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March 2, 2015 / 11 Adar , 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘journalists’

Journalists, The Right to Live and Other Human Rights

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Here’s the AP report of a widely publicized assault (the Jerusalem Post called it “a scathing attack”) on Israel’s moral standing made three days ago by the New York-based Human Rights Watch organization.

Group: Israel broke law by targeting media in Gaza
JERUSALEM (AP) — Human Rights Watch says Israeli army attacks on journalists and media facilities in the Gaza Strip during last month’s military operation violated the laws of war. Two Palestinian cameramen were killed and at least 10 media personnel were wounded in the offensive, which was launched after weeks of rocket attacks on Israel. The Israeli government says each of the targets was a legitimate military objective. A statement released Thursday by the New York-based rights group says it found no indications that these targets were valid military objectives. Sarah Leah Whitson, the Mideast director at HRW, says that “just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so.” The Israeli military had no immediate comment on the report. [Source]

As director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa division and the person leveling these charges [full text here], Sarah Leah Whitson lays serious claim to the description about her on the HRW site: she’s a general expert on “Middle East and North Africa issues,” though – like the organization itself – she has not been free of controversy. (We will not dwell here on the serious allegations made against her; they are adequately detailed in her Wikipedia entry and in some trenchant, well-argued critiques published by NGO Monitor this week as well as in January 2012.)

For all the impressive human rights work it does, HRW has some exceedingly bitter critics. In a major and very critical op ed in the New York Times, Robert L. Bernstein, the man who created HRW, wrote this about the organization he brought into existence:

As the founder of Human Rights Watch, its active chairman for 20 years and now founding chairman emeritus, I must do something that I never anticipated: I must publicly join the group’s critics. Human Rights Watch had as its original mission to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters. But recently it has been issuing reports on the Israeli-Arab conflict that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state…  Human Rights Watch has lost critical perspective on a conflict in which Israel has been repeatedly attacked by Hamas and Hezbollah, organizations that go after Israeli citizens and use their own people as human shields. [more]

Sarah Leah Whitson was HRW’s key Middle East person when Bernstein wrote those words.

Bernstein then proceeded in that 2009 essay to make some prophetic references to HRW allegations about Israel engaging in allegedly illegal forms of warfare:

Israel, the repeated victim of aggression, faces the brunt of Human Rights Watch’s criticism… [Yet] Human Rights Watch has written far more condemnations of Israel for violations of international law than of any other country in the region… How does Human Rights Watch know that these laws have been violated? In Gaza and elsewhere where there is no access to the battlefield or to the military and political leaders who make strategic decisions, it is extremely difficult to make definitive judgments about war crimes… Significantly, Col. Richard Kemp, the former commander of British forces in Afghanistan and an expert on warfare, has said that the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza “did more to safeguard the rights of civilians in a combat zone than any other army in the history of warfare.”

He ended his 2009 words with a warning to HRW that unless it returned to “its founding mission and the spirit of humility that animated it,” HRW’s “credibility will be seriously undermined and its important role in the world significantly diminished.

Which brings us to December 2012 when news sources throughout the world seized on Ms Whitson’s well-formed words:

Just because Israel says a journalist was a fighter or a TV station was a command center does not make it so.

And also to the apt rejoinder offered by Anne Herzberg, legal adviser to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor:

Just because HRW claims something is a war crime does not make it so.

We don’t claim to have the depth of experience of Ms. Whitson or HRW. But we do say our experience in losing a greatly-loved daughter to a bestial act of Islamist terror in 2001 has made us more sensitive than many people to nuances. We tend to pay attention to little-reported aspects of news events that somehow don’t get that much coverage or attention by the likes of HRW.

For instance, here’s a photo of a particular Arab journalist with a little-known back-story:

Portrait 1: Female reporter presents the Palestinian Authority evening news

The image in Portrait 1 is a screenshot taken from a video recording of a PA Television evening news report originating in PA TV’s Ramallah studios that went to air some years ago. The young woman, a reporter/presenter, was relatively new to the job at the time the picture was taken. Even so, she evidently showed journalistic promise because management in the Fatah/PLO television authority at the time assigned her to the role of presenting the evening news.

Now some speculation: what if this woman had been (let’s just imagine) intercepted by IDF soldiers or by an Israeli Border Guard patrol while she was peaceably en route to the nearby city of Jerusalem? We’re betting that Sarah Leah Whitson  and her HRW Irregulars would have screamed bloody murder at the temerity of the Israelis. The young woman is, after all, clearly a working journalist with all the privileges and protections that come with the job.

Portrait 2: A female journalist conducts a live interview
for a Hamas television program (2012)
Portrait 3: Same female journalist fronts a weekly TV show
on the Al-Quds satellite channel (2012)

The woman in Portraits 2 and 3 above is a regular on the Al-Quds television channel owned and operated by Hamas. Its shows are beamed throughout the world to wherever there are Arabic-speaking audiences interested in the distinctive programming they offer. It has a truly global footprint and a large influence among a very specific international audience.

The woman is the central figure in a weekly television program devoted to surveying issues of interest to one of the deprived underclasses in Palestinian society. On it, she interviews guests, demonstrates cooking recipes, and summarizes and interprets recent events. The fact that an entire program aired during peak evening hours (and on Friday nights, no less) is given over to a woman suggests the prominent role she has in the tele-journalism field.

Now some more speculation: imagine for a moment that this household-name TV personality decided to carry out some research in, say, East Jerusalem. And say that the Israeli authorities, for reasons best known to them, detained her on the way for questioning; that they refused to let her go because of some dusty old and forgotten breaches of the law allegedly committed a decade or so earlier. How long do we think it would take for the righteous indignation of Human Rights Watch to boil over and traverse the oceans? Or for their furious demands to be laid at the feet of the government of Israel insisting that the inherent rights of journalists and reporters – and international legal norms – be respected, forthwith?

So now we’re back in the real world. The name of the woman in all the photos above is Ahlam Tamimi.

Tamimi read the PA TV evening news on Thursday evening, August 9, 2001. That is when Portrait 1 was taken. She started the program with the lead news item of the day: a horrific news report about a human bomb who had exploded inside a central Jerusalem restaurant that afternoon, killing many people, most of them children, all of them Jews. Portrait 1 shows her reading the actual report on camera.

The slight smile of pleasure that can just be made out on her lips is probably no accident. She herselfpersonally, planned the bombing. She ensured with the other planners that the explosive material was adequate to the task. She accompanied the bomb (who was a newly-pious young man with a fully-loaded guitar case on his back) through the IDF military checkpoints and into Jerusalem by bus and taxi. She then walked with him through the streets of Israel’s bustling capital city until they reached the Sbarro restaurant where, fifteen minutes after she left him there (giving her time to safely escape to freedom), he exploded the deadly materials packed into that guitar case. He killed our teenage daughter Malki and fourteen other innocents. A sixteenth victim remains unconscious to this day.

Tamimi’s journalistic career resumed a year ago. Then, as part of a deal transacted between Israel and the Hamas regime in Gaza, she was released from prison far earlier than should have been the case (she had been sentenced to sixteen life terms with a strong recommendation by the judges that no reduction should ever be considered) and flew to the land of her birth, Jordan, and to complete and unfettered freedom. There she was hired by Hamas to become the presenter of a new weekly program called Breezes of the Free, focusing on the convicted terrorists, many of them murderers of Jewish children, still in Israeli prisons and their goals, hopes and plans.

Especially their plans.

Tamimi, now living free as a bird, newly-married and with a global platform for spreading her hateful, murderous views, is famously proud of the killings for which she was convicted in an Israeli court. She has no regrets; quite the opposite, and has said so as clearly as a person ever can. [Please read one of our numerous posts about this evil person: “17-Nov-11: A monster walks the streets and she has many accomplices“].

For these and other reasons, we wonder – when we read the words of HRW, and especially of Sarah Leah Whitson – whether such critics comprehend the nature of terrorism. Do they see how the people who fire the rockets at homes, schools and buses will use everything at their disposal – every possible thing, no limits – to carry out their satanic plans?

The notion that journalists ought to be treated in some privileged way by reason of the work they do – leaving them exempt from suspicion unless there is a compelling reason to think otherwise – is an interesting one. But we’re left to wonder whether at HRW they know or care how this works in a war carried out by terrorists and in accordance with the principles of Islamism.

Victims like our daughter suffered the permanent, irreparable violation by the terrorists of the most fundamental of their human rights - the right to live. Had the perpetrators (and that includes Tamimi) been stopped in time, or if they (and this includes Tamimi) were prevented from inciting others daily to do the same awful thing again in the future, lives would surely be saved.

If HRW’s recent condemnation fails to take that reality into account, then – in the words of their distinguished founder, Robert L. Bernstein –  they have lost their critical perspective and the role they claim is simply illegitimate and should be ignored.

Visit This Ongoing War.

B’tselem Protects Terrorists

Thursday, November 22nd, 2012

From the latest B’tselem attempt to protect terrorists:-

Additionally, the media – including those belonging directly to the parties to the conflict – are not legitimate military targets, even if they are used to disseminate propaganda.

I think that a terror group’s units – including its communications  networks – are very much a legitimate target for how else would they be able to direct their terror campaign, and that includes general programming because it is used to recruit and mobilize.

But B’tselem claims.

International law seems to claim otherwise:

Journalists are not protected against deliberate attacks if and for as long as they take a direct part in hostilities

and as to what the law refers to

the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (AP I) deals specifically with journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict

“Professional” means not a terrorist.

As clarified:

As civilians, journalists and their crew must under no circumstances be the object of a direct attack. Parties to an armed conflict have the obligation to take all feasible precautions to ensure that attacks are only directed at military objectives.

Al-Aqsa TV and others are not civilians and are not professional journalists.

Here:

Ramallah- 21 November 2012: Israeli occupation forces committed a new crime against the Palestinian journalists when they killed Al-Aqsa TV cameramen Mahmoud Al-Komi (30 years) and Hossam Salameh (30) years at about six o’clock in this evening, after their car was targeted In Gaza City, by a Missile fired from an Israeli warplane, which led to their deaths immediately.

MADA lawyer Karem Nashwan said that Salamah and Al-Komi were travelling in Al-Aqsa TV car, with press sign, but the occupation forces targeted it. The crime took place in Alnaser (Victory) Street near alshifa Tower near Alshifa Hospital, and it seems they had intended to go to cover the martyrs and the wounded in the hospital, where occupation forces have escalated from its bombardment of the Gaza frantically through the last few hours, where about twenty martyrs fell. Al-Komi and Salamah were married and each of them has four children.

And by the way:

the French government instructed its broadcasting authority to take Hamas’ Al-Aqsa TV off the air. The satellite channel was broadcast on Eutelsat, a French satellite company headquartered in Paris. French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that the instruction was given when France received a warning from the European Commission that the channel repeatedly violated European laws by showing programs which incited hatred or violence for reasons of religion or nationality, mostly against Israel and Judaism (AFP, June 7).

and

On March 18, 2010, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions against two Hamas-linked organizations in Gaza – Al-Aqsa TV and the Islamic National Bank (INB).  The actions, taken pursuant to Executive Order 13224, freeze any assets that Al-Aqsa TV or INB hold under U.S. jurisdiction and prohibit U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with them.  The targets of the sanctions include terrorists and terrorist organizations, among others. The Treasury Department stated that Al-Aqsa TV is financed and controlled by Hamas, serving as a primary Hamas media outlet that airs programs “designed to recruit children to become Hamas armed fighters and suicide bombers upon reaching adulthood.”

P.S.  I am beginning to wonder in whose service is B’tselem?

UPDATE: Have been alerted, from NGO-Monitor:

B’Tselem writes that its

…investigation indicates that several Al-Quds TV employees were present in their offices in Shawwa-Husari Building at the time of the attack, as they were under the assumption that the Israeli military would not bomb it.

They report that after the attack on the Shawwa- Husari Building, they removed some of their equipment from their building’s top floors, out of concern that the Israeli army would strike that building as well, because of the location of Al-Aqsa TV’s offices on its 15th floor.

In other words, B’tselem fail to mention the presence of the Islamic Jihad fighters in the Al Sharouk tower.

Visit My Right Word.

When I Murdered Rabin

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The outspoken statements we cited here, at the Jewish Press, by Hagai Amir, brother of Rabin’s assassin Yogal Amir, took me back to my own personal encounter with the Rabin assassination. It didn’t exactly change my life, but it taught me several crucial lessons.

On that fateful Shabbat in November, 1995, when rumors reached Manhattan’s Lower East Side that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin had been wounded by an assailant’s bullets, we were at the Seuda Shlishit (third meal) in the Chassidic shteibel where I davened for more than two decades. (I also belonged to another, more left-wing, modern Orthodox shul. I’m a difficult person to classify.) Between conversations and nibbling, one of my neighbors bent over and whispered, smiling, “At least in this shul we know no one is going to recited Tehillim for his speedy recovery.”

My immediate, totally uncalculated reaction was to open a siddur (prayer book) and begin to recite Tehillim. I couldn’t behave otherwise. That‘s my nature – if someone will tell me NOT to jump off a bridge, I’m already up on the railing, hat in hand.

Even if I had known on that Shabbat that Rabin’s murder would mark the end of my career in Hebrew language journalism, I definitely would have continued to recite those chapters of Tehillim, and not just to be different than the other Jewish guy who said whatever he said.

Still, if on that Shabbat you would have asked me if I supported Yitzchak Rabin’s politics, I would have certainly replied in the negative. There are even those that claim that Yitzhak Rabin himself already didn’t completely agree with his government’s course of action, and was possibly even considering how to change direction, when the murderer’s bullet stopped him.

However, it’s not those old arguments that I want to relate, rather my inconspicuous and non-dramatic connection to the big story. Maybe one day some historian will come across this article and I will merit having my name mentioned in a footnote in some important book about the murder.

I have already gone over broad details of quite a few accounts of Rabin’s murder, and considering the fact that I am a peaceful individual by nature, even a bit of a coward, certainly not the type to run ahead and climb all kinds of barricades, I have been incredibly close to several high profile murders.

One Shabbat afternoon, when I was 6 years old, in Ramat Chen, Zhurabin shot his cousin over something the cousin he had done in the Irgun. It was a dark Shabbat in 1960, I believe, about 35 years before the gloomy Shabbat of the Rabin murder. I was looking out my bedroom window on the second floor on HaSeren Dov Street and I saw the wounded uncle limping down the sidewalk to Dr. Gorelick’s house at the corner of Aluf David Street.

He left a trail of big, thick beads of blood on the gray, cement sidewalk, tiny red puddles that turned brown, but didn’t disappear for many years. Red and gray were the colors of the Zhurabin murder attempt. I think he was put into a mental institution and after that we were told not to mention the whole affair in front of his children, even though they were bullies and occasionally deserved pushback. (If they didn’t pick you to play little-goal soccer—the soccer equivalent of stickball—you didn’t play.)

When I was 16, I hung around with some friends in Bat Yam, among them Rachel Heller, a thin, shy, teenage girl. I really have nothing significant to say about besides her name and what she looked like. Several years later, when I was already in New York, distributing Ma’ariv and Yedioth newspapers every Friday night, I suddenly saw that a guy named Amos Barnas admitted to murdering her seven years before. I didn’t remember this entire affair until 1981, when I saw Heller’s picture and did a double take.

Before this, in 1980, I was driving a yellow taxi cab and I left off a passenger at the Dakota Building at 72nd Street and Central Park West, just a day before Mark David Chapman shot John Lennon on the very same sidewalk.

By the way, does anyone know why all American assassins have two first names? Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. John Wilkes Booth. Charles Julius Guiteau (killed Garfield).

The Public Is The Last To Know

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The charade is played out every evening on election day. Television news anchors and beat reporters, on local stations and the networks, come on the air full of breathless anticipation, seeking to build an atmosphere of nail-biting uncertainty.

Unless a particular race results in a landslide of mammoth proportions – and the vast majority of them do not – projected winners are not announced until after a sufficient number of voting districts have officially reported in.

The choreographed suspense makes for wonderful theater, as the action continually shifts between the anchors in the studio and the reporters stationed at the various campaign headquarters. Every few minutes a fresh batch of figures is announced, widening the gap in one race, tightening it in another.

And every time the numbers are updated, back we go to the correspondents at the rented halls for stories of jubilation or desperation, renewed hopes or sinking expectations.

Meanwhile, back at the anchor desks, there is much speculation about what the latest data could possibly mean.

It’s all so intriguing, so exciting…so phony. Because one of the media’s dirty little secrets for many years was that thanks to exit polling, anchors and reporters covering the races on election night almost always knew the results hours before the polls even closed.

Even now, with 24-hour coverage of politics on cable TV and the Internet and after the controversy over the 2004 exit polls that indicated John Kerry would beat President George W. Bush, exit polling is still something of which many Americans are at best only dimly aware.

The existence of exit polls and the media’s reliance on them first began to permeate the public consciousness – at least among those who paid close attention to politics and the media – in 1980, when the networks called the presidential election for Ronald Reagan just a couple of hours after the first states had closed their voting booths and long before many voters had even cast their ballots on the West Coast.

But the subject was something journalists – understandably – were reluctant to speak about. An early public airing came in the November 1998 issue of Brill’s Content, a short-lived magazine dedicated to exposing journalistic excess.

In an article titled “Exit-Poll Results: The Public Is the Last to Know,” Warren Mitofsky, a former executive director of the CBS News Election and Survey Unit who has since passed away, wrote that by “early [election day] afternoon, the network exit-poll consortium will open the computer spigot to its members and subscribers. Within minutes, political insiders – politicos and journalists alike – will be buzzing with the results.”

As Mitofsky noted, the people who do the buzzing are the very ones who have agreed among themselves – in the name of civic responsibility, of course – to carefully guard the exit-poll projections from the public until the voting booths close.

But Mitofsky suggested that something other than altruistic devotion to good government drove this double standard.

“It is considered bad form to broadcast early exit-poll estimates before polls close because doing so could discourage late voters from casting ballots,” he wrote. “However, journalists and politicians consider themselves an elite class that is able to handle this potent news without contamination. Throughout election day they clamor for it while they protect the citizens’ right to remain uninformed.”

Does any of this make a difference? Mitofsky said it does, since “early exit-poll results influence print and broadcast news reporting. They also affect get-out-the-vote efforts by politicians and the spin their consultants put out to the press. They can even affect the stock market.”

As soon as exit-poll estimates become available, wrote Mitofsky, they “are then leaked by staffers at various news organizations to their many friends and acquaintances in and out of politics. In fact, these exit-poll results are stock-brokered like commodities – used by campaign sources and journalists to squeeze more information from one another.”

Something to bear in mind on election night this November when the reporters and pundits on television and radio will once again pretend to be as much in the dark as you are about the election results.

Letter from Imprisoned Turkish Journalist Baris Pehlivan

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

My dear colleagues, I have been imprisoned for 17 months with the Odatv case, the clearest proof of the pressure on the freedoms of press and expression in Turkey. Hidden behind the prevarication of a “terror organization,” journalism itself is being tried. Indeed: in the 134-page indictment, the word “news” appears 361 times; the word “book,” 280 times; the words “column/editorial ” 53 times; the word “interview,” 26 times, and the word “article,” 5 times. These are the most common words used to accuse the detained journalists in the Odatv indictment.

Along with these, in the 134-page indictment, the words “Fethullah Gülen” and “Cemaat”[1] were used 111 times. These figures clarify the essence of the indictment. News reports, books, and articles have been presented as “criminal evidence.”

The foundation of the Odatv case is based on fraudulent digital documents proven to have been planted on our computers by hackers. Three Turkish universities (Yıldız Technical University, Middle East Technical University, and Bosphorus University) and one USA-based IT company have verified that these digital data did not belong to us and were uploaded by viruses. Nevertheless, my detention continues.

My dear colleagues,

In conclusion, due to my activities as a journalist, I am unfortunately deprived unlawfully of freedom in my own country. I have been sitting in prison for 17 months without any final verdict. Journalism is a universal profession. Wherever a journalist is arrested and thrown into prison for doing his or her job, all of the world’s journalists are under threat. Within this context, I hope the sensitivity you have shown against the trial of journalism in Turkey will continue until the end.

Thank you very much for your attention and support.

Sincerely,

Baris Pehlivan Odatv.com Editor in Chief

[1] “Cemaat’ is an Arabic word, used in Turkish, which translates to “community.” It is the word used to describe the followers and supporters of Fethullah Gülen, a very controvesial figure in Turkish society.

Originally published by Gatestone Institute  http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

Salam Fayyad, ‘The Moderate’?

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Salam Fayyad government has just punished a school principal for allowing his pupils to dance with Israelis during a trip to the beach in Jaffa.

Because of his “crime,” Mohammed Abu Samra, principle of the Al-Slama [peace] Secondary School in the West Bank city of Kalkilya, was reassigned to a remote school.

Fayyad’s ministry of education decided on the move after the principle organized a picnic for 45 Palestinian pupils to the beach. “My pupils were attracted to the music and I could not say no to them,” Abu Samra told the Gulf News newspaper. “My pupils started dancing and I also joined them.” He said that at one point some Israeli men and women joined the dance.

It is hard to imagine, however, that the measure against the school principle was taken without Fayyad’s knowledge or approval. This is the same government that continues to combat all forms of “normalization” with Israel. Many Palestinian groups and political factions in the West Bank have banned their members from participating in meetings with Israelis and the Fayyad government seems to have endorsed this policy.

The most recent “anti-normalization” decision was taken by the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, which operates under the jurisdiction of the Fayyad government in the West Bank. The syndicate issued a warning to all its members against holding any form of contact with their Israeli counterparts, and threatened punitive measures against those who violate the ban.

The Fayyad government has also banned Palestinians from dealing directly with Israeli “liaison” offices in the West Bank. These offices, belonging to the Israeli Civil Administration, were created, among other reasons, to assist Palestinians in obtaining permits to work and receive medical treatment in Israel.

Fayyad was one of the first Palestinian officials to lead a campaign to boycott products of Israeli settlements. His office even invited journalists to cover an event where Fayyad personally set fire to settler products that were confiscated by his police forces in the West Bank. The Fayyad government is also responsible for the continued crackdown on Palestinian journalists and bloggers in the West Bank. In recent weeks, more than 15 journalists and bloggers were imprisoned or summoned for interrogation for exposing corruption scandals or posting critical comments on Facebook. The crackdown was ordered by Fayyad’s attorney-general, Ahmed al-Mughni.

Fayyad’s TV and radio stations in Ramallah continue to glorify terrorists and suicide bombers, referring to them as heroes and martyrs and dedicating songs and poems in their honor.

In addition, the Fayyad government continues to hold dozens of Palestinians in prison without detention and is refusing to carry out court orders to release some of the detainees. As one PLO official said, “The judiciary system in Palestine has become a joke under Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas.”

Fayyad supporters have defended him by blaming Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction for human rights violations and the clampdown on journalists and bloggers. They claim that Fayyad has no real powers over the various security forces or the Palestinian Authority media. Nor, they say, does Fayyad have control over the decisions of the attorney-general.

So if Fayyad is not responsible for anything that goes wrong in the Palestinian Authority, why hasn’t he, for example spoken out against the violations perpetrated by Abbas and his lieutenants? Or, if he is opposed to the arrest of journalists and the closure of news websites, why hasn’t he resigned?

Fayyad often comes across in the international community as a “moderate” man who believes in peace and coexistence with Israel; but his actions in the past few years reveal that the Palestinian prime minister is anything but liberal or moderate, even if he did receive a doctorate at the University of Texas.

By punishing the school principle for allowing his pupils to dance with Israelis on the beach, Fayyad’s government is telling Palestinians that their children must not have any contact with Israelis, even if it is intended for entertainment.

If Fayyad does not want Palestinian children to mix with Israelis, why does he continue to live in an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem that is under Israeli sovereignty? And why does he continue to meet with Israelis on different occasions? If, as his aides say, he despises Mahmoud Abbas and believes that he is leading the Palestinians toward the abyss, why doesn’t he tell this to the president in his face? Or is it possible that Fayyad and Abbas are playing the good cop and bad cop?
Originally published by Gatestone Institute http://www.gatestoneinstitute.org

The Silence Abbas and the PA Want You to Hear

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

The Middle East is becoming quieter. No, the swords are not turning into plowshares, it’s not that kind of quiet. Instead, it is the sound of truth that’s slowly being silenced. And it’s happening not only because the PA grows stronger, but also because the West grows weaker.

Thirty years ago the young Arab journalist Khaled abu Toameh quit working for PLO media outlets. They did not allow reporting on what abu Toameh saw as the news people needed to know. Instead, he was told to take the words dictated by the Arab leadership, and cut and paste them into the stories they then published, but under his byline. They weren’t his words and it wasn’t the news, so he turned to western media for outlets that allowed him to write and speak about what people needed to know.

In those thirty years the PA media has not become more open. Instead, the PA leadership has become more emboldened and the western media – either because of physical or moral exhaustion – is allowing the PA’s censorship to seep into and rot away at core freedoms, both of speech and of the press.

Under the Palestinian Authority’s Penal Code, a holdover from when Jordan illegally occupied the territories, defamation suspects can be arrested and held in detention for up to six months before they are charged with a crime. Esmat Abdul-Khalik, an al Quds University lecturer and single mother of two, was arrested in late March and held in solitary confinement and denied the possibility of any visits because someone else criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas on her Facebook page, calling him a traitor and suggesting he resign. Abdul-Khalik is not the only Arab arrested recently for Facebook page activity, at least three others have recently been picked up for daring to criticize members of the government.

In September, the director of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, was arrested for posting on his Facebook page criticism of the Bethlehem Health Department. Last month the PA judicial and executive authorities determined Canawati will be tried for defamation – a crime punishable by up to two years in prison – in the Magistrate Court of Bethlehem City. The trial was recently adjourned until September.

Altogether, nine journalists have been arrested in recent weeks for exposing corruption or making critical remarks about the PA leadership on Facebook, and many others have been summoned for interrogation. When Facebook postings expose government critics to censure, you can be sure that no one will risk filing bona fide media reports about the topic.

But just as frightening as Arab Palestinian bloggers and journalists being arrested for posting on their Facebook pages is the steady drumbeat of pressure that is leading to a decrease in coverage by western journalists who, presumably, are not as vulnerable to the capricious selections for punishment designed to suppress criticism of the ruling regime.

In addition to whispered discussions being heard in Ramallah about the “Facebook Police” are the directives issued to western journalists to focus their reporting on “Israel’s ‘occupation’” and refrain from prying into alleged corruption committed by PA officials, because “nothing else is newsworthy and nothing else should be reported.”

Some western journalists have been warned not to work with Arabic speaking reporters who fail to toe the “All-Occupation, All The Time” reporting. This is how the PA controls not only their own media outlets, but those western outlets. All too many simply play along rather than stand up for press and speech freedoms and possibly risk losing access. For those journalists who behave and report primarily about the occupation, the rewards are access to senior officials. Senior PA officials told Arab Israeli journalist abu Toameh, “Even the Jews at Haaretz behave themselves and for that they are rewarded with interviews of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.”

It is not only individual journalists who are being intimidated, but entire news sites critical of the PA have been blocked on the internet. A report in late April revealed that several websites which had reported on corruption within the PA were blocked, including Inlight Press, which had revealed that the PA had been monitoring the phones of Mahmoud Abbas’s opponents.

What’s more, in May, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, a vehicle that is supposed to act as a union to defend the rights of its members, actually began punishing Arab Palestinian journalists for meeting and cooperating with Israeli colleagues in a series of joint seminars that were held in Europe. The goal of those seminars was to promote freedom of expression and increase cooperation. The PJS is affiliated with the PA and is dominated by Fatah, the party of Abbas, and reports directly to the President’s office in Ramallah. Those who violate the will of the Syndicate, which is to sing from the hymnal of PA devotion and praise for Abbas, are threatened with expulsion from the Syndicate and a concomitant boycott by all PA newspapers and other Palestinian media outlets.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/the-silence-abbas-and-the-pa-want-you-to-hear/2012/06/07/

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