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PA's press censorship will not change the truth

The oppression of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank is normally associated with the Israelis. However, the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas oppresses not only popular resistance activists, their families, neighbours, friends and colleagues in schools and the workplace, but also suppresses free speech, the news media, the author of the report, the journalist, the reporter and the camera lens itself. The tools in this are the neo-Palestinians of the general security services trained by the American General Keith Dayton, with the wholehearted blessing of Zionist Israel.

Although the policy of silencing internal debate did not start in mid-2007, the PA in Ramallah used the expulsion of Fatah agitators from Gaza by Hamas as an excuse to make known hidden aspects of its agenda. Until then it had kept the murkier areas of PA activities well hidden in order to preserve what little self-respect and dignity it retained. The prosecution of journalists and the suppression of free speech, as well as the closure of some press offices, is merely one aspect of a long-term strategy of the PA.

Why do Mahmoud Abbas and his henchmen fear the media? Probably because it presents the truth, the very thing that they do not want to get into the public domain and which they attempt to fabricate. Why are they afraid of the truth? Simple: the truth is the mirror in front of which they must stand and see themselves without make-up and with their scheming exposed for all to see. In short, the PA has allied itself with the occupation authorities and made their own people their enemies, and media exposure conveys this to the people.

Local and international organisations have been the victims of PA brutality. In May 2006, gunmen from the Fatah movement in Ramallah (which controls the PA), burnt two cars belonging to Al-Jazeera television after accusations by a Fatah official that Al-Jazeera "supports Hamas". According to informed sources, PA President Mahmoud Abbas decided to close Al-Jazeera's office in the West Bank during the Israeli war on the Gaza Strip. It is understood that ministers in the government of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad urged him to do so. However, the victory achieved by the resistance in Gaza, added to the shame of Mahmoud Abbas due to his position on resistance, persuaded him to postpone the closure notice. Instead, he tightened restrictions on the news-gathering crews.

The PA had another opportunity to target Al-Jazeera a few months later when the news channel – like many other media outlets – carried statements by Farouk Kaddoumi, the head of the political committee in the PLO, in which he accused Abbas and Fatah gangster Muhammad Dahlan of participation in the "assassination" of late President Yasser Arafat. At the same time, Fayyad's government argued that Al-Jazeera "was used by Hamas in the war to implement its agenda, and caused further splits between the Palestinians".

From the Israelis' point of view, their ban on Al-Risalah newspaper for the last nine years is probably understandable, as is the decision to bomb the newspaper's HQ in Gaza. Less understandable, though, is the attack by Palestinian Authority security forces on a van carrying copies of Al-Risalah (edition 504, 14 June 2007), burning the vehicle and the contents, and threatening the driver; even the destruction of the printing press was "promised". The paper is still banned in the West Bank.

Criticism of the Palestinian Authority can be deadly, as staff at the Palestine newspaper know too well. Just ten days after it opened, in May 2007, two journalists working on the paper – Solomon Al-Ashi and Mohammed Abdu were "executed" by the so-called Presidential Guard of Mahmoud Abbas. The following month, West Bank security forces burned all available copies of the newspaper, accompanied by a raid on the newspaper's offices during which employees were abused and threatened with prosecution; Al-Ayyam Company which prints the paper was also threatened.

The roll-call of journalists and media activists who have suffered at the hands of the Palestinian Authority is long: Mustafa Sabri, Mohammed Shteiwi, Tareq Abu-Zeid, Murad Abu-Baha, Moath Meshaal, Younes Hsasneh, Samer Khuyrah, Khaldoun Mazloum, Nawaf Al-Amer, Mohamed al-Halayqa, Musab Al-Khaseeb, Ibrahim al-Rantisi, Issam al-Rimawi, Maher Dweikat, Osaid Amarna, Ahmed Al-Khaseeb and many others have all been victims of prosecution, abduction and torture, by the PA and the Israelis, for whom the PA's security forces work. Their crime was to report abuses of power by PA officials and remind people in Palestine of their legal and moral rights.

The law of the jungle prevails frequently in the West Bank but that has not dented the determination of the brave men and women of the media, even when faced with the dark cells of the PA prisons and the cruel investigators of the US-trained security forces.

One media colleague was prevented from seeing his family and working for eight months because of his coverage of the arrest of some Hamas activists and examples of the security cooperation between the PA and the Israeli occupation forces. He wants to share his experiences but wishes, not surprisingly, to remain anonymous: "I was arrested at my workplace in Ramallah. They tortured me by suspending me by my hands for two whole months, during which my hands became almost unusable and I was insulted and abused for no other reason than that I tried to do my job. After arresting me four times using the same false justification, the security forces have forced my employers to sack me, threatening to close the whole office if they didn't get rid of me."

Such experiences are not unique to this colleague, but shared by many journalists and their organisations. Many of the latter have been closed on the pretext that they are "attached to Hamas" or their employees "have Hamas sympathies".

As the experience of media outlets around the world has shown, censorship and oppression of the media may have short-term effects but are actually counter-productive in the long-run. It is a very short-sighted policy of the PA to target the media in this way as it only serves the interests of the Israeli occupation. The truth will come out in the end; on whose side will Mahmoud Abbas and his officials be then?

Source: Palestinian Information Centre

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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