Photo Credit: unsplash

{Originally posted to the Gatestone Institute website}

While the Palestinian Authority (PA) continues to arrest and intimidate Palestinian journalists in the West Bank, its loyalists are also waging a campaign against Arab journalists who dare to visit Israel.

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This month alone, the PA security forces have arrested nine Palestinian journalists, according to the Palestinian Committee for Supporting Journalists.

One of the journalists, Yousef al-Faqeeh, 33, a reporter for the London-based Quds Press News Agency, was taken into custody on January 16. On January 27, a PA court ordered al-Faqeeh remanded into custody for 14 days. His family said that they still do not know why he was arrested.

Al-Faqeeh’s wife, Suhad, said that PA security officers raided their house; when Yousef asked whether they had a search warrant, they proceeded to arrest him. “They took him to an unknown destination and did not provide a reason for his arrest,” she said. “They also confiscated his computer and mobile phone.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest of al-Faqeeh and called on the PA to release him immediately.

The other journalists targeted by the PA in the past few weeks are: Mu’tasem Saqf al-Hait, Ayman Abu Aram, Mahmoud Abu Hraish, Mahmoud Abu al-Rish, Zeid Abu Arra, Hazem Nasser, Mohammed Dkeidek and Amir Abu Istaitiyeh.

In the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, only three Palestinian journalists were detained in the past few weeks: Luay al-Ghul, Executive Director of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, Salah Abu Salah, an independent reporter, and Huda Baroud, a female investigative reporter who was summoned for interrogation after she prepared a story about “rape within a single family.”

The Committee for Supporting Journalists said that the crackdown on Palestinian journalists was aimed at restricting freedom of the media under the PA and Hamas.

These condemnations, however, do not seem to bother Palestinian leaders, who do not tolerate any form of criticism. The Palestinian leaders clearly seem emboldened by the fact that the international community and media are oblivious to the plight of Palestinian journalists. Or, more accurately, the international community does not care when a Palestinian journalist is arrested or harassed by the Palestinian Authority or Hamas. The only stories that attract the world’s attention are those in which Israel is involved.

The silence of the international community has inspired Palestinian leaders to the point where they have now extended their campaign of intimidation to non-Palestinian Arab journalists.

When a group of Arab journalists, who hail from Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria and Morocco, recently visited Israel, the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information issued a strongly-worded statement accusing the reporters of promoting normalization with Israel.

“Normalization [with Israel] is an unacceptable and unjustified disgrace,” the ministry said. “The ministry affirms its rejection of media normalization with the occupation and considers it an unacceptable crime under all circumstances.”

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, a body dominated by PA President Mahmoud Abbas loyalists, said it is now preparing a blacklist that will include the name of any Arab journalist suspected of engaging in normalization with Israel. The syndicate expressed “shock” over the visit and called for ending all forms of normalization with Israel, including in the media. “What happened was a huge political and national sin.”

The journalists, who work in France and Belgium, are now being accused by many Arabs of treason.

The Paris-based magazine Kul Al-Arab said it has terminated all relations with Egyptian journalist Khaled Zaghloul, who was among the group of journalists who visited Israel in December 2018. The editor of the magazine said that his staff, which is “committed to the just and legitimate Arab causes, particularly the Palestinian cause, categorically condemns this unacceptable visit.”

Abdel Muhsen Salameh, Chairman of the Egyptian Journalists Union and CEO of Al-Ahram, said that Zaghloul had been fired from the paper in 2011. Ala Thabet, editor in chief of Al-Ahram, distanced himself from the journalist and called on all Arab media outlets to follow suit.

Another prominent Egyptian journalist, Abou Bakr Khallaf, is also facing criticism for visiting Israel. Khallaf, who is based in Turkey, is facing severe criticism after he posted a photo of himself during a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. His Egyptian colleagues have called for legal and administrative measures against him for engaging in normalization with the “Zionist entity.”

Kuwaiti writer Fajer Al-Saeed is also facing condemnations after she took the brave step of calling on Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel.

The Palestinian crackdown on reporters in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is aimed at silencing critics and deterring journalists from reporting on sensitive issues such as financial corruption and human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. For now, it seems that this crackdown has achieved its goal, as most Palestinian journalists living under the PA and Hamas are afraid publicly to voice any form of criticism of their leaders.

The Palestinian incitement against Arab journalists who visit Israel or maintain relations with Israeli colleagues is part of a wider campaign to prevent the Arab countries from normalizing ties with Israel. The Palestinians attach significant importance to their “anti-normalization” campaign, mainly because they believe that US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East envisages normalization between the Arab countries and Israel. By waging a smear campaign against Arabs for allegedly promoting normalization with Israel, the Palestinian leaders are hoping to thwart Trump’s upcoming peace plan.

If, in the eyes of the PA leadership, normalization with Israel is an act of “treason,” a “crime” and a “big political and national sin,” the Trump administration may well be wasting its time and prestige on a peace plan that envisions peace between the Arab countries and Israel, at least at this time.

To achieve peace with Israel, Palestinian leaders need to prepare their people — and all Arabs and Muslims — for peace and compromise with Israel, and not, as they are now doing, the exact opposite. Shaming and denouncing Arabs who visit Israel is hardly a way to prepare anyone for peace, or the possibility of any compromise.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration and the international community would be doing a real service to the Palestinians if they start paying attention to assaults on public freedoms, including freedom of the media, in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Holding Palestinian leaders accountable for their systematic abuses of public freedoms, assaults on journalists and incitement is the only way to encourage badly needed moderate and pragmatic Palestinians and Arabs to speak out.

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