Fayyad distance himself from the Palestinian security forces one day and take credit for restoring law and order in the West Bank another day?
And how can Fayyad argue that he is serious about fighting corruption in Palestinian Authority institutions and, at the same time, arrest a journalist for exposing a corruption scandal in a diplomatic mission?
Even if Fayyad does not have direct control over the various branches of the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank — as he claims — his job as prime minister necessitates that he be fully responsible for what happens in territories that are under his jurisdiction.
Fayyad is mistaken if he thinks that he can fool Palestinian journalists through double-talk. The arrest of the Palestinian journalist this week by his security forces has drawn strong condemnations from a large number of Palestinians.
A prime minister who orders his security officers to arrest a journalist because of an article is not a “reformist”. Nor is he someone who deserves the respect of the international community for supposedly being “liberal” and “open-minded”.
Many Palestinians were pinning high hopes on Fayyad mainly because he is not affiliated with Fatah or Hamas.
But there is a saying in the Arab world that if you live 40 days among any people, you become part of them. Fayyad has been living with Fatah and Hamas for too long; that is why he has begun to act and speak like them.
Originally published by Gatestone Institute www.gatestoneinstitute.org
About the Author: Mahmoud Dweik is a journalist and analyst who lives in the West Bank.
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