Washington Post Doesn’t Find Harassment of Its Own Journalists by Palestinian Authority Newsworthy
Last weekend, Palestinian police assaulted and arrested two journalists from The Washington Post.
Despite this attack on the free press, the incident has not been covered anywhere in the international media — not even by The Washington Post itself.
Apparently, the newspaper doesn’t consider the harassment and arrest of its own journalists by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to be newsworthy.
On August 21, PA security forces assaulted two journalists employed by The Washington Post: Sufian Taha and Salwan Georges. The latter is a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo journalist. Sufian Taha is the Post’s West Bank correspondent.
The journalists were covering the latest in a series of protests against the PA in Ramallah’s Manara Square over the death of Nizar Banat, a critic of the PA government who died in police custody in June.
The situation for press in the West Bank has become so severe that Palestinian journalists have resorted to asking the UN for protection. Yet despite the fact that several journalists have been injured as a result of the PA’s crackdown, international news organizations have for the most part ignored the story.
Indeed, the story has only seen the light of day because the Foreign Press Association in Israel issued a press release on August 24th (emphasis added):
On Saturday, August 21st, Palestinian security forces in the West Bank harassed, abused and threatened a pair of Washington Post journalists, Salwan Georges and Sufian Taha, covering a protest in Ramallah’s Manara Square.
The demonstrators had gathered to protest the Palestinian Authority’s handling of the death of Nizar Banat, a government critic who died in the custody of Palestinian police on June 24.
As police broke up the gathering, a Palestinian policeman grabbed the Washington Post photographer as he was taking pictures of the arrests. The officer seized the camera, held the photographer’s neck and tore his press badge.
Georges explained that he was with the international media and tried to hold onto his camera. But additional security men surrounded him, taking away the camera and telling him: “Here it’s different. We don’t care.”
The police held on to the camera for over an hour, deleting seven photos and preventing him from doing his job. When the camera was returned, both journalists were ordered to leave and told there would be a “big problem” if photos of one of the officers were published.
The Foreign Press Association condemns this egregious behavior in the strongest terms. We call on the Palestinian Authority to sanction the officers who were involved in this incident and to stand behind its past promises to respect the freedom of the press.
It’s worth noting that this is not the first time that Sufian Taha has been arrested in the Middle East while reporting for The Washington Post.
In 2011, the Post documented that Taha, then acting as a translator, had been arrested in Cairo. It also published a statement by US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, who “called the roundup and detention of reporters and activists in Egypt … a ‘concerted effort’ to disrupt international media coverage.”
There’s a clear double standard here.
It’s also instructive to compare the coverage with incidents when Israel has been accused of mistreating journalists.
Taha was also briefly arrested by Israel in 2016, together with The Washington Post’s then-Jerusalem bureau chief, William Booth. At the time, fellow Washington Post correspondent Ruth Eglash told The Jerusalem Post that Booth “doesn’t want to talk about it, and said it was just a misunderstanding.” Nevertheless, The Washington Post covered this story, as did The New York Times.
Another example occurred just a few months ago, when Al Jazeera journalist Givara Budeiri claimed that she had been arrested for no reason by the Israeli police. It later turned out, in fact, that she had shoved a member of the border police.
After her release, Budeiri claimed her arm had been broken — but not before being caught on camera picking up two children, one in each arm, without any apparent difficulty.
The topic of Israeli government assaults on democracy and the free press has repeatedly appeared in the media over the last few years, with ominous pieces repeatedly describing the alleged “war on Israeli democracy,” which, according to some, is “in jeopardy” or even “left in tatters.”
But when the story is about Palestinian violence and Palestinian denial of basic rights to journalists, suddenly there is no interest from the media in covering the incident. Readers are occasionally told of the brutality of Hamas. However, Fatah and its chairman, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, are routinely described as “moderate” in media reports. In reality, their politics, ideology, and deeds are far from moderate.
It has long been apparent that freedom of the press in Gaza has declined steadily since Hamas’ violent takeover, with the right to free speech stifled and journalists kept on a tight leash. Much the same is occurring in the West Bank under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority.
It’s time that media outlets start covering the story of how basic freedoms are being denied by both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. The first step should be the accurate reporting of the arrest and assault of the two Washington Post employees for the crime of doing their job.
The author is a writer-researcher for HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article was first published.