The PA’s fear of Palestinian journalists

Ramona Wadi

Middle East Monitor  /  July 18, 2023

The Palestinian Authority’s abhorrence for journalists was, once again, highlighted with the security services’ arrest of Akil Awawdeh last week. Awawdeh had spoken out against the PA’s security services’ spokesman’s claim that no political arrests are made in the Occupied West Bank. “You should respect our minds more than that,” Awawdeh was reported to have written on Facebook.

Awawdeh is no stranger to the PA’s security services’ violence. In 2021, while attending the demonstrations against the PA following the murder of Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, who was beaten to death by the security services. Awawdeh was detained and beaten. Identifying himself as a member of the press, Awawdeh was attacked by the PA’s security services, along with other Palestinians attending the demonstrations.

The PA’s fear of alternative politics has longer rendered it paranoid. The 2017 Cybercrime Decree which introduced surveillance of journalists and civil society, as well as harsh penalties for anyone opposing the PA, was one instance in which Abbas attempted to consolidate power through legislation.

As Palestinians continue to follow their own resistance trajectory, journalists who are not affiliated to the PA will increasingly find themselves in the crosshairs of the illegitimate body that masquerades as a government. The vast reach of journalism through social media has the potential to expose the PA’s atrocities, and Ramallah’s targeting of Palestinian journalists who do not spout the party line will become another lens through which one can view the extent of the PA’s repression, as well as its own concept of how the media should represent itself. In the image of the PA, of course, according to Mahmoud Abbas and his echelons.

Between January 1, 2018 and March 20, 2019, the PA detained 752 Palestinians over social media postings. While much emphasis is made by the PA of Israel’s targeting of Palestinian journalists, the PA fails to mention its own human rights violations and how its targeting of Palestinian journalists aids Israel’s colonial violence. In some instances, Palestinian journalists detained by the PA have also been detained by Israel, such as the case of Sami al-Sai, who was charged with slandering the PA in 2020. Al-Sai had been targeted by the PA since 2012.

When considering how the PA’s official news agency, WAFA, distorts the very meaning of journalism, it is little wonder that Abbas feels threatened by journalists who expose his corruption. The PA’s state media is merely a platform for glorifying repetitive diplomatic statements and the occasional rhetoric in which the PA attempts a weak emulation of resistance. It is a platform where doing nothing is publicized as incredible effort, where the PA’s illusions are magnified even beyond the fabricated statehood it supports as part of the agreement under which the PA remains a vital tool for international diplomacy.

Palestinian reality, however, cannot be deciphered from WAFA news agency. It is the journalists who the PA detains and tortures who have the capability and courage to speak of Palestine as it is, away from the two-state rhetoric that conceals the land and marginalizes Palestinians. Awawdeh’s detention speaks volumes of how the PA’s crackdown on journalism desires only its own stagnant outlets to reign supreme and hypocritically over Palestinian narratives. But Palestinian narratives are stronger than the PA and its public relations media, and there is no turning back the collective awareness that was ignited with the extrajudicial killing of Nizar Banat.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger; her writing covers a range of themes in relation to Palestine, Chile and Latin America