July 2, 2020

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15-Sep-17: What’s rarely discussed about silencing Palestinian Arab voices

dealing with dissenting voices in the Palestinian Arab capital,
Ramallah [Image Source]

Over on the often-outstanding website of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC), there’s a fresh (posted yesterday) and well-written survey of some of the more Kafka-esque dimensions of Palestinian Arab life. It’s entitled “The crackdown on Palestinian freedom of speech – and why you probably haven’t heard about it“.

Some highlights (all bullet points are verbatim quotes):
  • [T]he Palestinian Authority has introduced a new “ban on websites”. Like all laws passed since 2007, the new Electronic Crimes Law was passed in July 2017 by presidential decree without consultations with Palestinian civil society or the public.
  • According to a comprehensive report from Amnesty International, (an organisation that has been accused of anti-Israel bias in the past), the law imposes prison sentences and fines which “could seemingly be applied to anyone who shares, likes or retweets news deemed illegal, and could be used against journalists further infringing on their ability to work freely”.
  • [A]t least six individuals have been arrested and charged under the new laws. In addition, “at least ten journalists working in print, radio, TV and online media were summoned by Preventative Security Forces for interrogation in Ramallah…
  • [Quoting a shameless senior editor at the Hamas-controlled Al-Quds, Mahmoud Abbas’ PA is] “increasingly authoritarian. They want to control all media outlets to block any voices exposing their crimes and violations”. 
  • [A lawyer] “Muhannad Karajah, who represents many of the journalists, said the situation in the past months has been the worst in years. ‘There is no space for freedoms anymore, the Palestinian authorities in the West Bank are becoming a police state, and they are silencing the people,’ he told Amnesty International.”
  • Amnesty International [says] the new West Bank law curtailing freedom of speech is being used as a tool to silence dissenting voices in the ongoing conflict between Fatah and Hamas. 
  • [Last week, the Palestinian Authority] arrested Mohammed Saber Jabbar, after he hosted right-wing Israeli lawmaker Yehudah Glick for Eid al-Adha celebrations. According to Glick, he “went to wish [Jabbar] a happy holiday on eid al-Adha…”

The AIJAC article goes on to give several examples of how critical voices are being silenced by the Abbas regime:

  • Jihad Barakat, a reporter for the Palestine Today satellite channel, was arrested for “taking a picture of the Palestinian Prime Minister’s motorcade being stopped at an Israeli checkpoint”. Absurdly, Barakat was charged “with a crime that is usually used to harass beggars” for the unlawful use of public spaces.
  • Ayman Qawasmeh, the director of a private radio station in Hebron, was arrested “shortly after he criticized Abbas and called on him and his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, to resign”. 
  • Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, published a Facebook post criticising Qawasmeh’s arrest… was taken into custody for speaking out…[and] also charged with “‘causing strife’ and ‘insulting the higher authorities’ under the 1960 Jordanian Penal code which is still enforced in the West Bank”.
Of course, Fatah/PA/PLO/Abbas are far from alone in their penchant for petty and not-so-minor thuggish tyranny:
  • [The] Hamas leadership in Gaza has also been busy during the last few months. In June, Hamas “arrested at least two journalists,… blocked journalists from reporting in some areas, and restricted the work of a foreign journalist”. 
  • [In July] “twelve Palestinians were questioned and detained… for comments they made on Facebook”, and at least three of the journalists reported ill-treatment and one alleged torture by the Hamas authorities.
  • [Amnesty says two Palestinian Arab critics of Hamas claimed] “they were kidnapped, beaten and threatened by Hamas security forces with the use of violence against them and their families”. Their crime? Criticising Hamas’ handling of the ongoing electricity crisis…
  • [Last month] Hamas released Palestine TV’s correspondent Fouad Jaradeh after more than two months in detention – but only after the Palestinian Authority arrested five journalists working with Hamas-affiliated news outlets. The five Hamas journalist were then released in what was widely viewed as a tit-for-tat situation.

AIJAC’s analysis ends with some on-the-money comments from Khaled Abu Toameh, a Palestinian Arab commentator whom we quote here fairly often. On these matters, he says with considerable justice 

that the mainstream press prefers to cover “the Palestinians whose stories are often linked, directly and indirectly, to Israel”. But in cases like these, where the Palestinians are victims at the hands of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, “their tale remains buried – along with their freedom”.

Now think of all the working reporters, photographers, commentators, analysts, editors and media representatives based in this specific corner of the world – perhaps the most intensively covered of any of the world’s news hotspots – and ask yourself when any of these instances of gross muzzling of dissenting voices were last (or ever!) reported in any of the sources of news that provide you with what you know.

Is it possible to make sense of the failing search for peace in this part of the world without paying attention to the police billy-clubs and draconian laws over on the other side of the fence?

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