September 26 marked the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Journalists. As in previous years, anti-Israel organizations used the occasion to make false and libelous accusations against Israel, including the lie that Israelis intentionally target Palestinian journalists.
Israel, needless to say, does not target any journalist. Journalists who choose to cover a violent conflict can often find themselves caught in a crossfire. If journalists are killed or injured, that is not because the Israeli army ordered its soldiers to target them. It is because the journalists were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Every journalist who steps into a war zone is aware of the risks involved.
Notably, while the anti-Israel groups continue to denounce Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has stepped up its crackdown on Palestinian journalists in the West Bank.
The same groups that have long been condemning Israel ignore the PA's assault on public freedoms, including against its own media, and the arrest and harassment of Palestinian journalists. These anti-Israel groups do not care about the wellbeing and safety of Palestinian journalists. What they care about is trashing Israel.
By ignoring the suffering of Palestinian journalists at the hands of their own leaders, the international community is allowing the Palestinian Authority to pursue its efforts to arrest and intimidate Palestinian journalists, as well as teachers, human rights activists, businessmen and university students. The PA knows that it can arrest any journalist it wants without being held accountable by anyone.
The Palestinian Authority's crackdown on journalists and political activists is part of an ongoing effort to silence and intimidate its critics.
Palestinian leaders have repeatedly shown that they reject any form of criticism directed against them. The only criticism they accept is that which is directed against Israel. Palestinian leaders are not different than most of the Arab heads of state whose governments control the media, which serves as a mouthpiece for the Arab regimes.
The Palestinian Authority also knows that it can send its officers to kill anyone who dares to speak out against financial corruption or abuse of power without being held accountable by the international community. This is what happened with Nizar Banat, a prominent political and human rights activist, who was arrested and beaten to death by Palestinian security officers in June 2021.
Banat was a well-known critic of the PA. Although two years have passed since his brutal killing, none of the officers involved in the incident has been prosecuted. According to Amnesty International's Middle East regional director Heba Morayef:
"Two years ago, Nizar Banat was arrested and beaten to death while being held in the custody of the Palestinian security forces. Since that time the authorities have failed to hold to account those responsible for his arrest and assault.
"The repeated, unjustified delays, the failure to investigate senior officers, and the ongoing campaign of intimidation and harassment against Nizar Banat's family members all point to an orchestrated ploy by the Palestinian authorities to cover up the crime and evade accountability."
The latest victim of the Palestinian Authority crackdown is Palestinian journalist Tariq al-Sarkaji, a resident of the West Bank city of Nablus.
Ironically, al-Sarkaji's arrest coincided with the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Journalists. The Palestinian Authority did not give any reason as to why al-Sarkaji was arrested. On September 27, one day after the International Day of Solidarity with Palestinian Journalists, a PA court remanded his detention by 15 days.
The group Palestinian Lawyers for Justice condemned the arrest of al-Sarkaji as "illegal and arbitrary" and called for his unconditional release and an end to the persecution of journalists and clampdown on media freedoms in the West Bank. The group said that the continued detention of al-Sarkaji aims to obstruct the work of journalists and is a violation of the freedom of the press.
Al-Sarkaji is not the only Palestinian journalist to be arrested by the Palestinian security forces. In recent weeks, several other journalists were also arrested. They include Sami al-Sa'i, Mohammed Shawasha, Jarrah Khalaf, Hatem Hamdan, Akeel Awawdeh, Ahmed al-Bitawi, and Muath Washha.
The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) condemned the arrest of freelance journalist Jarrah Khalaf by the Palestinian Military Intelligence Service on September 4. The group said that Khalaf, 23, was summoned for an interview at the Military Intelligence headquarters in the city of Jenin. The next day, he was brought before the Jenin Prosecution Office and charged with "possession of weapons." This is a charge that the Palestinian Authority often uses to justify the arrest of journalists and political activists. MADA said it views with extreme gravity the arrest of the journalist and called for his immediate and unconditional release. It called for an end to the crackdown on journalists, which has significantly increased recently. The group also urged human rights institutions to assume their responsibilities towards the "political detention of Palestinian journalists by the Palestinian Authority."
"The phenomenon of arresting journalists at the hands of the Palestinian security services represents a dangerous policy," the Palestinian Journalists' Forum said in a statement on March 15, 2023. The forum called on the PA to "stop its violations against male and female journalists and to release them immediately."
It is a sad truth that, three decades after the inception of the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians still do not have a free and independent media.
It is another sad truth that Palestinian journalists are being arrested and intimidated by PA security forces for the crime of carrying out their duties. Palestinians who want to practice real journalism are forced to seek work with Israeli and foreign media, where they enjoy far more freedom than in their own media outlets.
An even sadder truth is that most international human rights organizations care nothing about the abuse perpetrated against Palestinian journalists by their own leaders.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.