Tuesday, January 19, 2010

What Drives Arabs to Hamas and Al-Qaeda?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Arab journalists are under growing pressure from the Palestinian governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to avoid “hanging the dirty laundry in the open.”

Arab journalists are often taught that they should place the interests of their leaders, governments and homelands before above anything else, including the facts and the truth.

Americans and Europeans who are pouring billions of dollars on Abbas and Fayyad need to be aware of the absence of an independent media in the West Bank. One can understand why the Iranian-funded Hamas is repressing journalists, but there is no reason why American and European taxpayers should be funding a regime that has no respect for independent reporters.

If the West nevertheless insists on dealing with corrupt secular regimes to keep radical Muslims away, then Washington and its Western allies should demand good government and free media.

Western donors have every right to demand something positive in return for their money. The financial corruption and lack of democracy and freedom of expression is, meanwhile, driving many Arabs into the open arms of Hamas and al-Qaeda.

Journalists are forced to go and work in the international or even Israeli media to be able to practice some form of real journalism.

The absence of a free and independent media in the Palestinian territories has driven a majority of Palestinians to rely on foreign media outlets as a reliable source of information.

Public opinion polls have even shown that most Palestinians prefer Al-Jazeera to the Hamas and Fatah media.

The pressure is taking place in the context of the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas that has been raging in the Palestinian territories since the Islamist movement won the parliamentary elections in January 2006.

Since then, the two rival parties have been waging a smear campaign against each other, using every available platform to discredit and undermine one another.

Many local journalists have found themselves caught in the middle of this ongoing dispute.

In the West Bank, the Western-backed “moderate” government of Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad has been exerting pressure on journalists to “toe the line” and refrain from reporting news that might reflect negatively on the two men.

Abbas and Fayyad are using the US-trained Palestinian policemen not only to crack down on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, but also to silence critics and intimidate local reporters and editors.

Some journalists who have dared to publicly criticize the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank have either found themselves behind bars under the pretext of “supporting” Hamas - an allegation aimed at keeping human rights organizations and Westerners silent. Other journalists who are not renowned as Fatah loyalists often receive threats over the phone directly from officials close to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

This policy has resulted in the creation of a media that is not much different than the ones existing under Arab dictatorships. The three major Palestinian newspapers, Al-Quds, Al-Ayyam and Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda, are controlled, directly and indirectly, by Abbas and Fayyad loyalists. Criticism of these two men and their policies in the local media is unheard of.

Moreover, the overwhelming majority of journalists who seek jobs with the Palestinian media in the West Bank are required to be Fatah loyalists. Of course no one is expecting Abbas and Fayyad to employ Hamas-affiliated journalists, but what about those who don’t belong to any political faction? And there’s certainly no shortage of fine and independent Palestinian journalists.

Hamas’s attitude toward Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip has not been any better. Many journalists living there are afraid to speak out or report stories that might anger Hamas. Under this frightening atmosphere, many of these journalists nowadays sound as if they are Hamas spokesmen.

A free media is one of the basic foundations of a healthy and prosperous society. It’s also an important element in the construction of a solid infrastructure for the much-desired Palestinian state.

Hudson New York

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