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Journalists and Academics Under Growing Attack

MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 6/14/00:

                "Surely, if with us today, Jesus,
                 Mohamed, and Moses would all be
                 imprisoned, silenced, and rebelling."

The Big Squeeze is on now as never before.  Yasser Arafat has been summoned back to Washington.  He didn't even suspend the "peace talks" for the day of Hafez el-Assad's funeral which he rushed to in Damascus.  Clinton's clock is ticking.  Barak desperately needs to show he can get something done and deliver.  Arafat's health is of more concern then ever, having failed after mighty attempts to twist Assad into a deal before he passed on.

Now the Americans have it in for Arafat.  They know his every move, they listen to his every utterance, they control his finances, they provide him his weapons, the CIA is everywhere among them.  Arafat is today manipulated at every turn to the will of his former enemies, no matter how much he constantly attempts to pretend otherwise.

The considerable political and financial investment made in Yasser Arafat is now coming due quickly.  They desperately want and expect Arafat to sign one more big deal before he too passes on.  They will trot him out in front of the world's media even more than they have before, for Yasser Arafat has become a modern-day Geronimo.

The new "agreement" being feverishly prepared will be dubbed "almost" the "final settlement", no matter how much is left unagreed and no matter how much opposition to what is agreed has to be quashed.  Everything else it will be insisted must always be decided by more "negotiations"; no violence will be tolerated...or else.  The natives must accept their fate...or else.

Of course in the end there is not really much true agreement going on anyway.  Arafat in effect surrendered some time ago when he led his people to repeated defeat, his organization to total bankruptcy, and more recently his "Authority" to a kind of mafioso-style corruption.   It is really just the final terms and even more importantly the presentation of that surrender that are the real subjects of discussions with him at this point.  Those who know remember very well that back in 1993 on the White House lawn with Rabin Arafat wanted to symbolically hand over his holster and pistol to Bill Clinton -- he had to be restrained...right gesture, wrong symbolism.

As the next big step in the "peace process" is prepared by the Americans and Israelis, Arafat has been helped and encouraged to create a situation where the Palestinian people will simply be forced, coerced, and threatened into submission.   A few organized Palestinian groups have attempted to speak out against this whole affair; but their voices have been frail, hesitant, easily disregarded, and unsustained.

Now, as this whole process goes forward, journalists too must be made fearful, threatened and arrested to make sure they and their colleagues get the message.  Academics too must be cowered, making sure the price of being honest and outspoken is considerable and keeping them away from the international media fearing for themselves as well as their families.

These two stories published this week -- one about a Palestinian journalist the other about a Palestinian academic -- tell a micro part of this overall story taking place in the year 2000 in the place once known as "the Holy Land".  Surely, if with us today, Jesus, Mohamed, and Moses would all be imprisoned, silenced, and rebelling.


           By Jay Bushinsky
      Special to the Toronto Sun

  "Alami's arrest followed the publication of an
   article under his byline in the daily al-Istaqlal
   in which he told of corrupt practices by
   senior PNA officials..."

 RAMALLAH, The West Bank, 12 June --  The Toronto-based
 Canadian Journalists for Free Expression has been asked to help
 free a Palestinian writer jailed for exposing corruption in the
 Palestinian National Authority.

 Maher Alami, former news editor of the West Bank's leading
 Arabic newspaper, Al-Quds, was arrested here last Tuesday and
 charged with spreading "incitement against the PNA."

 He had been invited to confer with a senior PNA official but on
 arrival was taken into custody. Neither his lawyer nor family
 members have been allowed to see him.

 An open letter sent to PNA Chairman Yasser Arafat by a
 Palestinian group that advocates freedom of the press said Alami
 is being held by the General Intelligence Apparatus.

 "We respectfully urge your Excellency to ensure that the detention
 order against Alami is reversed immediately and that all journalists
 in the PNA areas are able to carry out their professional duties
 without official harassment," the letter, written by The Free Voice,

 Alami's arrest followed the publication of an article under his
 byline in the daily al-Istaqlal in which he told of corrupt practices
 by senior PNA officials, revealed that its schoolteachers' salaries
 were not being paid, and condemned the closure of a Palestinian
 TV station that criticized Arafat.

                    By Karin Laub

    "Isn't the suffering we went through with
    the Israelis enough?  It is very hard to go
    through this again with your own people
    [refering to the Arafat Regime]."

NABLUS, West Bank -- (Associated Press, 11 June):
Political scientist Abdel Sattar Qassem has spent what should have
been a book-writing sabbatical in a stifling prison cell furnished
only with a lumpy bed and a plastic chair.

Qassem, 50, has been jailed since November, when he accused Yasser
Arafat of being responsible for rampant corruption in the government that
runs the autonomous Palestinian areas.

Similar "offenses" have landed several others in custody in recent weeks,
and a West Bank teacher was imprisoned for leading his colleagues in a
strike for higher pay. Three private TV stations and two radio stations
were closed for giving Arafat critics a platform.

Autocratic rule is nothing new in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which
were under Israeli military occupation for 28 years. However, the recent
arrests by Arafat's Palestinian Authority have heightened concerns that
suppression of dissent and disregard for human rights will become the
norm in the independent state Palestinians hope to establish.

"I'm very pessimistic," said Bassem Eid, a human rights activist.

Arafat's advisers say that the eventual goal is democracy, but that there
are limits to how much dissent and disruption can be tolerated during the
difficult struggle to win statehood.

Dissidents say the international community appears to be giving a higher
priority to the successful conclusion of a final Israeli-Palestinian peace
treaty than to democracy in the West Bank and Gaza.

U.S. diplomats in the region deny they look the other way, saying human
rights violations are closely monitored.

Many Palestinians grumble about Arafat's rule, irked by brash nepotism,
the display of sudden wealth by those in his inner circle and the
disappointing results of the peace talks, now in their eighth year.

But Palestinian intelligence agents rarely target ordinary citizens and
instead go after opinion makers, such as journalists, union leaders and
university lecturers.

In the strongest attack on Arafat, 20 intellectuals and legislators asked
their countrymen in a manifesto circulated in November to "stand together
against this tyranny and corruption."

Palestinian police arrested many of the signers and prodded them to
recant. Most did, and only Qassem, a professor at An Najah University in
the West Bank town of Nablus, remains in prison.

Qassem has a long history of challenging authority. After four years as a
college professor in Jordan, he was expelled for political activism in the
1970s. During the 1987-93 Palestinian uprising against Israel's military
occupation of the West Bank, he was held without trial for three stretches
of six months each.

"Now it is the turn of the Palestinian Authority" to arrest him, his wife,
Amal, said bitterly.

Qassem, a graduate of the University of Missouri, was released after a
40-day stint in jail, but re-arrested Feb. 18 without explanation. The
Palestinian police chief, Brig. Gen. Ghazi Jabali, said charges would be
filed soon, but gave no details other than to say Qassem was suspected of
"security violations."

Qassem, a political independent, opposes the preliminary peace
agreements with Israel as a sellout of Palestinian interests, but he distances
himself from the Islamic militants who oppose Arafat. At the time of his
arrest, he was writing a book critical of the limited public role of Muslim
women. He finished the book in his cell.

Qassem's few supporters say Arafat tries to keep dissidents in line by

Legislator Abdel Jawad Saleh, who resigned as Arafat's agriculture
minister in 1998 to protest government corruption, was beaten by
Palestinian policemen when he led a small protest against Qassem's
detention in December.

"I believe he (Arafat) felt that as independents, we are uncontainable," said
Saleh. "He is trying to subject some of us to terrorism."

Arafat has applied the same approach to irritating domestic problems,
such as the prolonged strike by teachers seeking a 25 percent raise in
average monthly pay of $375 a month.

Strike leader Omar Assaf has been in custody since being arrested May 5
after an interview he gave to the private Voice of Peace and Love radio

Assaf said the Palestinian Authority could finance teacher raises by using
part of what he said is $400 million in income from state monopolies on
the sale of flour, cement, tobacco and petroleum. Arafat and a few aides
control the profits from the monopolies, which are not made part of the
state budget.

The radio station was closed for several days after the interview.

The Palestinian Authority's planning minister, Nabil Shaath, said that only
one monopoly remained, on petroleum products, and that the World Bank
and foreign donors have praised the Palestinian Authority for making
financial dealings more transparent.

Shaath says Arafat's eventual goal is to establish a democratic state, but
Palestinians will have to accept some restrictions before then, "certain
limits relating to security and viability."

Saleh, the lawmaker, said he no longer believes such assurances. The
violations of basic rights, including arbitrary arrests and mistreatment of
detainees - 22 have died in custody in six years - are too systematic, he

"This is a mafia," Saleh said, referring to the Palestinian Authority. "There
is no law."

Assaf, the strike leader, meanwhile, got a new cell mate last week -
journalist Maher Alami, who spoke out against the recent closure of the Al
Nasr TV station. Al Nasr had broadcast a talk show with some of the
signers of the anti-corruption manifesto that landed Qassem in jail.

Assaf's wife, Naimeh, said her husband spent many years in Israeli prisons
as a leader of the Palestinian uprising.

"Isn't the suffering we went through with the Israelis enough?" she said. "It
is very hard to go through this again with your own people."

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