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October 31, 2014 / 7 Heshvan, 5775
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Abbas Cracks Down on Media, World Looks Other Way

The PA doesn't want international donors to hear about its corruption and violations of freedom of the media.
Palestinian journalists protesting in Ramallah against the arrest and assault of their colleagues by Palestinian security forces, Nov 14, 2013.

Palestinian journalists protesting in Ramallah against the arrest and assault of their colleagues by Palestinian security forces, Nov 14, 2013.
Photo Credit: Screenshot of YouTube video by Wattan TV

Originally published at Gatestone Institute.

The Palestinian Authority has resumed its security crackdown on Palestinian journalists and bloggers in the West Bank.

But the crackdown has thus far sparked protests only from Palestinian journalists.

Western governments that fund the Palestinian Authority continue to turn a blind eye to the breach of freedom of expression in the West Bank.

International human rights groups and organizations purporting to defend freedom of the media also continue to ignore the violations against freedom of expression under the Palestinian Authority.

These groups only see what the Israeli authorities do. On the side of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, or Hamas in the Gaza Strip, they “see no evil.”

They know about the assaults on Palestinian journalists by Palestinian security forces. But they choose to bury their heads in the sand. It is more convenient and safer to criticize Israel than the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

For Western governments, so long as the Palestinian Authority leadership says it is committed to the peace process with Israel, its leaders are free to rule as a dictatorship.

Western diplomats based in Ramallah say they are fully aware of the anti-democratic measures taken by the Palestinian Authority. But, they add, these measures are an “internal Palestinian issue” that does not concern the international community.

The silence of the international community drove Palestinian journalists to announce that they have had enough and that the time has come to stage public protests against the crackdown.

Scores of journalists staged a protest outside the headquarters of the Palestinian government in Ramallah in protest against the arrest and assault on some of their colleagues by Palestinian security forces.

The journalists called for an end to the persecution of Palestinian journalists and held banners that asked, “Where is freedom of the media?” and, “No to repression and incarceration of journalists.”

The protest, which was almost completely ignored by Western media outlets operating in the West Bank, came after two incidents in which Palestinian security officers arrested journalists.

In the first incident, Palestinian policemen raided the home of George Canawati, director of Bethlehem Radio 2000, and arrested him in what eyewitnesses described as a violent manner.

Canawati, a Christian from the town of Bet Sahour, near Bethlehem, was accused of “slander” for criticizing the commander of the Bethlehem Police, Col. Omar Shalabi, during his weekly radio program.

The following day, Canawati appeared in a Bethlehem court with a black eye and a ripped shirt. He was quoted as saying that the interrogators had physically assaulted him before and during his interrogation.

In the second incident, Palestinian security officers arrested Sami al-Saee, a reporter for the Wattan news website in the West Bank city of Tulkarem. The Palestinian Authority did not offer any explanation as to why al-Saee was arrested.

Hours after the Ramallah protest, Palestinian security officers raided the home of another journalist and blogger, Esmat Abdel Khalek, and confiscated documents and a laptop.

Abdel Khalek, who teaches journalism at a West Bank university, was arrested last year on suspicion of posting critical comments on her Facebook account about the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas.

No reason was given for the latest raid on her home in Ramallah, although Palestinian journalists said that it could be linked to her ongoing criticism of the Palestinian Authority leadership.

“It’s harmful and shameful that we the Palestinian journalists are being arrested and intimidated by our Palestinian Authority,” a group of Palestinian journalists wrote in a letter to their prime minister, Rami Hamdallah. “We call for an investigation into the arrest and humiliation of George Canawati, as well as the detention of Sami al-Saee for more than 12 hours in Tulkarem.”

The Palestinian Authority apparently does not want journalists to report about issues that could reflect negatively on its leaders — possibly the reason why criticism of Palestinian leaders as often denounced by the Palestinian Authority as an act of “treason.”

The latest clampdown on the media is aimed at deterring journalists from criticizing the Palestinian leadership; in the eyes of the Palestinian Authority, a journalist is supposed to serve as a spokesman for his president and government.

The Palestinian Authority also apparently does not want the outside world, especially international donors, to hear about the financial corruption and violations of freedom of the media. It wants criticism to be directed only toward Israel in the hope that this will invite international pressure on the Israelis and force them to accept at the negotiating table all of Abbas’s demands.

About the Author: Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades.


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