Palestine: crackdown on journalists, civil society activists


The Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza are arresting, abusing, and criminally charging journalists and activists who express peaceful criticism of the authorities, Human Rights Watch said today:

Human Rights Watch documented five cases – two in the West Bank and three in Gaza – in which security forces arrested or questioned journalists, a political activist, and two rap musicians based on their peaceful criticism of the authorities. Four of those arrested, two in Gaza and two in the West Bank, say that security forces physically abused or tortured them. … These crackdowns follow a pattern of violations of the right to free speech and due process that Human Rights Watch has documented in the past five years, most recently in May 2015. …

In 2011, Human Rights Watch issued a report on violations of media freedoms by the PA and Hamas. The report cited the work of Palestinian watchdog groups like the statutorily created Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) and the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) and criticized the PA for using military proceedings to detain civilian journalists or detaining civilians with no judicial process, in violation of Palestinian law….

“Both Palestinian governments, operating independently, have apparently arrived at similar methods of harassment, intimidation and physical abuse of anyone who dares criticize them,” said Sari Bashi, Israel and Palestine country director at Human Rights Watch.

A majority (68%) of Palestinians look up to Israeli democracy, seeing it as “good” or “very good,” while only 10% of Israelis see Palestinian democracy positively, with 77% describing it as “bad” or “very bad,” according to an August 2016 poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in Jerusalem and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in Ramallah. When asked about the chances that a better democratic system will be established in a future Palestinian state, the majority of Israelis (83%) said the chances are “slim” or “very slim.”

The unpopularity of the Palestinian Authority and the ruling Fatah Party due to corruption, incompetence, and growing repression helps explain why West Bank voters might choose Hamas. In other cases voters may prefer Hamas’s Islamism to Fatah’s brand of secularism, says Council on Foreign Relations analyst Elliott Abrams.

Allowing a terrorist group, Hamas, to contest the forthcoming election without the slightest nod to stopping its terror or giving up its rule of Gaza is wrong for many reasons, but here are the top two, adds Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:

  • First, Hamas may win power in a number of West Bank cities but Fatah will not be able to contest elections as freely in Gaza. In this sense the dice are loaded, or to mix metaphors Hamas can say heads I win in the West Bank and tails you lose in Gaza.
  • Second, those who wish to contest elections should be forced to choose between bullets and ballots. This is what happened in the Northern Ireland agreements, where the IRA had to end its guerrilla and terrorist war and could then run for office.  


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