Facing growing discontent from their people, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas have resumed their crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past few weeks, several journalists were arrested by PA and Hamas security forces. (Images source: iStock)
Facing growing discontent from their people, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas have resumed their crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In the past few weeks, several journalists were arrested by PA and Hamas security forces.
The arrests are seen by Palestinian journalists as part of the PA and Hamas programs to silence their critics and deter reporters from disclosing anything that reflects badly on Palestinian leaders. Any form of criticism, particularly from Palestinian journalists, has long been anathema to the PA and Hamas.
The latest crackdown on Palestinian journalists is said to spring from the PA's and Hamas's fear that the current wave of anti-corruption protests sweeping Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt and other Arab countries may spread to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the Gaza Strip, Hamas security forces arrested dozens of Palestinians after local activists called for holding demonstrations to protest the ongoing economic crisis there. Among those taken into custody are journalists Hani al-Agha and Bassam Moheisen, who were arrested for posting critical comments against Hamas on social media.
Moheisen was apparently arrested because of his affiliation with Hamas's rivals in the Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. For the past 19 years, Moheisen has been working as a producer for the West Bank-based Voice of Palestine radio station. His family says he was arrested after he posted comments on Facebook in which he criticized Hamas. A family member, who asked not to be identified, said that Moheisen has been tortured in the Hamas prison.
Hamas claims that the second journalist, al-Agha, was arrested for "passing information that is harmful to public security to security agencies." Hamas did not provide further details, but the claim is believed to be based on connections the journalist may have had with Abbas's PA in the West Bank.
Palestinian sources in the Gaza Strip said that a number of social media activists were also arrested for allegedly calling on Palestinians to take to the streets to protest against Hamas and its failure to improve the living conditions of its people. Some of the activists were identified as Ramzi al-Bar'i, Ahmed al-Zaeem, Amin Abed, Haitham Mas'oud, Mohammed Abu Ghosh, Hasan al-Daoudi, Abdullah al-Hawihi, and Khaled al-Ghazali. Hamas, the sources added, has also summoned dozens of other activists and journalists for interrogation.
Earlier this week, Hamas security forces also arrested one of their own officers, Hussein Qatoush, after he posted a video on Facebook in which he complained about the dire economic situation in the Gaza Strip. In the video, Qatoush said he does not have money to pay for transportation from his home to work. "The most difficult type of pain is when you are serving in a country where you can't afford to pay for transportation to get to work. This is how it is in the Gaza Strip," the Hamas security officer said.
Hamas justified the arrest of Qatoush by accusing him of "leaking security details." It is not clear how a complaint about economic hardship has turned into a security-related case. In the eyes of Hamas, however, it seems that any Palestinian who dares to complain about the bad economy in the Gaza Strip is a "traitor" and a "security threat."
Hamas's latest measures are evidently aimed at preventing a repeat of the widespread demonstrations that erupted in the Gaza Strip last March. Organized by social media activists, the demonstrators protested the high cost of living and new taxes imposed by Hamas, and called for solving the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip, including the high rate of unemployment. The protests, which lasted for a few days, were quickly and brutally crushed by Hamas.
In this regard, the Palestinian Authority has consistently proven in the past few years that when it comes to assaults on public freedoms -- particularly freedom of expression and the media -- it rivals Hamas. The PA also seems to have good reason to fear that the anti-corruption protests in some Arab states may reach the West Bank.
In the past few days, the PA security forces arrested two journalists, Mahmoud Abu al-Hassan and Radwan Qatanani, who, according to Palestinian sources, are being held for "security reasons." The nature of the charges against the journalists, also according to the sources, remains unknown.
Since the beginning of this year, the PA security forces have arrested or summoned for interrogation a number of Palestinian journalists in the West Bank despite a promise by PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh to stop all violations against freedom of expression and the media.
Last week, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by Fatah loyalists, called for the release of the journalists held by the PA and Hamas. The PJS also urged international human rights and press organizations to pressure Hamas to halt its repressive measures against journalists and political activists in the Gaza Strip.
Like Hamas, the PA appears to be afraid of a popular uprising against corruption and tyranny in the West Bank -- and is probably the reason that the PA is now seeking to silence its critics and intimidate Palestinian journalists.
Hani al-Masri, a prominent Palestinian political analyst, believes that the current anti-corruption protests sweeping some Arab countries will reach the Palestinian territories. "It is certain that the Arab Spring will arrive, sooner or later, to Palestine," he said.
"The [ruling] Palestinian elite is mostly corrupt and tyrannical. With the exception of a few, the [Palestinian] elite is corrupt and incompetent – or both. Those who believe that Palestine, its leadership and its president are immune from the Arab Spring because they are under occupation are mistaken."
From all accounts, the PA and Hamas are neck-and-neck in their competition to crush freedom of expression and crack down on the media. Palestinian journalists who expose the villainy of Palestinian leaders are deemed criminals, complete with criminal consequences. Criticism is fine, of course – if it is directed at the Palestinians' arch-enemy, Israel. Otherwise, Palestinian journalists had best keep their criticism to themselves -- lest the PA and Hamas decide to leave them in critical condition.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.