Two female Palestinian journalists were beaten during protests in the West Bank in the past week. The two women, Lara Kan'an and Majdoleen Hassona, were assaulted by Palestinian Authority security officers while covering Palestinian demonstrations calling on President Mahmoud Abbas to lift the economic sanctions he imposed last year on the Gaza Strip.
The physical assaults on Kan'an and Hassona are seen by Palestinians as part of the Palestinian Authority's continued effort to silence critics and intimidate journalists who fail to "toe the line." The beatings, which took place separately in the West Bank cities of Nablus and Tulkarem, mark a new high in the Palestinian leadership's crackdown on public freedoms: assaulting an Arab woman on the street is considered a humiliation of the highest order to her and her clan.
While such assaults spark protests among Palestinians, the international community and Western correspondents covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continue to play their game of "See No Evil." When the perpetrators are Palestinians, they can get away with -- literally, murder -- from the perspective of International human rights organizations and groups ostensibly concerned about freedom of the media. What would have been the response on the part of the international community and press, one wonders, had the two Palestinian women even been roughed up by Israeli soldiers.
Kan'an and Hassona, however, are unfortunate. Their plight will not be splashed onto the front pages of the New York Times or the Guardian because the men who beat up them are Palestinian, and not Israeli. Had an Israeli soldier merely shouted at these female journalists, representatives of Western human rights organizations and major newspapers would have banged on their doors long ago, demanding that they justify physically abusing peaceful women who were just doing their job.
Now for the details of the assaults. The first incident took place in Tulkarem on June 28, when Hassona arrived to report about a Palestinian demonstration calling on Abbas to lift the sanctions against the Gaza Strip. Videos posted on social media show Palestinian security officers in civilian clothes physically assaulting Hassona while attempting to stop her from recording or filming the anti-Abbas protest.
A Palestinian Authority police officer raises his baton as he approaches Majdoleen Hassona in Tulkarem. (Image source: Mohamad Kheiry/Facebook video screenshot)
One of her friends, Ahmed Al-Dabash, described the attackers as "thugs belonging to [Mahmoud Abbas's presidential compound] the Mukata in Ramallah."
Hassona later recalled her experience in an interview with a Palestinian news site:
"At the end of the demonstration, there were some problems between the protesters and the police. I was among a group of journalists who tried to approach the area to find out what was going on. A man who I believe was a police officer in civilian clothes then walked up to me and told me to stop filming. I told him I'm a journalist and I continued to film. Then another man came up to me and tried to snatch the camera from my hands. He then started beating me and threatening me."
Hassona, who is a veteran freelance investigative journalist, said she was not surprised by the assault. She says that she has been under surveillance by the Palestinian security forces since June 12, when she was briefly detained and interrogated upon her return home from a visit to Turkey.
"They questioned me about my journalistic work, they wanted to know why I was frequently visiting Istanbul. I told them that it was normal for a journalist to travel and that I was studying in Turkey. But since then I have been subject to a smear campaign on social media by people associated with the Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. They have accused me of participating in the anti-Abbas protests and some even went as far as claiming that I was a Hamas agent. This, of course, is not true."
The second incident took place in Nablus on June 30, also during a protest against Abbas's sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Lara Kan'an. Her experience was not much different than that of her colleague, Hassona. Videos posted on Facebook showed the moment Kan'an and other protesters were attacked by men in civilian clothes believed to be security officers or activists belonging to Abbas's ruling Fatah faction. They also seized her mobile phone and returned it only after deleting the video and photos she had taken during the protest.
Kan'an recounted that when she initially refused to hand over her mobile phone to a security officer, she was approached by a policeman who hit her on the arm and violently pulled the device out of her hand. She said that another two men in civilian clothes attacked her from the back, with one pulling her from the hair and the other hitting her left shoulder. Kan'an was taken to the local Rafidiyeh Hospital, where x-rays showed she was suffering from bruises to the neck and shoulder.
Some Palestinian human rights groups were quick to condemn the assaults and call on the Palestinian leadership to stop targeting journalists.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) condemned the attacks and expressed deep concern over the "increasing assaults on journalists [by the Palestinian security forces] in a manner that is particularly alarming and disturbing to women journalists." The group pointed out that the same scenario has recently been repeated in several Palestinian cities. "MADA demands all official bodies to investigate all the attacks and to publish the results thereof and to hold accountable the perpetrators and those responsible and to take measures to prevent their continuation," the group said in a statement.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in the West Bank, a body dominated by Fatah loyalists, also issued a statement condemning the assaults and calling on the Palestinian leadership to hold accountable the perpetrators. Palestinian journalists, however, have become used to lip service from this institution, which is openly supportive of Abbas and his associates and serves as a mouthpiece for the Palestinian Authority.
The hypocrisy of the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate is easy to understand.
It is harder, however, to make sense of the behavior of the foreign media and international human rights groups, who essentially champion Abbas's fiefdom by ignoring its brutality.
The truth is that the Palestinian Authority is a body that has long been functioning as a dictatorship that suppresses freedom of speech and imposes a reign of terror and intimidation on Palestinian journalists and critics.
Today, it is the Palestinian journalists who are victims of the repression and violence. Tomorrow, it will be foreign journalists, who see these assaults but refuse to utter a word. It is only a question of time before a Western journalist is beaten on the streets of a Palestinian city. When that happens, the international media and human rights groups can look to themselves and their own biased and unprofessional behavior for answers.
Bassam Tawil, an Arab Muslim, is based in the Middle East.