There is a tendency in the West to treat Palestinian society as if it were a full-blown democracy – after all, they appear to have elections, and Prime Ministers and Presidents and parliament and all the trappings. (This is despite the fact that election scheduled for two years ago still have not occurred and it remains unclear if and when they ever will.)
It is therefore worth pointing out that in many respects, the civil and political liberties that are the hallmark of genuine democracy are at best contingent and partial in the Palestinian Authority (PA) – to say nothing about Hamas-controlled Gaza.
For instance, media freedom is pretty limited in the Palestinian Authority, as a recent case reveals. Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh writes about the plight of award-winning Palestinian journalist Majdoleen Hassouneh, who is in hiding after apparently upsetting local authorities by her reporting about a sit-in strike.
Palestinian journalists in Nablus told The Jerusalem Post that Hassouneh was wanted by the PA security forces for covering a sit-in strike organized by families of Palestinians held in Palestinian jails in the West Bank.
In response, Hassouneh asked: “If a journalist is not allowed to cover an event that happens in front of her in her city, why did the Palestinian Authority allow the protest of the families to take place outside Jneid Prison? Why is a journalist being summoned to the security forces when these forces didn’t prevent the sit-in strike?” Hassouneh’s friends and colleagues hailed her decision to challenge the much feared Preventive Security Force as a “brave” move, but expressed concern over her safety.
Not only is she reportedly in hiding herself, but “the PA’s Preventive Security Force in the West Bank arrested her two brothers in an attempt to put pressure on her to turn herself in” according to Toameh.
Hassouneh is claiming that the authorities in her hometown of Nablus are trying to get her to sign a document promising to restrict her reporting in ways favourable to the government.
She said that the Preventive Security Force was trying to force her to sign a document that would limit her freedom of expression as a working journalist.
A number of Palestinian journalists said they have already been asked by PA security forces in the West Bank to sign similar documents where they pledge to cover certain events…
Following the detention of her brothers, Hassouneh reiterated her refusal to report for questioning or to sign any pledge to refrain from covering issues that could reflect negatively on the PA.
And as the story makes clear, this is not an isolated incident
One journalist pointed out that he and his colleagues have come under heavy pressure from the PA security forces in the West Bank to refrain from reporting about stories that could embarrass the PA leadership.
Last year, two journalists from Bethlehem were arrested by PA security agencies – one for reporting about the dispute between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, and the second for allegedly ridiculing the PA president on his Facebook page.
Indeed, Khaled Abu Toameh himself, who visited Australia last year and is due to return here for another visit shortly, also tells stories of his own employment for a number of years in the Palestinian media, and how restricted and propagandistic the work largely was.
Its important to be aware of and call attention to the plight of individuals like Majdoleen Hassouneh, both for their own sake, but also as a reminder that Palestinian media is not exactly free and fair, and full Palestinian democracy, a key to peace, still has a way to go.