Freedom of Expression? Not for Palestinians

Download this story in Microsoft Word format here.

Click photo to download. Caption: Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: World Economic Forum.

In another story the Western media apparently refuses to cover, any Palestinian who dares to criticize Hamas or the Palestinian Authority (PA) risks being arrested or summoned for interrogation.

Palestinian journalists are now hoping to bring this to the attention of U.S. President Barack Obama when he meets with PA President Mahmoud Abbas next month.

The journalists say they want United States and the rest of the world to know that the crackdown on freedom of expression in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip is designed to hide the fact that Palestinians are governed by two repressive regimes that have no respect for human rights and democracy.

Over the past few weeks, several Palestinian journalists have been arrested in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for reportedly criticizing the policies and leaders of the PA and Hamas.

But this most recent assault on freedom of expression does not seem to bother the Western countries that fund the PA, or Hamas supporters from all around the world.

As far as many Western governments and journalists are concerned, physical assaults on Palestinian reporters in the Gaza Strip are fine as long as they are not perpetrated by Israel.

The PA crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank is also fine with the West as long as Israel is not involved.

Most of the assaults against journalists took place in the Gaza Strip, where Hamas continues to display zero tolerance towards critics or anyone who dares to say something “controversial.”

In the past few weeks, at least 16 journalists from the Gaza Strip were arrested or summoned for interrogation by Hamas authorities in the context of a campaign aimed at intimidating the local media.

Some of the journalists were released only after Hamas forced them to sign a document stating that they would refrain from attending press conferences or covering various activities unless they obtained permission in advance.

The Hamas authorities have also raided the homes of several journalists, confiscating their computers and notebooks.

In some instances, Hamas’s security forces have forced journalists to provide them with their passwords and usernames in order to check their emails.

The following is a list of the names of journalists from the Gaza Strip who have been arrested or interrogated by Hamas in recent weeks: Ashraf Abu Khwaisan, Ala Dawaheed, Amru Dawaheed, Munir al-Munairawi, Mustafa Migdad, Majdi Islim, Juma'ah Abu Shomar, Hisham al-Ju’ub, Muayad Assali, Shadi Shaheen, Muhanad al-Kahlout, Esam Madi, Hussein Abdel Jawwad, Abdel Karim Hijji and Yusef Hammad.

Three other journalists, Khaled Thabet, Mohamed Za’anin and Muthana al-Najjar, were beaten by Hamas policemen and thugs while covering various activities in the Gaza Strip.

In the West Bank, the situation has not been any better for Palestinian journalists and political activists.

Just last week, a PA court sentenced 26-year-old Anas Said Awwad to one year in prison for “insulting” Abbas on Facebook.

Awwad was found guilty of depicting Abbas as a member of the Real Madrid soccer team.

The man was convicted on the basis of a 50-year-old Jordanian law that bans “extending one’s tongue” against the Jordanian monarch.

The PA often uses this law to punish anyone who posts comments against Abbas or other leaders in Ramallah.

This was not the first time that the PA has gone after Palestinians who use Facebook to express their views.

At least three other Palestinians, Nizar Banat, Mamdouh Hamamreh and Jihad Harb, have been targeted by Abbas’s security forces for posting critical comments on Facebook.

Last week, PA security forces also arrested two journalists, Ala al-Titi and Mohamed Awad.

Safad Nazzal, a Palestinian female activist who criticized the PA for failing to pay more attention to the case of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, has also been arrested by PA security forces in the West Bank.

It now remains to be seen whether Obama and other Western leaders and government officials, as well as human rights groups, will pay attention to the ongoing attempt to silence Palestinian journalists and political activists. Failure to do so will only encourage Hamas and the PA to continue their assaults on freedom of expression.

Originally published by the Gatestone Institute, www.gatestoneinstitute.org.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades, including for the Jerusalem Post since 2002.


Posted on February 17, 2013 and filed under Israel, Opinion.