The Silence Abbas and the PA Want You to Hear

June 7, 2012 12:17 pm 3 comments

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: wiki commons.

The Middle East is becoming quieter.  No, the swords are not turning into plowshares, it’s not that kind of quiet.  Instead, it is the sound of truth that’s slowly being silenced.  And it’s happening not only because the PA grows stronger, but also because the west grows weaker.

Thirty years ago the young Arab journalist Khaled abu Toameh quit working for PLO media outlets.  They did not allow reporting on what abu Toameh saw as the news people needed to know.  Instead, he was told to take the words dictated by the Arab leadership, and cut and paste them into the stories they then published, but under his byline.  They weren’t his words and it wasn’t the news, so he turned to western media for outlets that allowed him to write and speak about what people needed to know.

In those thirty years the PA media has not become more open.  Instead, the PA leadership has become more emboldened and the western media – either because of physical or moral exhaustion – is allowing the PA’s censorship to seep into and rot away at core freedoms, both of speech and of the press.

Under the Palestinian Authority’s Penal Code, a holdover from when Jordan illegally occupied the territories, defamation suspects can be arrested and held in detention for up to six months before they are charged with a crime.  Esmat Abdul-Khalik, an al Quds University lecturer and single mother of two, was arrested in late March and held in solitary confinement and denied the possibility of any visits because someone else criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas on her Facebook page, calling him a traitor and suggesting he resign.  Abdul-Khalik is not the only Arab arrested recently for Facebook page activity, at least three others have recently been picked up for daring to criticize members of the government.

In September, the director of Radio Bethlehem 2000, George Canawati, was arrested for posting on his Facebook page criticism of the Bethlehem Health Department.  Last month the PA judicial and executive authorities determined Canawati will be tried for defamation – a crime punishable by up to two years in prison – in the Magistrate Court of Bethlehem City.  The trial was recently adjourned until September.

Altogether, nine journalists have been arrested in recent weeks for exposing corruption or making critical remarks about the PA leadership on Facebook, and many others have been summoned for interrogation.  When Facebook postings expose government critics to censure, you can be sure that no one will risk filing bona fide media reports about the topic.

But just as frightening as Arab Palestinian bloggers and journalists being arrested for posting on their Facebook pages is the steady drumbeat of pressure that is leading to a decrease in coverage by western journalists who, presumably, are not as vulnerable to the capricious selections for punishment designed to suppress criticism of the ruling regime.

In addition to whispered discussions being heard in Ramallah about the “Facebook Police” are the directives issued to western journalists to focus their reporting on “Israel’s ‘occupation’” and refrain from prying into alleged corruption committed by PA officials, because “nothing else is newsworthy and nothing else should be reported.”

Some western journalists have been warned not to work with Arabic speaking reporters who fail to toe the “All-Occupation, All The Time” reporting.  This is how the PA controls not only their own media outlets, but those western outlets.  All too many simply play along rather than stand up for press and speech freedoms and possibly risk losing access.  For those journalists who behave and report primarily about the occupation, the rewards are access to senior officials.  Senior PA officials told Arab Israeli journalist abu Toameh, “Even the Jews at Haaretz behave themselves and for that they are rewarded with interviews of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.”

It is not only individual journalists who are being intimidated, but entire news sites critical of the PA have been blocked on the internet.  A report in late April revealed that several websites which had reported on corruption within the PA were blocked, including Inlight Press, which had revealed that the PA had been monitoring the phones of Mahmoud Abbas’s opponents.

What’s more, in May, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate, a vehicle that is supposed to act as a union to defend the rights of its members, actually began punishing Arab Palestinian journalists for meeting and cooperating with Israeli colleagues in a series of joint seminars that were held in Europe.  The goal of those seminars was to promote freedom of expression and increase cooperation. The PJS is affiliated with the PA and is dominated by Fatah, the party of Abbas, and reports directly to the President’s office in Ramallah.  Those who violate the will of the Syndicate, which is to sing from the hymnal of PA devotion and praise for Abbas, are threatened with expulsion from the Syndicate and a concomitant boycott by all PA newspapers and other Palestinian media outlets.

It is ironic that the apparent increase in number and breadth of intimidation and harassment is taking place at the same time that the Palestinian Authority has been criticizing Israel for reviewing emails of those seeking to enter Israel to determine whether the travelers may pose security threats.  The ubiquitous complaints about the Israeli arrest and detention of Arab journalists rarely reveals that while those detained may be, at least incidentally, journalists, the reason for the detentions are threats to security, not the expressions of opinion, and certainly not criticism of Israeli government officials.  After all, it’s not like the muzzling of Arab “truthtellers” would prevent bad press for the Israeli government – you can buy a copy of Haaretz for that any day of the week, or subscribe to the endless press releases issued by the many NGOs funded by European governments, all of which are uniformly hostile to the Jewish state.

So thirty years on, Khaled abu Toameh finds that the path he took away from censorship seems to have doubled back on itself.  Rather than walking firmly on the precious path of western iconic freedoms of an unfettered press and uncensored speech, abu Toameh is finding that that road is rotting out beneath his feet.  This rare truth-telling journalist is finding it increasingly harder to report the corruption and lack of freedoms in the PA, and as a result our news world is becoming a quieter, but certainly not a better, place.  On his own Facebook Page abu Toameh posted this silent cri de coeur: “A campaign of intimidation, harassment, pressure, threats and boycotts has made it impossible for an Arab journalist to work in the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories.”

Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the president of Z STREET, a pro-Israel, pro-truth organization, and chair of the executive committee of the National Conference on Jewish Affairs

3 Comments

  • ISAIAH PROPHESIED THAT IN THE END OF DAYS THE LION WILL LIE DOWN WITH THE LAMB. HE MIGHT HAVE ADDED THAT THE ARAB WILL NO LONGER TELL OR TOLERATE LIES. THAT WILL BE THE DAY! THE DAY WHEN TRUTH WILL PREVAIL IN THE ARAB WORLD WILL BE THE DAY WHEN PEACE WILL FINALLY COME TO A TIRED MIDDLE EAST AND NOT A DAY SOONER.

  • Dave Alpern

    I disagree that “exhaustion” is the reason for this tragic situation… we are looking at moral BANKRUPTCY.

  • Those regimes that in the past have succeeded in silencing their critics and tieing all discourse to ideological censorship have also strangled all technical progress and their own ability to deal with new developments elsewhere.
    Inquisition Spain which turned in on itself till after Franco is notorious. The same happened to Shogun Japan till the West arrived. Tsarist and Communist Russia wobbled and though it took in top mechanical technology it rebuffed free thinking which led it down an appalling dead end, not in the least on botanical genetics (the Lysenko Affair)and so its food security.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Blogs 10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    10 New Hollywood Movies That Aim to Show Support for Israel (SATIRE)

    Ten major film studios are currently in production on projects that promote a decidedly pro-Israeli narrative. In famously liberal Hollywood, such a development has left mouths agape and set tongues a wagging. Since the Jewish State began defending itself from the thousands of rockets that Hamas has hurled at it – as well as ongoing terror attacks and murders, the overwhelming number of Tinseltown’s producers, directors, actors, and studio moguls have remained indifferent to the plight of millions of Israeli [...]

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Sports So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    So Close: Israeli Judoka Loses Crown in World Cup Final, Finishes With Silver (VIDEO)

    Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi (63kg), 25, of Netanya, on Thursday lost the final round at the Judo World Cup, and her world title to Clarisse Agbegnenou of France, at a match held in Russia. “I have mixed feelings,” Gerbi told Israeli Army radio. But, “I shouldn’t assume that I’d win the world Judo championship twice in a row,” she admitted. Gerbi won gold in Rio De Janeiro last year. “When I made my decision, I knew it was going to [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    Surviving the Holocaust by Hiding Their Faith (REVIEW)

    “Jews Out!” was just the name of a child’s game that three little girls played in World War II Europe. But all is not as it seems because the three girls were Jewish, but hiding their true identities. In award-winning author R. D. Rosen’s riveting non-fiction work, Such Good Girls, “Jews Out!” wasn’t a game; it was a struggle for survival. The girls, Sophie, Flora, and Carla, grew up at a time and a place that did not allow them [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    Twenty Years On, the Real and Radical Legacy of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach

    JNS.org – “He was part hippie, part yippie, part beatnik, and part New Age,” wrote Elli Wohlgelernter in a Jerusalem Post eulogy in 1994, following the Oct. 20 passing of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach. Twenty years later, more robust accounts of Carlebach’s life have come to the surface. Earlier this year, Natan Ophir published the book Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach: Life, Mission & Legacy. This past summer, Rabbi Shlomo Katz’s The Soul of Jerusalem hit the shelves. But even the authors will admit [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Music Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    Beatlemania Invades the Gaza Strip (SATIRE)

    As Hamas loses its grip on power in the Gaza Strip as a result of war, poverty and disillusionment, the Islamist terrorist group has developed an ingenious way to raise the moral of the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs it was elected to serve. While currently focused on delivering a rocket into every Israeli home, Hamas has not left its own people behind. To gently wipe away the tears of children strategically placed inside kindergartens as human shields, the Hamas Interior Ministry has [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Spirituality/Tradition Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    Removing Jesus’ Jewish Identity From Artwork

    In a strong statement that challenges the historic divide between Christianity and Judaism, Pope Francis recently proclaimed, “Inside every Christian is a Jew.” But if you look at Renaissance artworks that depict Jesus, you will not find any evidence of a Jew inside the Christianized Jesus — even though the Gospels in the New Testament tell us that Jesus was Jewish to the core. Getting that point across to the public is a daunting task, as I learned in interviews I [...]

    Read more →
  • Music Personalities Recycling His Roots

    Recycling His Roots

    JNS.org – Having started his career playing on his family’s pots and pans, Jewish musician Billy Jonas has maintained this homemade performance ethic while spreading his messages of simple living and environmentalism to a shared home throughout the world. After beginning in the kitchen, Jonas soon moved to the music room, where he picked up the piano, guitar, and trombone. These days, the multi-talented multi-instrumentalist plays on with pretty much anything he can find, including cans, bottles buckets, and other recycled-object [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Personalities Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    Jewish Renewal Movement Founder’s Insights Form a New Guide for Senior Living

    JNS.org – Sara Davidson’s The December Project is a new book that should be read by all senior citizens, and by those who hope to live a long life, for it raises a question that most of us have not been taught how to answer: What should we do in that final stage of our lives? Many of us continue working past the traditional retirement age of 65, not because we need the money and not because we find the [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.