Thursday, July 2, 2009

How To Help the Palestinians

June 24, 2009 6:30 AM
by Khaled Abu Toameh

The leaders of the Palestinian Authority do not want the international community to hear anything about massive abuse of human rights and intimidation of journalists that its security forces are practicing almost on a daily basis in the West Bank.


They do not want the world to see that, with the help of the Americans and some Europeans, they are building more prisons and security forces than hospitals and housing projects for the needy.


They want the US and the rest of the world to continue believing that peace will prevail tomorrow morning only if Israel stops construction in the settlements and removes a number of empty caravans from remote and isolated hilltops in the West Bank.


The Palestinians do not need a dictatorship that harasses and terrorizes journalists, and that is responsible for the death of detainees in its prisons. In the Arab world we already have enough dictatorships.


The Palestinians do not need additional security forces, militias and armed gangs. In fact, there are too many of them, both in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.


American and European taxpayers' money should be invested in building hospitals, schools and housing projects. Investing billions of dollars in training thousands of policemen and establishing new security forces and prisons will not advance the cause of peace and coexistence.


There is no doubt that many Palestinians would love to abandon the culture of uniform and weapons in favor of improved infrastructure and medical care.


As for the international media, it's time to abandon the policy of double standards in covering the Israeli-Arab conflict. For many years, the mainstream media in the US and Europe turned a blind eye to stories about financial corruption under Yasser Arafat. The result was that Arafat and his cronies got away with stealing billions of dollars that had been donated to the Palestinians by the Americans and Europeans.


Back then, many foreign journalists said they believed that the stories about financial corruption in the Palestinian areas were "Zionist propaganda." Other journalists said they would rather file an anti-Israel story because this way they would become more popular with their editors and publishers.


Recently, a Palestinian TV crew was stopped at a checkpoint in the West Bank, where soldiers confiscated a tape and erased its content.


This incident, hardly received any coverage in the mainstream media in the US and Europe.


The reason? The perpetrators were not IDF soldiers, but Palestinian Authority security officers. And the checkpoint did not belong to the IDF; it was, in fact, a Palestinian checkpoint.


The story of the detention of the TV crew -- which, by the way, belonged to Al-Jazeera and the erasure of the footage did not make it to the mainstream media even after Reporters Without Borders, an organization that defends journalists worldwide, issued a statement strongly condemning the assault on the freedom of the media.


"Journalists must be able to work freely," Reporters Without Borders said. "The erasure of this video footage proves that the Palestinian security forces try to cover up their human rights violations. This incident should be the subject of an enquiry by the Palestinian Authority."

Walid Omari, the head of the Qatar-based satellite TV station's operations in the West Bank, told Reporters Without Borders that his crew was preparing a report on the death of a detainee at the Palestinian Authority detention center in Hebron that might have been the result of torture.

"We were the only ones to investigate this case and we did it despite strong pressure from the Palestinian Authority," Omari said.

Al Jazeera's Hebron correspondent went with a cameraman to the victim's home in the village of Dura, where they interviewed the family and filmed the body.


As they were returning to Hebron in a vehicle displaying the word "Press," they were detained by Palestinian Authority security forces at a checkpoint and taken to a police station, where the video footage they had just recorded was erased. They were allowed to go after an hour.


One can only imagine the international media's reaction had the TV crew been detained by Israeli security forces. Anti-Israel groups and individuals would have cited the incident as further proof of the "occupation's brutal measures" against the freedom of the media.

Moreover, it is highly likely that Israeli human rights organizations like Betselem would have dispatched researchers to the field to investigate the incident had IDF soldiers been involved.


Yet foreign journalists and human rights activists working in Israel and the Palestinian territories either chose to ignore the story or never heard about it simply because it was lacking in an anti-Israel angle.


One can also imagine how the media and human rights organizations would have reacted had a Palestinian died in Israeli prison after allegedly being tortured.


Haitham Amr, a male nurse, was detained by the Palestinian Authority's US-backed and trained General Intelligence Force on suspicion of being affiliated with Hamas. He was one of more than 700 Palestinians who are being held without trial in West Bank prisons that are run by security forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.


These security forces, which are being referred to by many Palestinians as the Dayton Forces [a reference to ret. US general and security coordinator Keith Dayton], claimed that Amr was killed after he jumped from the second floor of a building where he was being held in Hebron. The family and human rights organizations insist that Amr died as a result of severe torture.


If the Palestinian Authority really had nothing to fear, why did it send its police officers to detain the TV crew and confiscate the tape? Is the Palestinian Authority trying to hide something?


True, Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salaam Fayad hold more moderate views than Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal.


But Abbas and Fayad do not enjoy enough credibility among their own people, largely due to their open ties with Israel and the West. The security and financial support that the Americans and Europeans are giving to the Palestinian Authority is nothing but a bear hug.


That is perhaps why they chose to ignore the story about the male nurse whose family says was tortured to death by security officers who receive their salaries from US and European taxpayers' money.


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