The Middle East is becoming quieter. No, the swords are not turning into ploughshares, it’s not that kind of quiet. Instead, it is the sound of truth that’s slowly being silenced. And it’s happening not only because the PA grows stronger, but also because the west grows weaker.
Thirty years ago the young Arab journalist Khaled abu Toameh quit working for PLO media outlets. They did not allow reporting on what abu Toameh saw as the news people needed to know. Instead, he was told to take the words dictated by the Arab leadership, and cut and paste them into the stories they then published, but under his byline. They weren’t his words and it wasn’t the news, so he turned to western media for outlets that allowed him to write and speak about what people needed to know.
In those thirty years the PA media has not become more open. Instead, the PA leadership has become more emboldened and the western media – either because of physical or moral exhaustion – is allowing the PA’s censorship to seep into and rot away at core freedoms, both of speech and of the press.
Under the Palestinian Authority’s Penal Code, a holdover from when Jordan illegally occupied the territories, defamation suspects can be arrested and held in detention for up to six months before they are charged with a crime. Esmat Abdul-Khalik, an al Quds University lecturer and single mother of two, was arrested in late March and held in solitary confinement and denied the possibility of any visits because someone else criticized PA President Mahmoud Abbas on her Facebook page, calling him a traitor and suggesting he resign. Abdul-Khalik is not the only Arab arrested recently for Facebook page activity, at least three others have recently been picked up for daring to criticize members of the government.