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As Elections Are Delayed, Palestine Suppresses Speech

On September 8, the Palestinian high court in Ramallah postponed the Palestinian local elections due for October. Against the backdrop of Israel’s ludicrous arrest of a Mohammed el-Halabi, a director of the multibillion dollar World Vision charity, finger-pointing immediately ensued. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority accused one another of foiling the election for political reasons. With their arbitrary arrest of journalists, West Bank and Gaza have joined Israel as they politicize their judicial system to demonize inconvenient actors and suppress criticism.

Just as the Israeli military has tried tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in their courts and beaten arrested children, the PA has repeatedly tried and sentenced Palestinian journalists in military courts. Several prisoners have reported being beaten and starved repeatedly.

The PA’s concern for a forecasted Hamas victory in the local elections has led to continued harassment of journalists in the civilian court system. Charges of libel are regularly levelled against the PA’s critics, and while those arrested may never be sentenced, recurring court adjournments extend the burden of trials disproportionately.

In Gaza, Hamas’s record of violating rights of speech and the press has likewise been long and distinguished. This past week, Hamas police arrested and assaulted Muhammad Othman, a Palestinian journalist. For the first half of this year, the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms has reported 22 violations of press freedoms by Hamas in 2015, 43 by the Palestinian Authority, and 133 by Israel. Beatings of prisoners seen in West Bank repeatedly occur in Gaza as well.

Because of how Israel’s political leaders have oftentimes stigmatized UN-affiliated NGOs and critics promoting Palestinian human rights as anti-Semitic, media coverage has frequently characterized the challenges faced by human rights organizations in Israel and Palestine as a conflict between NGOs (who are at times alleged to be anti-Semitic) and Israel. Since neither Hamas’s nor the PA’s rhetoric against human rights organizations has taken the center stage, these two governments appear to be apathetic, but not violently reactive, to NGOs’ criticism.

But Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have discarded the rights of the press too often to hold the moral high ground on human rights. Their relationships with NGOs and the press are forged out of political convenience, rather than genuine respect for democratic governance. While Hamas’s 2011 laws restricting NGO activity may have been forgotten, Hamas and the PA have continued to silence their critics to compete in the local elections.

Political leaders like Presidential Candidate Jill Stein are just as guilty of attacking basic civil liberties as those who support Israeli airstrikes without question when they condemn Israeli rights violations while ignoring Palestinian censorship. This sort of identity politics breeds intolerance, violence, illiberalism, and tyranny that is antithetical to the values that BDS and pro-Palestine rights activists claim to espouse.

The movement against Israel’s illegal settlements, the assassination of journalists tied to Hamas, and the blockade that starves economic development cannot maintain its legitimacy if it fails to fight for reform in the very governments it seeks to empower. Only by standing against all rights violations equally can pro-Palestinian activists keep a Palestinian flavor of tyranny from replacing Israel’s human rights violations in the next decade.