Seven Palestinian journalists are the latest victims of the Palestinian Authority's (PA) continued crackdown on the media.
The repressive measures are aimed at silencing critical voices among the journalists and deterring others from reporting stories that reflect negatively on the Palestinian leadership in particular and Palestinians in general.
In the view of President Mahmoud Abbas and his PA, Palestinian journalists exist to write stories slamming Israel or praising PA leaders. Media, for them, is defined as a mouthpiece for Abbas, the PA leadership and the Palestinian cause.
Any journalist who dares to think outside this checkpoint is subject to severe punishment. Under Abbas and the PA, there is no room for an independent media.
The three major Palestinian newspapers -- Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda -- are controlled, directly and indirectly, by the PA.
Although Al-Quds, the largest Palestinian daily, is privately owned and published in Jerusalem, it too serves as a mouthpiece for the PA. The newspaper's publisher and editors know that if they publish any story that is critical of Abbas or the PA leaders, they will face punitive measures, such as banning the distribution of Al-Quds in PA-controlled territories. As such, the editors and journalists have long resorted to self-censorship. This forced silencing explains the absence, for example, of any news items about Palestinian corruption or human rights violations in Al-Quds and the two other newspapers.
Al-Quds suffered heavy financial losses after Hamas banned its distribution in the Gaza Strip several years ago. The newspaper was banned from sale in Gaza because of its affiliation with the Palestinian Authority and criticism of Hamas.
Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda were founded by the PA after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, more than two decades ago. The PA appoints the editors and reporters, who receive their salaries from the Palestinian government. The two dailies are the Palestinian version of Pravda ("Truth"), the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
But the truth is hardly on the minds of the Palestinian editors and journalists employed by the PA. Their only truth concerns stories that blast Israel. The pages of the two newspapers are packed with reports of Israeli "wrongdoings." The Palestinians, it seems, are rather blameless from their point of view. A glance at the PA newspapers leaves one with the impression that President Abbas is the greatest leader of the greatest regime on earth.
Abbas's television and radio stations are no different. They too serve as a modern version of the Soviet Union's Pravda. They too specialize in anti-Israel rhetoric, striving to depict Israel as a war-mongering "racist" and "apartheid" country. The anti-Israel incitement in the PA media has radicalized Palestinians to a point where many of them are no longer willing to accept any form of compromise with Israel.
We like to think that things can get better over time. Yet, a new generation of Palestinian journalists is being raised on the notion that their entire reason for being is to serve as spokesmen for their leaders and government. In the world of the Palestinian Authority leadership, a journalist's loyalty to his leaders and their cause supersedes his loyalty to the truth. In a word, it is the truth vs. Abbas's security forces.
Last month, four Palestinian journalists came to learn the hard way what happens when you defy the PA leadership.
During a peaceful anti-PA protest in Ramallah on March 12, Palestinian security officers brutally assaulted four journalists who were covering the event. The four are Hafez Abu Sabra, Mohammed Shusheh, Jihad Barakat and Ahmed Milhem.
Palestinian Authority police assault journalists at a protest in Ramallah, on March 12, 2017. (Image source: Roya News video screenshot)
Shusheh said security officers in plainclothes approached him and tried to snatch his camera. When he resisted, he was beaten with clubs, he said. When his colleague, Abu Sabra, came to his help, he too was beaten on the face with fists and clubs. The other two journalists recounted undergoing similar assaults.
The assault on the four journalists was aimed at preventing them from reporting on the demonstration in Ramallah, which was organized in protest against the Palestinian Authority's decision to prosecute three Palestinians on charges of illegal possession of weapons.
The journalists would not have been beaten had they arrived to cover a rally in support of President Abbas and the PA leadership.
In a bid to contain the anger of Palestinian journalists over the assault on their colleagues, the PA promised to launch an investigation into the police brutality. No one in Ramallah, however, is expecting the PA to punish those responsible for the assaults on the journalists. Moreover, PA leaders have rather poor credibility among Palestinians on the issue of defending freedom of speech and the media.
Why should anyone believe the PA leaders when their actions go against their words and promises?
After the Ramallah incident, where the four journalists were roughed up by Abbas's officers, the Palestinian Authority security forces detained three more journalists: Amer Abu Arafeh, Sameh Manasrah and Qutaiba Qassem. The three were interrogated for "incitement" against the PA on social media -- meaning that they had voiced criticism of Abbas and his security forces. The journalists crossed the red lines by daring to express their opinion in a way that angered Abbas and his PA officials.
Abbas's policy of intimidation seems to be working. Palestinian journalists living under his rule in the West Bank are afraid to report stories that are not favorable in the eyes of the PA leadership.
As the international media relies heavily on Palestinian journalists and "media assistants" in covering Palestinian affairs, this intimidation of Palestinian journalists heavily colors the reporting of Western journalists. The stories Palestinian journalists tell their Western colleagues are limited to ones that will not endanger their own lives.
This censorship, whether by the Abbas's security forces or self-imposed, explains why one rarely reads or sees a story in Western mainstream media about negative things happening in the PA-controlled territories.
The Palestinian journalists, like their leaders, give Western journalists only the dirt on Israel. Many Western journalists, for their part, have adjusted themselves to this reality and are willing partners in the bash-Israel campaign.
Even when their Palestinian colleagues are beaten and arrested by Abbas's security forces, these "journalists" fail to report such incidents. This makes some sense: should they open their mouths with the truth, Abbas and his cohorts might indeed stop inviting them to press conferences and banquets in the fancy restaurants of Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho.
Bassam Tawil is an Arab Muslim scholar based in the Middle East.