by Khaled Abu Toameh
This latest restriction serves as a reminder that the Palestinian Authority is not much different from other dictatorships, which assign "minders" so the journalists see and hear only what the dictators want. Representatives of the international media — as well as human rights organizations and groups that claim to defend freedom of the press -- have not protested against the PA's threat to restrict journalists' work and even arrest them. One can only imagine the response had Israel issued a similar ban or threat.It's official: the Palestinian Authority does not want foreign journalists to work in territories under its control in the West Bank unless they receive permission in advance from the Palestinian Ministry of Information.
The decision was taken earlier this week by the Palestinian Ministry of Information and the Palestinian Journalist's Syndicate -- a body controlled by Fatah-affiliated journalists.
Foreign journalists who ignore the latest restriction face arrest by Palestinian Authority security forces, said Jihad Qawassmeh, member of the Palestinian Journalist's' Syndicate.
He warned that any Palestinian journalist who helps international media representatives enter the Palestinian Authority-controlled territories without permission would face punitive measures.
"The Palestinian security forces are entitled to arrest any person who enters the State of Palestine without permission," Qawassmeh added.
The new decision is directed primarily against Israeli journalists who cover Palestinian affairs. Recently, many Palestinian journalists complained that it was unacceptable that their Israeli colleagues were being allowed to operate freely in Palestinian territories while they did not have permission to enter Israel. They also complained that the Israeli Government Press Office was refusing to issue them press credentials.
The Palestinian journalists demanded that the Palestinian Authority impose restrictions on the work of both Israeli and international reporters.
The Palestinian journalists' claim that they are not free to work in Israel and are being deprived of Israeli press cards stands in contrast to their calls for boycotting Israel.
The Palestinian Journalist's Syndicate has long been opposed to "normalization" with Israel, and bans its members from holding meetings with Israeli colleagues. Some Palestinian journalists who defied the ban were recently expelled from the syndicate.
So while the Palestinian journalists are promoting a boycott of Israel, they are also demanding that the Israeli government issue them with press cards so they can enter Israel.
Besides reflecting hypocrisy on the part of these Palestinian journalists, the latest restriction serves as a reminder that the Palestinian Authority is not much different from most Arab dictatorships.
Under these dictatorships, foreign journalists need to obtain permission from the relevant authorities to enter the country to cover a story. In many cases, the authorities assign a "minder" to guide or escort the journalists to make sure that they see and hear only what the dictators want.
The Palestinian Authority, which has often displayed a large degree of intolerance toward journalists who refuse to serve as a mouthpiece for its leaders, wants to work only with sympathetic reporters.
The timing of the ban is no coincidence. It came in the aftermath of US President Barack Obama's visit to Ramallah and Bethlehem, where Palestinian protesters set fire to and trampled on his pictures. The protests seriously embarrassed the Palestinian Authority, especially because they underscored the large gap between its leaders and the street.
While the Palestinian Authority continues to talk about making peace with Israel, many Palestinians are opposed to the idea; they argue that the leadership in Ramallah does not have a mandate to make any concessions to Israel.
These objections appeared in addition to some protests also directed against Mahmoud Abbas and his policies, especially against his declared opposition to an armed struggle against Israel and an alliance with the US and the West.
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leaders went out of their way to show Obama that they are in full control and that they enjoy the backing of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians. But TV footage and news reports of the anti-Obama demonstrations threatened to spoil their effort to persuade Obama.
Particularly disturbing is that representatives of the international media have not protested against the Palestinian Authority's threat to restrict the journalists' work and even arrest them. One can only imagine the response of the international media had the Israeli authorities issued a similar ban or threat.
It also remains to be seen whether human rights organizations and groups that claim to defend freedom of press will react.
Once the ban goes into effect, officials of the Palestinian Authority Ministry of Information will find themselves serving as censors and editors of all news items concerning the Palestinians. Unless, of course, foreign journalists raise their voices and insist on their right to write their own stories from Ramallah.
Khaled Abu Toameh
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