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WEST BANK: Poll finds Palestinians afraid to criticize authority

A Palestinian public opinion poll published Monday in the West Bank city of Ramallah found out that only a quarter of the Palestinians in the West Bank believe they can criticize the Palestinian Authority. In the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, the record was even worse as less than a fifth of the Palestinians there believed it is possible to criticize Hamas rule of the coastal enclave.

The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), said the percentage of Palestinians who believe it is possible to criticize their authority has dropped over the years, from more than half in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in September 2007 to the current figures.

What apparently has prompted this gradual, yet sharp decline is the general feeling of the Palestinian public, whether in the West Bank, ruled by the liberal and Western-backed Palestinian Authority, or in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the fundamentalist and traditional Hamas, of becoming increasingly ruled by a police state.

Curtailment of freedoms in the West Bank began after the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007 after an armed battle against Fatah and the Palestinian Authority forces. In retaliation against the takeover and fear that Hamas operatives in the West Bank may also try their luck against the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority prompted the latter to strike hard against Hamas activists.

Hamas demonstrations and public gatherings were banned and hundreds of Hamas activists were arrested. Journalists, who tried to cover the crackdown against Hamas, were also punished. Some were arrested and many were beaten and their cameras confiscated.

Hamas in the Gaza Strip did the same thing against Fatah activists and journalists who attempted to cover the crackdown against Fatah activities.

While the crackdown in the West Bank started against Hamas activists, it developed over the years to include any protest activity by any political group.

Palestinian police cracked down on Palestinians who tried to protest the visit of President George W. Bush to Ramallah in January 2008, and when Israel attacked the Gaza Strip in December 2008, Palestinians in the West Bank who went to the streets to protest the Israeli assault were stopped by the Palestinian Authority’s security forces.

Last August, police disrupted a meeting for the forces opposed to the start of direct negotiations with Israel. Journalists and human rights organizations who tried to document the police crackdown were also assaulted and beaten by the police, who seized their cameras and computers.

The crackdown went many steps further when in November the security forces arrested a journalist from a radio station in the West Bank city of Bethlehem for reporting about a feud between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan, a story that was covered extensively by non-Palestinian media. The journalist was released five days later after strong protests by fellow journalists and human rights organizations.

Fear of criticizing the authority or reporting on something that would upset it prompted Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to exercise self censorship, which some organizations said limits creativity and hinders development of the Palestinian media.

Human rights organizations have regularly reported on abuse of freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Yet, even though the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip have constantly claimed that they were not against freedoms, their actions on the ground proved the exact opposite. Human rights organization even went as far as demanding from Western countries to base their relations with the Palestinian Authority on its human rights record.

Palestinians believe this crackdown against personal liberties and freedoms, mainly freedom of expression, in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, will continue and even increase as long as Fatah and Hamas remain at war against each other and as long as there is a split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

However, the same poll said belief that the split is permanent increased from 30% three months ago to 39% in this poll. The percentage of those who believe that unity will be restored soon dropped from 14% to 8% during the same period.

-- Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank

Comments () | Archives (6)

Talk about LOL.... Elena trying to come off as a credible, objective observer. Israel bashers have NEVER been right about Israel... Not it's politics, not it's history, and clearly not about its society. People like Elena-- who don't live in Israel, who haven't been targeted by an organization like Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and, yes, the PLO-- will jump to any conclusion 10,000 miles away from the truth in order to place their blame on Israel. I am sure, the IDF rough up journalists.... That is why Western journalists live and work in Jerusalem while reporting from Ramallah. Yup, Elena, you hit the nail right on the head.

Peace with you and those you supposedly represent is, indeed, laughable.

Is Palestinian public opinion compatible with a two state solution? A good analysis of this question here:

LOL @ Jehudah Ben-Israel

Actually, foreign reporters are bullied and threatened by the IDF every single time they are there and there is cold hard evidence. In fact there is evidence for every Israeli slip up (not just in the IDF)...

If there is an incident in Palestine amongst Palestinians, that too has been reported without problem. Same goes for Palestinian against Israeli or otherwise. Sadly, Israel outweighs Palestine in the f*ck up dept. and it isn't due to unfair reporting... it's due to Israel being a sh*t stain on society.

You can sit there and try to sugar coat it or make up excuses... but it is what is and the evidence is against Israel, it always has been. No one has put their foot down ... yet that's all.

And NO I am not anti-Israel or anti-Jew, I am just stating the ugly facts in which Israel needs to work vigorously to fix or there will be no peace.

Sadly, all colonial dynamics look like this--install a native police force to secure the colonial power and over time as resistance to colonialism builds it becomes more authoritarian, less legitimate, and more tied to the colonial power for its financial and existential existence. It is only when the colonized have leadership that is not tied to the colonizer that such leadership is taken as legitimate and representative. The PLO was once that leadership, but since Oslo created a native police force, so a native police force came to be. But native police forces always fall. The Village Leagues, accepted by Israel in the 1970s, did and so will the P.A. as long as it's primary purpose is to secure Israel's occupation.

Sadly, the PA and Hamas also prevent foreign reporters of reporting ALL that they see and experience in the West Bank and Gaza. A number of reporters have been physically threatened by the Authority in Ramallah while others have actually been attacked. Also, many were reported that they would not be permitted to operate in these territories if informing their readers in ways not approved by the Authorities.

The end result, public opinion abroad is formed based on the Arab propagation of a "party line", on one hand, and lack of free reporting on the other.

No wonder, the result is an obsessive, persistent and consistent anti-Israel/anti-peace attitude among certain circles abroad.

The real victims of this sordid affair are the average Palestinians. They're bullied by The IDF, Hamas, Hezbollah, Fatah and the PLO. All equally vicious.


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