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Sunday, March 26, 2017

Bassam Tawil : Political Operatives Pose as Journalists, Human Rights Groups


  • The same activists and organizations were silent when the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces arrested al-Qiq and harassed his family. Amnesty International neglected to mention that al-Qiq has also been targeted by PA security forces and that, in addition to his work as a newsman, he is also affiliated with Hamas. This detail, according to Amnesty, is evidently not significant.
  • When arrested, such political operatives posing as journalists -- and so-called human rights groups, and the mainstream media in the West -- get to scream about Israel assaulting freedom of the media. This dirty little game has been played by Palestinian and Western journalists and highly politicized, biased human rights groups for years.
  • The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), which is headed by Nasser Abu Baker, did not come out in support of journalist, Sami al-Sai when he was arrested (and tortured) for 20 days in the PA's notorious Jericho Central Prison. Nor did Amnesty or most human rights organizations come out in defense of al-Sai.
  • Instead of calling on the PA leadership to release their detained colleague, Abu Baker and the PJS heads issued a statement in which they justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.
  • Nasser Abu Baker himself is affiliated with the PA's ruling Fatah faction. Recently, the AFP correspondent even ran (and lost) in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
  • While AFP has been reporting about the detention by Israel of al-Qiq, it has conspicuously failed to report about the plight of al-Sai and his serious charges of torture in PA prison. So a journalist arrested by the PA is not worth a story in an international media outlet, while anyone arrested by Israel gets wide coverage.
  • Now it is official: double standards, racism, and political activism are an integral part of the modern media.
Two Palestinian journalists are arrested -- one by Israel and the other by the Palestinian Authority (PA). The name of the one arrested by Israel is Muhammad al-Qiq. The name of the one arrested by the PA security forces is Sami al-Sai.
Although he is registered as a journalist, al-Qiq was arrested for security-related offenses completely unrelated to his profession. Israel did not arrest him because of his reporting or his writing, but because of his activities on behalf of Hamas. As a student at Bir Zeit University in 2006, al-Qiq was already known to be affiliated with Hamas. He was a member of the Islamic Bloc -- a student list belonging to Hamas.
Al-Qiq's affiliation with Hamas even got him into trouble with the Palestinian Authority; its forces arrested and interrogated him several times in the past few years. The last time his family received a visit from PA security officers was in 2014. Then, officers in plainclothes seized al-Qiq's laptop and personal documents.
Now, al-Qiq is in Israeli detention, where he has gone on hunger strike in protest against his arrest.
Guess who is campaigning on his behalf and demanding that Israel immediately and unconditionally release him from detention? The same PA that repeatedly arrested and harassed al-Qiq over the past few years.
In addition, human rights organizations and activists have endorsed the case and are now using it to attack Israel. These are the same activists and organizations that were silent when the PA security forces arrested al-Qiq and harassed his family.
One of these organizations is Amnesty International, which issued a statement last week calling on Israel to release the detained "journalist." Amnesty neglected to mention that al-Qiq has also been targeted by the PA security forces and that, in addition to his work as a newsman, he is also affiliated with Hamas. This detail, according to Amnesty, is evidently not significant.
The truth is that most, if not all, Palestinian journalists arrested by Israel are targeted not because of their work in the field of journalism, but because of their activities on behalf of various Palestinian groups, including Hamas. It is an open secret that many Palestinian "journalists" are in fact political activists who are openly affiliated with one terrorist group or another.
When arrested, such political operatives posing as journalists -- and so-called human rights groups, and the mainstream media in the West -- get to scream about Israel assaulting freedom of the media. This dirty little game has been played by Palestinian and Western journalists and highly politicized, biased human rights groups for years. Yet, why discuss it when you can leverage it against Israel?
Here is another missing fact related to the detention of the Hamas activist-turned journalist: The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), which is based in Ramallah, has also joined the campaign to demand the release of al-Qiq from Israeli detention.
Why is this detail important? Because the PJS, which is headed by Nasser Abu Baker (also spelled Abu Bakr), who also serves as a correspondent for Agence France-Presse (AFP), did not come out in support of the other journalist, Sami al-Sai, when he was arrested (and tortured) for 20 days in the PA's notorious Jericho Central Prison. Nor did Amnesty or most human rights organizations come out in defense of al-Sai when he was being held by the PA security forces.
Sami al-Sai, who works as a correspondent for a private television station in the Palestinian city of Tulkarem in the northern West Bank, was arrested for "fomenting sectarian strife" through Facebook. This is a popular Palestinian Authority charge, one that is used to justify the arrest of anyone who criticizes PA leaders or who takes issue with the policies of Mahmoud Abbas.
The PJS at first refused to take up the case of al-Sai. The PJS rarely defends journalists who are critical of the PA. That is because the head of the PJS, Abu Baker himself, is affiliated with the PA's ruling Fatah faction. Recently, the AFP correspondent even ran (and lost) in the election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council.
Facing criticism, Abu Baker and some of the heads of the PJS agreed to visit al-Sai in his prison cell in Jericho. But instead of calling on the Palestinian Authority leadership to release their detained colleague, Abu Baker and the PJS heads issued a statement in which they justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.

Nasser Abu Baker is a correspondent for Agence France-Presse and heads the Ramallah-based Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS). He is also a political operative who recently ran in (and lost) an election for Fatah's Revolutionary Council. When fellow journalist Sami al-Sai was thrown in jail for criticizing the leadership of the Palestinian Authority (PA) on Facebook, Abu Baker and the PJS justified his arrest and defended the PA against charges of torturing him.

While AFP has been reporting about the detention by Israel of al-Qiq and other Palestinian "journalists," it has conspicuously failed to report about the plight of al-Sai and his serious charges of torture in PA prison.
So a journalist arrested by the Palestinian Authority is not worth a story in an international media outlet, while anyone arrested by Israel gets wide coverage.
Needless to say, Abu Baker, who covers Palestinian affairs for AFP, did not bother to write a story about his visit to the Jericho prison and the meeting with al-Sai.
As chairman of a Fatah-controlled body, Abu Baker is not going to report to AFP anything that would reflect negatively on the PA leadership.
Even more bizarre is that an AFP correspondent would be allowed to run for political office and continue with his work as if nothing happened. Would Le Monde allow its diplomatic correspondent to cover the French elections if he was also running for office? Apparently, the conflict of interest does not bother Abu Baker's superiors at AFP.
The case of the two journalists -- Muhammad al-Qiq and Sami al-Sai -- provides further evidence of the hypocrisy, double standards, bias and racism that the Palestinian and Western media continue to demonstrate concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any story that could negatively affect the Palestinian Authority or Hamas is not "fit for print." Human rights groups and the media clearly do not care if a Palestinian is detained and tortured by Palestinians.
A story becomes news when it is possible to lay blame on Israel. Western (and some Israeli) journalists covering Palestinian issues justify their double standard by arguing that if they criticized the PA or any of its senior figures, they would be barred from Ramallah or shouted at and denied access to sources. Here is the truth: prejudice works and intimidation works. Journalists and human rights groups would rather distort and practice self-censorship than report accurately about Israel or anger the Palestinian Authority leadership.
In Israel, however, journalists write negative things about the Israeli government and army and police from sunrise to sundown without fearing anything. Now it is official: double standards, racism, and political activism are an integral part of the modern media.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
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