Targeting Press Freedom in Palestine
by Stephen Lendman
Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces share guilt. They operate collaboratively.
Journalists and free press activists established the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA).
Free expression is the most important of all rights. Without it all others are at risk. Israeli and PA officials notoriously censor truth.
Israeli military censorship bans or sanitizes material it calls potentially harmful to security. It does so whether or not it’s true.
Israeli Supreme Court decisions limit content suppression to “tangible (or) near certain” instances of public endangerment. Interpretations are crucial.
Israeli authorities are increasingly hardline. Fundamental rights are systematically violated. Palestinian protests are prohibited.
Free expressions is compromised. Classroom materials are rewritten. Praise for Israel alone is allowed.
Nakba denial persists. Academia is affected. Historical revisionism legitimizes crimes too important to whitewash.
Abbas represents coup d’etat leadership. He’s a longtime Israeli collaborator. He governs illegitimately. He does so despotically.
He ordered ISPs to block web sites criticizing him and/or PA officials. Affected sites include Amad, Fatah Voice, Firas Press, In Light Press, Karama Press, Kofia Press, Milad News and Palestine Beituna.
They report daily news and information. They can’t operate freely. Nor can independent broadcasters.
Journalists are targeted. Efforts are made to silence them. Israeli and PA security forces bear full responsibility.
Bethlehem journalist George Canawati was targeted numerous times. Most recently it was on November 10. He was arrested on suspicion of “slander” and “insults.”
He heads Radio Bethlehem 2000. He was physically assaulted during arrest and interrogation. He appeared in court with a black eye and torn shirt.
Eyewitnesses called his arrest “violent.” His radio program airs weekly. Palestinian journalists said he was arrested for criticizing Bethlehem police commander, Omar Shalabi.
He denounced other PA officials earlier. Journalist Mohamed Abu Arkoub focuses on media freedom. He called Canawati’s treatment a gross free press breach.
He took issue with how he was arrested, saying:
“Why do they have to raid and search the home of a journalist in a way that degrades the profession of journalism?”
“This shows that there is no political will to consolidate and respect freedom of expression in Palestinian society.”
Canawati went on hunger strike in protest. The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate condemned his arrest and treatment.
It supports free press rights for all journalists. It rejects all attempts to deny them. It called for ending this unjustifiable practice.
MADA called for Canawati’s immediate release. Radio Bethlehem 2000 correspondent, Arica Zidan, was present in his home when he was targeted.
Ten PA policemen accosted him. They did so violently. They “pushed his mother to the ground,” she said.
She saw him in the Public Prosecutor’s office. Clear signs of a beating were evident. He was denied legal counsel during interrogation. MADA expressed outrage, saying:
“The arrest of colleague Qanawati and beating him constitutes a serious violation of media freedoms and condemned action, and we reiterate our demand for his immediate release and respect for freedom of expression in Palestine.”
In September, Al Quds network for Community Media correspondent Omar Abu Arwoub was denied permission to travel through Allenby crossing.
Numerous other West Bank and Jerusalem journalists were targeted. Israeli forces assaulted French Press Agency photographer Ja’far Ishtayeh and European Agency’s Ala’ Badarneh.
They were targeted while covering Kofor Qadom’s weekly march near Qalqilya. Journalists reporting on Bab Hetta demonstrations were attacked.
Reporting on Israel’s September 11 Al-Aqsa Mosque closure was prohibited. Israeli security forces attacked Chinese news agency photographer Nedal Ishtayeh. His cameras were confiscated. They were returned broken.
Two sound bombs wounded Ramsat agency photographer Ayman Idris. He was covering a late September Kofor Qadom weekly march.
Israeli forces attacked other journalists. They did so with sound bombs and skunk water. They physically assaulted them near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate.
On September 27, other journalists were attacked. They were covering Beit Ommer’s Hebron weekly march. Israeli security forces fired rubber bullets indiscriminately.
French agency photographer Mousa Al Sha’er sustained chest and hand wounds. Occupation forces prevented Palestinian photographers Esam Remawii and Thaer Faqosa from covering Israel’s Al-Bireh raid.
Palestinian Authority forces arrested Heyad News Agency correspondent Thaher Shamaly. Quds TV correspondent Mustafa Al Khawaja was targeted.
MADA expressed “great concern over the escalation of violations against journalists in Palestine.” Press freedom is greatly threatened.
Most September violations were collective punishments. Journalists and photographers covering events Israel and PA authorities want suppressed were targeted.
Al Quds Net correspondent Daila Jwehan said journalists covering protests “were pushed and beaten with batons.” They were insulted. Some were wounded. Cameras were confiscated, damaged or destroyed.
In early 2013, a Palestinian court sentenced Anas Said Awwad to one year in prison. It did so for insulting Abbas on Facebook. He was found guilty of depicting him as a Real Madrid soccer team member.
Numerous other Palestinians were targeted for posting critical Facebook comments.
Safad Nazzal criticized PA officials for ignoring wrongfully incarcerated Palestinian prisoners languishing in Israel’s gulag. She was arrested for doing so.
In April 2012, Human Rights Watch (HRW) headlined “Palestinian Authority/Israel: Escalating Assault on Free Expression.”
On March 26, PA security forces arrested journalist Yusaf al-Shayeb. He was held until April 2. He was charged with criticizing PA officials. He accused them of spying and corruption.
Israeli forces targeted Al Quds University administrator Adel Rweished. He was detained in Jerusalem’s old city. Israeil police targeted an event “marking the launch of a new website.” A security guard was arrested.
Both men were released. They were summoned for further questioning. Israel prohibits political demonstrations.
HRW’s Sarah Whitson said:
“Both the Palestinian Authority and Israel should stop harassing and arresting journalists. These attacks send a chilling message about exercising the right to free expression.”
Arrests violate fundamental free press rights. “On March 28, the Ramallah court of first instance ordered al-Shayeb’s detention for 15 days, to enable police to investigate claims that he committed slander and defamation,” said HRW.
“Al-Shayeb has refused Palestinian prosecutors’ demands to identify his sources.”
Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad al-‘Urdani said he accused the PA’s deputy Paris ambassador, Safwat Ibraghit, of corruption and spying.
He did so on Muslim organizations. Al-Shayeb informed PA and foreign security agencies. He named other high level PA officials.
He faces potential two years imprisonment for “slandering” government officials. An official complaint seeks $6 million in damages.
He was fired for reporting responsibly. Under Palestinian Press and Publications Law (PPPL), journalists are entitled to protect confidential sources.
They can do so unless a court orders revealing them to protect security, prevent crime, or promote justice.
PPPL’s Article 7 prohibits publishing material contrary to principles of freedom, national responsibility, human rights, and respect for truth.
Article 37 forbids published information harming national unity. According to HRW:
“These prohibitions are so vague that they could chill freedom of the press and violate an accused person’s right to defend him or herself, as it is impossible to know what types of information, if published, would constitute a crime.”
PA officials repeatedly agreed to uphold free expression. Their policies are polar opposite.
Criminalizing proved defamation is wholly inappropriate. Honestly reporting government wrongdoing represents responsible whistleblowing.
No one’s above the law. PA authorities want their crimes whitewashed. Journalists exposing them are victimized for doing their job.
Another case involves Al Quds University lecturer Abdul-Khaleq. Comments she posted on Facebook allegedly insulted Abbas.
She called for the PA’s dissolution. She was detained. She wasn’t charged.
PA security forces arrested Zaman press reporter Tareq Khamis. Doing so related to Abdul-Khaleq’s case. He was later released.
Dozens of other journalists were targeted. So were activists. Abbas wants critics silenced. He’s waging war on free expression. He does so collaboratively with Israel.
According to Palestinian human rights group Al Haq director, Shawan Jabarin:
“We monitored (PA security forces) arresting people and journalists, and the oppression of freedom of expression.”
“There are many people I’m sure that are afraid and will count to ten before they say anything.”
“Maybe they’ll push people to speak underground instead of expressing their opinions freely.”
Charges against journalists are based largely on decades earlier Jordanian Penal Code law.
Palestinian Attorney General Ahmad al-Maghni uses it irresponsibly.
His “role is to protect the freedoms and the rights of the people in the face of arbitrary detention, instead of arresting people,” said Jabarin.
“Here, we see him acting quickly and exaggerating with all” charges levied. He’s closing his ears and his eyes on (real) crimes going on.”
Palestinian journalists, activists, human rights workers, bloggers and students are routinely targeted.
Arrests follow Facebook posted comments. Journalists exposing government wrongdoing are at risk.
Claiming justification for security reasons doesn’t wash. Denying fundamental freedoms reflect police state harshness.
In August, the Palestinian Human Rights Organizations Council (PHROC) called on Abbas and other PA officials to respect free expression and assembly at all times.
Denying fundamental rights has no legitimacy. PHROC said PA officials act unjustifiably against their own people.
Arrests and excessive force are commonplace. Palestinians are targeted for exercising their legitimate rights.
Security forces are supposed to protect civil and human rights without disruption.
PHROC cited Article 26 of Palestinian Basic Law and Article 2 of the Palestinian Public Assemblies Law, saying:
“The Palestinian Prime Minister must form an independent and impartial committee to investigate the circumstances behind the suppression of the peaceful protest and to ensure that those responsible for violating human rights are held accountable for their crimes.”
“Those who are found guilty of such crimes must be adequately punished, including dismissal from their positions within the Security Forces.”
“The PA must publish the procedure and results of an independent investigation and publicly apologise to the victims of these violations.”
Fundamental freedoms are inviolable. They’re too important to loose. They include free expression, assembly and many others.
A “culture of respect for citizens’s rights and freedoms is (entirely) absent” in Palestinian society. PA officials share blame with Israel.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at email@example.com.
His new book is titled “Banker Occupation: Waging Financial War on Humanity.”
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.
It airs Fridays at 10AM US Central time and Saturdays and Sundays at noon. All programs are archived for easy listening.