Jerusalem. The new corruption scandal, first exposed by Khaled Abu Toameh, has rocked the Palestinian Authority and left its leaders in a state of disarray -- But where are the media?
The revelations of Fahmi Shabaneh, the former senior intelligence officer of the Palestinian Authority's Anti-Corruption Department for the past four years, first appeared as a banner headline in the Jerusalem Post on January 29th ("Corruption will let Hamas take W. Bank"), five days before Israel’s Channel 10 TV picked up the story. The station, however, failed to note that its “exclusive scoop” had already been published by Abu Toameh (who also writes for Hudson New York.)
Shabaneh, who lives in East Jersualem, Israel, said he decided to break the story to Abu Toameh after most of the Arab and Western journalists, including those at Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, refused to listen to him. Shabaneh said the journalists cited various reasons, including fear of retribution from the Palestinian Authority; a lack of desire to publish anything that would reflect negatively on the Palestinians; fear of "losing access," and, “Editors are not interested in a story unless it has an anti-Israeli angle.”
Shabaneh presented a written letter, which he had sent to the Al Jazeera bureau in Ramallah: it included an offer to expose cases of corruption among the high echelons of the Palestinian Authority.
The New York Times partially covered the story, treating it as just a sex-scandal.
“What do you think the response in the media would have been if comparable documents about corruption had been exposed about Israeli officials by a senior Israeli officer, instead?” said one frustrated journalist. “This is huge! You can publish anything about the Israelis, there are never any consequences; they keep helping you anyway. Is this a democracy? To keep covering up for dictators?”
Despite the uproar caused by the scandal, which is now known among Palestinians as “Fatahgate,” the mainstream media in the U.S. and Europe did not display the same degree of enthusiasm as the Palestinians on the streets of Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin.
It is ironic that Shabaneh had to resort to an Israeli newspaper to tell his story -- prompting the Palestinian Authority to condemn him as a traitor and ask the Israelis to issue a warrant for his arrest on charges of “espionage done while working for the Palestinian Security forces; recruiting Palestinians to the security forces, and chasing suspected collaborators in Jerusalem.”
The Palestinian Authority leaders and spokesmen immediately claimed that Israel, through the Mossad, Shin Bet [Israel’s security services] and Netanyahu’s government, had concocted a conspiracy to defame and discredit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
This is the same Palestinian Authority, however, that had just caused Shabaneh to be arrested by the Israelis.
Shortly thereafter, all but one of the charges mysteriously vanished. The remaining charge, “working for the Palestinian security forces,” would also presumably apply to Shabaneh’s superior, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is responsible for the Palestinian security forces, and who also lives in Israel, but has had no action taken against him.
Shabaneh’s allegations have left the jolted Palestinian leaders issuing conflicting statements, including claims that Shabaneh’s charges:
- Based on claims dating back to the era of Yassar Arafat. [They are not. The documents are current.]
- Part of a joint Mossad-Hamas conspiracy to weaken Mahmoud Abbas because of his refusal to resume peace talks with Israel.
- Mere fabrications and lies, and that not a single word - or even video footage, which has become the talk of the Palestinian street - is to be believed.
- That the (formerly) all-powerful Palestinian Authority Chief of Staff, Rafik Husseini, who was filmed naked soliciting sex from a woman trying to apply for a job, had actually been drugged by Israeli security agents and Palestinian collaborators, and forced to strip at gunpoint, although the video, which has found its way onto YouTube (video), clearly shows a fully conscious and smiling Husseini taking off his clothes and laying them neatly by the bed.
- That Israel has such good technology, it can put words in Husseini’s mouth, such as his curses against his employer, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Arafat.
Shabaneh has refuted all charges against him, foremost about the documents only dating back to the time of Arafat. He said that when Abbas appointed him as head of the Anti-Corruption Department, he was authorized to investigate all cases of corruption since the inception of the Palestinian Authority in 1994. “Many of the corrupt officials are still in power and working with Mahmoud Abbas,” he said, “and that is why this has been an ongoing investigation. I also have many cases of corruption that occurred under Mahmoud Abbas, who never took any action against the suspects. The Palestinian Authority appointed me as head of the Anti-Corruption Department, and they never did anything. On the contrary, they were being promoted. It disturbed me to see millions of dollars siphoned off, while poor Palestinians were being deprived of international aid.”
Most importantly, Shabaneh warned that Abbas’s failure to fight rampant corruption is playing into the hands of Hamas, which could eventually take control of the West Bank. “Fatah lost Gaza because of its corruption, and because its leaders were driving around in motorcades in luxurious cars, and this is repeating itself in the West Bank." he said. "If Israel withdraws from the West Bank, I have no doubt that Hamas will take over. It is hard to find support for the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Abbas betrayed his supporters: In his pre-election platform, he promised to fight corruption and bring good government, but has since failed to do anything. I have referred dozens of cases to the prosecutor general’s office, but not a single suspect has ever been apprehended. The corrupt guys who were under Arafat are continuing to run the show as if nothing happened.”
While the Palestinian Authority sees Shabaneh as a traitor, the Palestinian street seems to disagree. Shabaneh’s home in Jerusalem has become a cite of pilgrimage for well-wishers and supporters who come to express solidarity with the whistleblower. When Shabaneh went to the Al Aksa Mosque for Friday prayers, he received a hero’s welcome.
Many independent Arab political analysts have hailed him as a true hero and a brave officer for putting his life at risk by openly challenging the Palestinian Authority.
Shabaneh, however, knowing the Palestinian Authority all too well, three weeks ago, before breaking the story, bought a plot for his burial. ("I have bought my cemetery plot.")
The Palestinian Authority has instructed the Palestinian media to stop reporting about the scandal.
People on the Palestinian street are saying, “Have you watched YouTube? Has it affected the dollar?”
But in all of this, the media are still missing in action, collaborators in the cover up.