Muzzling press freedom in Palestine
|Friday, July 17,2009 15:45|
|By Khalid Amayreh|
The recent decision by the Ramallah-based regime to close down the al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank illustrates the vulnerability and utter stupidity of the American-backed and Israeli-tolerated junta.
The decision came a day after Fatah Secretary-General Farouk Kaddoumi appeared on al-Jazeera, accusing Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas and his aide, former Gaza strong man Muhammed Dahlan, of complicity in poisoning the late Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat.
Justifying the decision, PA officials accused al Jazeera of bias, incitement and fostering division within the Palestinian community.
In fact, al-Jazeera didn’t go beyond transmitting Kaddumi’s impromptu news conference as other TV networks and news agencies did.
Hence, it is amply clear that the draconian measure against al Jazeera by the nominally autonomous Ramallah regime was a classical instance of shooting the messenger because one doesn’t like the message.
Non the less, the decision seems to be consistent with the overall mindset of the Ramallah regime.
This is a regime that constantly violates the basic human rights and civil liberties of the Palestinian people.
It is a regime that rounds up thousands of “non-conformist” Palestinians and incarcerates them for prolonged periods of time without charge or trial. It is a regime that nearly explicitly allows physical and psychological torture throughout its notorious jails and detention centers.
This brutal modus operandi is so rampant that many detainees would rather be in Israeli custody than being hosted in the dungeons of the “national” Palestinian Authority.
Again, it is obvious that the charges leveled against al-Jazeera are completely false simply because al-Jazeera was only carrying out its professional duties, namely reporting hard news. And if Fayyad and his colleagues in Ramallah didn’t like the news, that is not al-Jazeera’s fault.
Never the less, and given the morbid behavior of the PA regime toward free press, it is probably safe to argue that the Kaddumi affair was only a pretext for clamping down on Jazeera.
The PA, as we all know, is an inherently authoritarian regime when it comes to freedom of speech.
It unapologetically imprisons journalists, and humiliates them, for reporting “the wrong news,” interviewing the “wrong people” and working for the “wrong” newspaper, TV network or even website.
And whenever, journalists protest the assault on press freedom, they are often affronted with ignorant PA officers who argue that “we are in Palestine, not in Sweden.”
This writer has been arrested and mistreated several times by the PA for saying that which “shouldn’t be said.” Honestly, had it not been for international pressure, I probably would have remained languishing in PA jails for a long time.
Well, does a Palestinian journalist have to have “influential foreign supporters” in order to feel comfortable in his job? Unfortunately, the answer is a big “yes” for many journalists who have a zero protection against arbitrary arrest by the PA regime for not exercising self-censorship.
This is certainly true for the six journalists who are still suffering in the dungeons of the Palestinian security agencies, people such as Mustafa Sabri, who has been imprisoned for more than five months in the northern West Bank town of Qalqilya .
Yes, it is self-censorship, this ugly form of suppressing press freedom which despotic regimes and police states are trying to impose on journalists and reporters. And if these often helpless creatures “don’t behave,” the slimy cell will always be awaiting them.
Notwithstanding, the enemies of press freedom shouldn’t feel triumphant because they are always on the losing end of history.
Today, with the universal proliferation of the internet, no state can even pretend to have the power to prevent the dissemination of the “wrong news.”
The recent events in Iran provided a clarion proof that the enemies of press freedom are losing the battle for the hearts and minds of the people. Similarly, the exceptionally excellent coverage by al-Jazeera of the Nazi-like Israeli blitzkrieg in Gaza more than six months ago served to thwart efforts by the Israeli hasbara machine to turn the black into white and the big lie into a virtual truth as the Zionist mill of mendacity had been doing nearly unchallenged for decades.
There is no doubt that Israel is the greatest beneficiary from the stupid decision to close down al-Jazeera offices in the West Bank.
As we all know, the Doha-based pan-Arab network is the most watched news channel in occupied Palestine and the rest of the Arab world. It is also the first and arguably the best source of news and views on the Israeli occupation and such related subjects as Jewish settler terror against the Palestinians, land confiscation, settlement expansion and other aspects of Zionist repression and oppression of the Palestinians.
Hence, one exaggerates very little by saying that the Fayyad government, by closing down al Jazeera offices in the West Bank, is effectively helping the Israeli propaganda machine.
This explains the satisfaction with which some Zionist officials have reacted to the closure of al-Jazeera offices.
In fact, one Zionist website, the fascist-oriented Arutz Shiva, has urged the Israeli government to press the PA regime to close down all Palestinian news media, including websites, for “inciting” against the Israeli occupation and apartheid and especially for “vilifying” Nazi-like settlers seeking to steal Arab land and expelling Palestinians from Palestine.
Finally, a few words of advice to the PA regime in Ramallah:
You are behaving like a police state, and in your case, it is a police state without a state. This is certainly a bad beginning for you and for the “independent and sovereign” state you are dreaming of.
You should realize that a state-building is not carried out this way. Indeed, a state that is shaken to its foundations by a routine TV report or a newspaper article is not worth building, let alone maintaining. A bad beginning makes for a bad end.
After all, the Palestinian people didn’t struggle all these years for a police state, a sinister, mendacious regime that muzzles press freedom, closes press offices and imprisons journalists for reporting the “bad news.”
You are shooting yourself in the foot. You are fighting a loosing battle.