Make no mistake, a free Palestine must mean freedom of speech, too

Make no mistake, a free Palestine must mean freedom of speech, too
Comment: The PA's attempt to close down of 59 websites symptomatic of their general efforts to stifle any criticism of their oppressive policies, writes Mariam Barghouti.
5 min read
28 Oct, 2019
Palestinian journalists protest a court ruling to block access to dozens of websites [Getty]

Last week, the Palestinian Authority's Ramallah magistrate court ruled to block 59 Palestinian websites, including social media and news sites. The move has been condemned by Palestinian organisations, journalists and civil society alike.

The decision by Palestinian judge Mohammad Hussein is underpinned by the institutional complacency of an unremitting and oppressive regime, whose rationale is guided by Palestinian factional rivalry and political agendas. It matches the security complex of neighbouring authoritarian regimes. The consequences of these policies on Palestinians, however, are further compounded by the Israeli occupation.

Legal precedent to the decision dates back to the 2017 cyber crimes law adopted by the Palestinian Authority - the de facto ruler of the West Bank. The law is framed as a security measure to maintain public peace, but it is utilised to further implement authoritarian measures against Palestinians who are critical of the Palestinian Authority.

Since it estbalished itself as a representative authority over the Palestinian people in 1993, the Palestinian Authority has not only enabled Israel to maintain the status quo, it has invested itself as a ruling authority in pursuit of its own personal political and economic agendas.

Originally meant to be an interim government for civil affairs, the Oslo Accords of 1993 allowed the Palestinian Authority to take control of Palestinian socio-economic and political affairs, all the while relentlessly ignoring Palestinian needs and demands.

Since winning a four year term in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas continues to hold the presidential seat, electing only close allies and supporters to the various judicial and administrative cabinets. His popularity and the trust of Palestinian people in any possible elections or democratic rule continues to dwindle in the West Bank.

The law is framed as a security measure to maintain public peace

To add to the Palestinian wounds of geographical isolation and division enacted by Israel, the PA also participates in punitive measures against the Palestinian people as witnessed in Gaza last Summer.

The ongoing political feud with Hamas - another oppressive political party which controls the Strip - is used as the justification. The brunt of the PA's actions, however, bear heavy not on those within Hamas, rather on the civilian population of Gaza.

The frightening consequences for Palestinians of the PA's self-indulgent behaviour are not limited to Gaza. They also take the form of physical violence which necessarily reinforces the social fragmentation under Palestinians must live.

After Palestinians mobilized across cities in the West Bank to protest PA measures in Gaza, members of the riot police, national guard, and Fatah-funded thugs in civilian clothing responded with brutal violence. While Palestinians were calling for unity, support, and no tolerance of injustice, the PA would respond with either violence or policies which further impede any efforts at exposing all forms of injustice.

The move to close down of 59 websites is merely an extension of the general effort to repress any criticism and protest of their oppressive policies.

Ironically, Hamas member Husam Badran released a statement noting the PA's ruling is an attack on freedom of expression. It is worth noting, though, that Hamas also perpetrates its own oppressive policies and attacks on freedom of expression under the pretext of "Palestinian resistance."

The Palestinian Authority, on the other hand, with its consistent loss of legitimacy attempts to maintain its status by invoking international diplomatic efforts under the sloganism of a Palestinian state. What we are left with is a police state and continued loss of people and lands to Israel.

Naturally, then, the campaigns by activists, lawyers, journalists and advocacy organisations alike present a threat to the attempts for concealing their collaboration with Israeli interests. It would be a disservice to highlight the PA's authoritarian efforts, without addressing the wider Palestinian factionalism which employs the Palestinian people as tools, rather than a population which the various groups claim to represent.

The role of the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Palestine can be summarised as an occupation within a colonialism.

What we are left with is a police state and continued loss of people and lands to Israel

While Palestinians brave themselves in protesting the very regime that promised to safeguard them and pursue their demands for liberation and justice, they must do so in constant tandem with confronting Israeli policies.

Between the walls of Israeli apartheid are the walls of socio-political subjugation, the two-fold plight of Palestinians leaves them all the more vulnerable.

When the Palestinian Authority employs the same methods of oppression that Israel enacts, from the imprisonment of Palestinian political activists, to closing of social media accounts, to the one way street of providing Israel with intel on Palestinians, then the line which divides the Palestinian Authority and Israeli authorities becomes blurred.

Palestinians must undergo a relentless suppression of their voices, a deteriorating quality of life, and less space to move and breathe.

Israel erects checkpoints and the Palestinian Authority takes away our right and resources to expose and confront the repressive measures we experience daily. Worse still, the PA continues to speak on behalf of Palestinians while refusing to listen to our protest.

The display of the PA's reckless and systemic targeting of Palestinian dissent showcases a weakening authority that is struggling to uphold its position of power

The display of the PA's reckless and systemic targeting of Palestinian dissent showcases a weakening authority that is struggling to uphold its position of power by any means possible. This is dangerous, for it means that the Palestinian people must also suffer the consequences of an armed authority afraid of losing power.

While Hamas is explicitly rejected from the international diplomatic scene, the PA takes a sinister step as a legitimate mitigator of Palestinian interests.

Palestinian people are fighting a settler-colonial endeavour to overtake lands and dispossess Palestinians. But showcasing the the tragic state of PA complacency also risks stoking the patronising argument which questions Palestinians' ability to self-govern.

The PA has designated itself the sole option for Palestinians aiming to have a state of their own. But what we're calling for is not to have a few pieces of land, governed under the mercy (or lack thereof) of Israel. Rather, we aspire to build a future where our dispossession is no more, where we can freely express and move and breathe, and where we arent divided across political factional interests.

Mariam Barghouti is a Palestinian American writer based in Ramallah. Her political commentary has been featured in the International Business Times, The New York Times, TRT-World, among others. 

Follow her on Twitter: @MariamBarghouti

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.