Dr. Abdel Sattar Qassem
As soon as Fahmi Shabana appeared on Israeli television to offer details of the evidence he has about corruption among officials of the Palestinian Authority, a campaign rolled into action accusing him of being a Zionist collaborator bent on distorting the image of those who call themselves revolutionaries and freedom fighters. Over the years that Shabana worked with the Palestinian Authority in different positions, he was never accused of being a collaborator. This charge has only been made since he revealed the level of corruption in the PA.
In the first instance, we should remember that Mr. Shabana is not a naive little innocent himself; he supported the Oslo and subsequent agreements, including security coordination with Israel. It is acknowledged by many that the Oslo accords constitute a serious violation of the inalienable national rights of the Palestinian people and the agreement violates all Palestinian charters and policy decisions agreed upon by the Palestinian people in general. Oslo also makes it easier for Israel to continue its confiscation and settlement of Palestinian land and the “Judaisation” of Jerusalem. Because Mr. Shabana worked with security agencies which coordinate their work with the Israelis, in a very senior post, he would have been checked and cleared by Israel’s own security agencies and received their seal of approval before working for the PA.
It is also clear that the misdemeanours described by Fahmi Shabana are not isolated incidents but part of a systematic level of corruption present amongst Palestinian officials since at least 1970. This phenomenon was noticed in Beirut and Tunis as well as the Palestinian territories after the formation of the PA, and it has always happened with impunity. With no investigations and no apparent accountability it seems as if those who were the most adept at such behaviour were actually rewarded or promoted. The reaction of officials towards the abuse of their positions actually serves to stress that this was done purposefully in order to damage the struggle for the restoration of Palestinian rights.
Another related issue concerns the calibre of the people put in place in order to implement the terms of the Oslo accords. Oslo had a profound effect on the national rights of the Palestinians and the terms could only be steered through by people prepared to abuse their positions of trust in order to force through an agenda detrimental to the rights of Palestinians and favourable to the Israelis. That is why donor countries in the West, especially the USA, keep quiet about the corruption and continue to support the PA despite the overwhelming evidence of its inefficiency and graft within its ranks.
What is really surprising about Fahmi Shaban’s “revelation” is that it took so long to be made “official”. The story has been spoken about among the general public for some time. In summary, the current position is this:
1. He has placed evidence in the public arena, including video footage and documents regarding the alleged thefts.
2. He did not publish his story until he had exhausted all other means trying to get Palestinian Authority officials to take action.
3. Shabana waited a long time for evidence of Palestinian accountability, but no one was listening to him.
4. He actually represents a reference point for Palestinian anti-corruption matters as he was the head of the anti-corruption unit at the PA; he was a PA man, not an outsider.
No Arab media outlet was prepared to publish the documents provided by Shabana, largely due to the lack of a free media and notions of inter-Arab honour. The general social and official milieu in Arab states, characterized by dictatorships and hypocrisy, pushed Fahmi Shabana towards the Israeli media. Hence, if any Palestinian or Arab journalists seek to blame him for speaking to “the enemy” they should first look to themselves and their own censorious institutions. Shabana must have given serious thought to this matter, balancing the benefits of the publicity against the impact of appearing on Israeli television.
Many key members of the Palestinian Authority and educated Palestinians have as a matter of routine dealt with the Zionist media for many years; are they traitors for doing so? Standards for judging treason must be measured and applied equally, not according to personal whims and fancies. If Shabana is a traitor simply for dealing with the Israeli media, then all who have done so over many years are equally treacherous.
Accusations that Shabana collaborated with Israeli intelligence do not fit in with the way that the agencies operate. They generally seek to compromise Arabs and Palestinians using women agents as a so-called “honey trap” before blackmailing them into working for the objectives of the Zionist state. That is why we see a lot of Palestinians appointed to senior positions who are working against the best interests of the Palestinians. If the Israeli intelligence agencies want to discredit someone they will usually use the media to do so. Apart from anything else, do those who coordinate security issues with the Israelis have the right to accuse other people of treason?
As in so many other places, notions of right and wrong are upside down in Palestine. The wrong doer is the one who exposes corruption and not the corrupt one; it’s the person who reveals the crimes but not the criminal; it’s the one who highlights immorality, not the one with immoral practices. Let us ask ourselves a question: who is the criminal, the person who steals a million dollars or the person who makes the accusation of theft? Across the Arab world in this day and age, the answer appears to be obvious: the person who exposes the crime, of course!
Many people are giving advice to the man who has exposed corruption and named the corrupt people; he should have been more professional in his expose and his chosen channels were wrong, and so on. In fact, so much advice is being given that the focus has shifted to the faults of the whistle-blower, away from the corruption itself. It is notable that Palestinian media outlets do not mention names when discussing the violations or charges; in fact, the news anchors usually make a point of asking for names not to be mentioned. They are fearful of a domino effect, whereby accusations will lead to further accusations and, eventually, the anchors themselves will be fired. Nevertheless, the names of the culprits are known across Palestinian society and the mere discussion of the case acts as a deterrent for those considering similar actions.
Conversely, those rushing to defend the accused in this case are many, including the media, politicians, intellectuals and websites. Again, there is an imbalance between those wishing to launch defences against the charges and those wanting to deal with the accusations using established legal procedures. There has been a mobilisation of forces in defence of the corrupt. Why? It’s simple. Most Palestinian officials and media are involved to some degree in corruption. If people are going to start to be held to account, many important figures will fall; reputations are at stake, so let’s bury the scandals! This is an attitude closely related to that which prevailed in Middle East countries not too long ago – kill anyone who bothers the leader, or humiliate him so that the leader stays untouched.
We are now used to the Palestinian Authority countering criticism of its key officials and policies by accusing the critics of being collaborators with the occupation forces, of being traitors. It is an amazing phenomenon, given that one of the key components of Oslo was for collaboration between the PA and the Israelis over security issues. Naturally, Shabana now stands accused as a traitor, but if he collaborates with Israel, and this is so wrong, why was his PA salary cheque paid right up to January 2010? If he was really a spy for Israel, would he have exposed his position by going public in the way he did? His real “crime” is that he did not appreciate the extent to which the Palestinian Authority is required to commit itself to Israeli security.
The proper conduct in cases like this is to hold an independent inquiry with members drawn from outside the PA itself; there has to be an acceptance of its findings and the willingness to implement its recommendations. It requires courage to face such crises in this way for there are many people who have an interest in making sure that such an inquiry does not take place. Nevertheless, the independence of the law and equality in its application is a hallmark of a civilised society, something that we in the West Bank seem to have forgotten.
It’s clear from the Palestinian Authority’s reaction to this scandal that it is in a weak position, and is trying to wriggle its way out of the mess by turning the spotlight on Fahmi Shabana with counter-accusations. This reaction condemns itself because it is so obviously a weak defence. Now that we have corruption charges on the table, we have to bite the bullet and deal with them openly: tackle the message, not the messenger.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.