Censored by Facebook, journalist forges on as lonely dissenting Arab voice on PA

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Click photo to download. Caption: Khaled Abu Toameh. Credit: Courtesy Khaled Abu Toameh.

In an environment where criticism of Israel is not only common, but encouraged, Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh is a lonely voice of dissent on issues relating to the Palestinian Authority (PA). 

“I believe that a journalist should be loyal to the truth, as opposed to a president or a prime minister,” Abu Toameh said in an interview with JNS.org. “I do not wish to be a mouthpiece for any leader, an organ of any structure, or a cover-up agent for anybody. A journalist should be free to criticize anyone as long as he is telling the truth.”

Abu Toameh’s unique role in the media world was perhaps no more apparent than when Facebook recently removed his profile following complaints about his posts, which are highly critical of the PA and the Kingdom of Jordan.

Though his page was quickly restored after a backlash of complaints, the attempt to silence Abu Toameh’s online presence is the latest in a campaign to censor any perceived anti-Arab sentiment.

Click photo to download. Caption: Mahmoud Abbas meets with Barack Obama in the Oval Office, with an interpreter in between them. Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh is a lonely dissenting Arab voice on Abbas's Palestinian Authority. Credit: White House.

In an op-ed challenging the Facebook incident, Abu Toameh commented, “During the past year alone, a number of Palestinian journalists and bloggers were arrested by Western-funded Palestinian Authority security services in the West Bank for criticizing the PA leadership on their Facebook pages.”

“It is the duty of Facebook and Western societies to side with those seeking freedom, and not to be complicit in suppressing their voices,” he wrote.

The award-winning journalist, who writes for the Jerusalem Post, reports for NBC News as well as several European media outlets, and posts often-stinging opinion pieces for the Gatestone Institute, does that which most Arab journalists would never dare: he attempts to hold Palestinian and Arab leadership accountable for their actions.

“The prevailing concept in the Arab world is that if you are not with us, you are against us,” Abu Toameh told JNS.org.  In other words, he said, a Palestinian journalist “is expected to be loyal to the cause of Palestinian nationalism.”

Abu Toameh got his start more than 30 years ago working with Palestinian media but left because of the limitations placed on his work.  Today journalists face similar restrictions.

Click photo to download. Caption: Khaled Abu Toameh. Credit: Courtesy Khaled Abu Toameh.

“Media in the West Bank is controlled by Fatah,” Abu Toameh said. “Media in Gaza is controlled by Hamas. A journalist in those areas is not free to report as he sees fit.”

One of the first Israeli papers Abu Toameh wrote for was a Hebrew publication called Yerushalayim (or Jerusalem).  “At that time, I wrote articles criticizing Israel, and the IDF in particular, for various human rights violations, and I won several awards. Of course now that I am criticizing the Palestinian Authority, I am roundly condemned,” he said.

Abu Toameh is not only condemned but is often threatened. “Today, I am getting more threats from the US, Canada, Europe and the UK than I am from within the Palestinian Authority,” Abu Toameh said.

“But what is unique, is that those that threaten me roundly acknowledge that I am telling the truth,” he said. “They don’t question my reporting.  They just want me to shut up. I’d be much more afraid of what could happen to me if I were lying,” Abu Toameh stated.

It is Abu Toameh’s reputation for reporting honestly that keeps his sources coming back.  “I speak to members of Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Palestinian officials, residents and terrorists,” he said.

Click photo to download. Caption: Members of the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations General Assembly, including Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, celebrate Nov. 29 upon the vote to upgrade Palestinian status to a non-member observer state at the UN. Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has been critical of Abbas and the PA, unlike his fellow Arab journalists. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

“They want to communicate to the international community, and I provide them with an outlet,” Abu Toameh added.

Today, Abu Toameh’s articles can be found in the Jerusalem Post, but he rejects the notion that he is writing for a Jewish or pro-Israel newspaper.

“I am an Israeli citizen, and I write for an Israeli paper.  I will write for any paper that gives me a free platform,” Abu Toameh said.

Steve Linde, Editor-in-Chief of the Jerusalem Post, contends that Abu Toameh’s reporting is extraordinarily important. “Khaled is a real hero,” Linde told JNS.org.  “He exposes corruption within the Palestinian administration without fear or hesitation.” 

“I think just about everybody respects his integrity and credibility as a journalist.  He has a strong international reputation for being a top Palestinian journalist,” Linde said.

Abu Toameh has no fears of reporting oftentimes-harsh truths.  When it comes to peace between Israel and Palestinians, according to Abu Toameh, the chances are not good.

“In my opinion, it is nearly impossible to fit another state between Israel and Jordan.  We also need to ask what kind of state would that be?  Would it be a terror state like in Gaza, or a secular dictatorship like we see throughout the Arab World,” he said.

With regard to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Abu Toameh is not certain that he has the ability to make peace with Israel. “Shimon Peres might think Abbas can make peace, but Abbas has no mandate from his people,” he said. “Abbas might be serious and he might be sincere, but that is not the issue. Much more important is whether he can deliver. And right now, the answer is no, he cannot deliver.”

Abu Toameh is not sure that Jordan is the answer for Palestinian self-determination either, even though a majority of that country is Palestinian. “I don’t see how you can dismantle Jordan and make it a Palestinian state,” he said. “In that case, you might end up with three separate Palestinian states: one in Jordan, one in Gaza and one in the West Bank.  You have to be careful what you wish for.”

In the meantime, Jordan’s King Abdullah has managed to stave off protests of the Arab Spring like those in Egypt or Syria. “So far he has managed, but I don’t think he sleeps that well at night,” Abu Toameh said.

“The key is what winds up happening in Syria,” Abu Toameh contended. “Many of the Islamists fighting in Syria come from Jordan.  Once fighting in Syria comes to end, they may come back to start fighting in Jordan.”

What that leaves is an unstable situation, one that could bring even more violence to the region, and particularly to Israel.

“Within Israel’s borders, there is growing tensions, and daily confrontations between Israelis—the IDF as well as settlers—and Palestinians,” Abu Toameh added. “On the ground there is already a ‘popular resistance’ underway. We’ve seen skirmishes, clashes, stonings, Molotov cocktails and more.”

“I believe the third intifada has already begun, albeit on a low flame.”

Posted on January 28, 2013 and filed under Conflict, Features, Israel.